Football: Comeback attempt slips out of Mercy’s hands

GEORGE FAELLA PHOTO Bishop McGann-Mercy punter Keith Schroeher was pressured by Port Jefferson's Hugh Roden.

There were four minutes left in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s Suffolk County Division IV football game between the Port Jefferson Royals and the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs and the Royals were clinging to a 20-12 lead. The Monarchs, who were able to move the ball on the ground all game long, were, once again, on the march.

McGann-Mercy had the ball on the Port Jefferson 22-yard line with plenty of time left on the clock. In fact, McGann-Mercy Coach Joe Read said he wondered if his team was going to score and leave too much time on the clock for Port Jefferson to strike back.

But Read and the Monarchs never got the opportunity to find out. Quarterback Keith Schroeher and running back Rob Terry bumped into each other on an attempted handoff. The ball squirted loose, the Royals recovered and held on for a 20-12 win.

“It was a great game,” Read said. “We fought right down to the end. This was the kind of team we knew we could be all year.”

With the Monarchs (2-6) finally reasonably healthy, it showed as they drove the ball downfield behind the running of Pat Stepnoski (175 yards on 22 carries) and Terry (130 yards on 15 carries). Midway through the first quarter, Stepnoski ripped off a 28-yard run, setting up Terry’s eight-yard drive up the middle for a touchdown.

The McGann-Mercy defense then stopped a long Port Jefferson drive at the Monarchs’ 10. Again, the Monarchs, behind a 40-yard run by Stepnoski, threatened to score. But a holding penalty deep in Port Jefferson territory stalled the drive.

“We shocked Port Jefferson,” Read said. “Pat ran like his old self. Rob was phenomenal with his blocking and running. They didn’t expect us to run right at them.”

Still, the Monarchs led by only six points.

Early in the second quarter, one play after Schroeher almost intercepted a pass on defense, Port Jefferson quarterback Dan Serignese (4 of 6 for 84 yards) threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Brady Colucci to tie the score.

At halftime, Read reminded his team: “We did everything we needed to do. Let’s keep doing this.”

But the Royals (4-4) opened the third quarter with a long drive, mostly on the ground, and took a 13-6 lead on Dylan Ernst’s 58-yard touchdown gallop. Ernst gained 145 yards on 13 carries. It became 20-6 when Serignese hit Colucci again with another four-yard scoring pass.

McGann-Mercy mounted a comeback early in the fourth quarter when Schroeher scrambled 30 yards to the Port Jefferson 1. Terry then scored to trim the Royals’ lead to 20-12.

The Monarchs had a golden opportunity to tie the score late in the game. But Port Jefferson recovered the botched handoff. McGann-Mercy got the ball back one last time, at midfield with 10 seconds left. But time simply ran out on the Monarchs’ hopes for a miracle finish.

Nonetheless, Read was proud of the way his team battled every inch of the way.

“I am so glad we played like this at the end of the season,” he said. “In football, the kids put in so much preparation, so much work. The hard work was working. There are some things that are out of our control. Bad luck is bad luck. Our kids are keeping their heads high. These kids will work to be better.”