“We were playing for our lives,” Pete Vaziri said in the euphoric aftermath of Friday’s beatific 33-14 victory under the lights at McGann-Mercy in Riverhead.
Indeed, Friday’s high school football game was a must-win for the Bonackers, who, as a result, nailed down Division IV’s last (eighth) playoff spot. That means they’ll be playing in the first round at top-seeded Babylon, which crushed them 44-7 in the season opener on Sept. 7, but Babylon (a traditional thorn in East Hampton’s side) can wait.
First, a few thousand words about the above-mentioned blessed event.
Mercy’s opening kickoff was taken by Johnny Pizzo to East Hampton’s 35-yardline, after which Cort Heneveld, the triple-option quarterback, darted to Mercy’s 25. Handoffs to Andre Cherrington and Danny Barros yielded a first-and-goal inside the 10. Cherrington then rushed to the 5, after which Heneveld emerged from a fierce scrum into the end zone.
Max Lerner’s subsequent kickoff went deep, and the defense forced the home team to punt from its 24. The Bonackers took over at their 47, and 10 plays later, thanks to Cherrington’s 4-yard blast up the middle, was in the Riverhead Catholic school’s end zone again.
“I think maybe they took us a little too lightly,” Cid Cerchiai, a longtime volunteer assistant, said, with a broad smile.
Five touchdowns later, Bill Barbour Sr., the head coach’s father, said, “What we told the kids this week is that Mercy [which went in at 6-1 in contrast to East Hampton’s 2-5], aside from Shoreham, really hadn’t played anybody, while we had played a much tougher schedule than they had, and, aside from Babylon, we’d been in every game we’d played. Plus, Mercy had already clinched a playoff spot.”
The Monarchs got one back early in the second quarter, Tom Kent’s score from the 1 capping a 76-yard drive during which he did virtually all of the ball-carrying.
Mercy’s kickoff went out of bounds, enabling the Bonackers to take over at their 35, and in the blink of an eye Heneveld took off again, outsprinting Mercy’s secondary into the end zone. Lerner’s point-after attempt was good for a 19-6 lead that effectively sealed the win.
Before the half was over Mercy’s quarterback, Asaiah Wilson, and Paulo Foscolo had combined on a 58-yard scoring pass play, and Vaziri, in response, had run the ensuing kickoff back 80 yards, zipping by Wilson, the last defender, at midfield to keep East Hampton in the van.
Mercy threatened when the third quarter began, moving the ball down to a first-and-goal inside the Bonac 10. But East Hampton’s defense held, containing Kent twice before Wilson took to the air twice, underthrowing his receiver in the end zone on third-and-goal and overthrowing Foscolo at the 3.
Thereafter, the Bonackers ate up the clock, and, with a little more than 3 minutes remaining Vaziri came up with a big interception at East Hampton’s 35, a prelude to yet another 65-yard touchdown run by Heneveld.
In short, it had been one of those rare games in which the Bonackers, whose defense has been porous in the past, could do no wrong.
“I’m going to buy a lottery ticket,” Randi Cherill, the trainer, said as the final minutes ticked away.
Bill Barbour Jr. told his happy players afterward that he was proud of them and that they should be proud of themselves. During a television interview, he said, “We’ve played a tough schedule, so tonight was an opportunity for our kids to let loose. We executed our game plan, which was to own the ball and control the clock with first downs mixed in with sudden strikes. . . . Offensively, we took what their defense gave us, and defensively we made some big plays.”
As for Babylon, “We know what they’ll bring — once you take a shot to the face you know what it feels like. But we’re excited — the kids will be up for it. It’s the first time we’ve been in the playoffs since 2009.”
“We’d like to upset them,” Heneveld said.
Jamie Wolf, whose suggested long count had drawn Mercy offside on fourth-and-2 at midfield midway through the fourth quarter, thus extending a drive — and taking more time off the clock — said that he thought the team would be able to ride its momentum into the post-season.