There Was Much Gnashing of Teeth at Mercy High

Controversial calls went against the visitors
Brandon Johnson totaled 307 yards rushing, returning, passing, and receiving at Saturday’s game at McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead. Jack Graves

The East Hampton High School football team, despite likely record-setting performances by two of its backs, Brandon and Jordan Johnson, suffered a stunning 40-38 defeat at McGann-Mercy in Riverhead Saturday — a loss made all the more galling because of controversial calls that went against the visitors, the last of which, in the final minute, cost East Hampton the game.

With about 50 seconds remaining on the clock, and with East Hampton leading 38-34 thanks to a 22-yard Brandon Johnson to Jordan Johnson touchdown pass and 2-point conversion by Axel Alanis a half-minute before, a referee ruled no-catch after Brandon Daige, in falling onto his back near the goal line, clutched a tipped pass to his chest — a seeming interception that would in all likelihood have clinched the win.

“We looked at the film,” Joe McKee, East Hampton’s head coach, said during a conversation Sunday, “and we’re 110 percent sure that he caught it. He caught the ball in the air and his hands were under it when he hit the ground. It was a beautiful play.”

Daige, who had bounded up as Bonac’s coaches and players cheered, was furious when he saw the flag, and hurled his helmet down. Thus a 15-yard penalty was tacked on, which, with 47 seconds left, advanced the home team to a first-and-10 at East Hampton’s 15. On the next play, the Monarchs’ tall senior quarterback, Kevin Santacroce, connected with fellow-senior Samuel Schrage, who had come out of the backfield, for the touchdown that ate Bonac’s dreams. “There were a lot of controversial calls, and just about every single one went against us,” McKee said. Still, he said, “it was one of the most exciting football games

I’ve ever seen.” While he’d seen teams affected for up to two weeks afterward by such a loss, “we’ve got to look at the positives. Our offense, which has been slow to come around, is really clicking now. Brandon and Jordan had 527 yards between them. Brandon had 307 and Jordan 220.”

“Brandon had 120 yards rushing, 90 on kickoff returns, 82 yards passing, and 15 receiving. Jordan had 123 rushing, 82 receiving, and 15 passing. . . . Axel had 40 yards rushing, and he was a leading tackler.”

Asked if he’d ever heard of a better offensive output by two East Hampton backs, McKee said, “I don’t think so.”

East Hampton got on the scoreboard first as Jordan Johnson, who had shocked the home team with a fourth-down catch at the Mercy 10-yard line, ran the rest of the way on the next play.

The Monarchs, who boasted three good receivers and a fine passer in Santacroce — not to mention a powerful runner in Schrage — replied with a touchdown of their own with a little more than four minutes left in the first quarter, and tacked on a 2-point conversion as well.

A seeming 78-yard touchdown run up Mercy’s sideline by Jordan Johnson when the second quarter began was annulled because of an alleged block-inthe-back by Brandon Johnson — a call that also was bogus, McKee was to say later. The ball, as a result, was spotted on Mercy’s 32. A dozen plays later, the Bonackers scored, on a 2-yard plunge by Alanis, after which Daige, the quarterback on offense, tacked on 2 more points.

Mercy took a 22-14 lead into the half-time break, and extended it to 28-14 in the early going of the third before East Hampton, which had made some adjustments to counter the Monarchs’ passing game, came back.

A 90-yard kickoff return into Mercy’s end zone by Brandon Johnson got that comeback going with 7:28 to go in the third quarter, and, following a 39-yard reception by Jordan Johnson of a pass from Brandon Johnson, the Bonackers tied it at 28-28 early in the fourth, taking a 30-28 lead on the extra-point play — a dive by Daige into the left corner of the Riverhead school’s end zone.

East Hampton’s defense forced a punt on Mercy’s next series, from its 22, but after Santacroce had put the ball in the air — and after the chains crew had bolted toward the other end of the field — an ex post facto holding call was alleged, presumably as the return was in progress. “I don’t know why they retained possession,” McKee said. Instead, the refs gave the ball to Mercy at its 32, from which point Schrage began to eat up the yards. A 5-yard touchdown carry by him, with 4:45 left, wrested the lead back for Mercy, at 34-30. For the rest, see above.

The Bonackers, whose record now stands at 2-4, are to play at 2-3 Hampton Bays tomorrow at 7 p.m.

Jordan Johnson, with 220 total yards, and his fellow running back, and first cousin, Brandon, whose total was 307, were two of the reasons why Saturday’s game at Mercy was so riveting. Jack Graves