After doing so much for its fans to cheer about, Bishop McGann-Mercy was left with an empty feeling. The Monarchs came back from so far behind, and yet still had nothing to show for their efforts but a loss.
Trailing by 30-6 at halftime, the Monarchs picked up their play demonstrably, running off 24 straight points in the third quarter to tie the score in its football game against Center Moriches at 30-30. Then both Suffolk County Division IV teams reverted to their first-half form. Fourth-quarter touchdowns runs by Justin Wilson, Sam Cila and Chris Iannelli helped Center Moriches cap its homecoming game with a 51-30 victory on Saturday. For Iannelli, it was his third touchdown run of the day.
The win gave the Red Devils (4-2) a boost for the playoff prospects while the Monarchs (3-3) will likely need at least one win, if not two, from their final two regular-season games against Greenport/Southold/Mattituck and Babylon.
Following a first half that looked like the prelude to an ugly blowout, the Monarchs somehow pulled themselves back into the game with a rather remarkable third quarter.
Kevin Santacroce featured prominently in the comeback. The senior quarterback rolled to his right and found Jack Pavelchak for a 30-yard touchdown pass on the first series of plays in the third quarter. Santacroce passed to Nick Kneski for the 2-point conversion.
Santacroce threw for 213 yards on 15-of-22 passing, despite the fact that the Monarchs were without one of their top receivers, Marco Sciara, who is out with a separated shoulder.
An interception by Santacroce cut Center Moriches’ first possession of the third quarter short. Santacroce returned the ball 46 yards to the Center Moriches 2-yard line. On the next play he ran the ball in on a quarterback sneak, the same play he then used for the additional 2 points.
Liam Martin, who made five catches for 113 yards and a touchdown, pulled down a 35-yard pass that set up Sam Schrage’s burst through the left side from 2 yards out, cutting Center Moriches’ lead to 30-28. The Monarchs tried to run in the 2-point conversion, but Schrage was stopped.
The Monarchs tied the score, nonetheless, in an unusual manner. A punt by Center Moriches’ John Glaser was blocked by John Viola. The ball ricocheted through Center Moriches’ end zone for a safety, evening the score at 30-30 with 8.0 seconds left in the third quarter.
But the game turned again in the fourth quarter when Wilson and Iannelli both broke free for 33-yard touchdown runs sandwiched around Cila’s score.
Although the teams entered the game with identical records and stood side by side in the standings (McGann-Mercy was in seventh place and Center Moriches was in eighth), they have contrasting styles. McGann-Mercy likes to throw the ball with its strong-armed quarterback and talented receivers while Center Moriches prefers its strong ground game.
Iannelli (22 carries, 142 yards) and Wilson (12 carries, 104 yards) both had a big game, accounting for most of their team’s 287 rushing yards.
Iannelli ran in his first touchdown and Joe Martins zipped an 18-yard scoring pass to Kyrin Taylor, helping Center Moriches to an early 15-0 lead. But before the first quarter ended, McGann-Mercy got on the scoreboard, with Santacroce finding Martin for a 10-yard completion and 6 points.
In the second quarter, another Iannelli touchdown and Taylor’s second touchdown reception of the game, a 13-yarder from Cila with 14.9 seconds left in the first half, helped the Red Devils to an imposing 30-6 lead. Kneski had tipped Cila’s pass, but Taylor was able to collect the ball for the score.
Santacroce was pressured for much of the game. He was sacked five times, including three times by Kevin Smith, who made nine tackles.
Pavelchak made 10 tackles and Santacroce had nine for the Monarchs.
Caption: The Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs make their entrance onto the field before the kickoff of Saturday’s game at Center Moriches High School. (Credit: Bob Liepa)