Football: Kiely’s TD catch with 0:30 left is a winner

When Shoreham-Wading River needed a big play, it answered the call with a Dylan-to-Dylan connection.

Dylan Kiely caught a high pass up the middle from Dylan Zahn, fought off tacklers and battled his way across the goal line for the winning touchdown with 30 seconds left for a 20-14 Suffolk County Division IV triumph over visiting Babylon Friday night. That enabled the Wildcats to conclude the regular season with a 7-1 record.

SWR had seen Babylon (4-4) recover from a 14-0 deficit to tie it at 14-14 in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats had a third-and-10 at the Babylon 25-yard line when Kiely made the decisive reception, shook off Trevor Thuma, wasn’t stopped by Joseph Young’s desperate grab, lowered his head and willed himself into the end zone through sheer determination.

“I kind of didn’t really get to look it in and I didn’t know if I was gonna get in,” said Kiely, who called it the biggest catch of his life. “The kid [Thuma] was right on my back and then I felt him on me. I just threw him off and then I just pushed my way in there.”

“That’s what he needed to do, and he got it done,” said SWR’s Max Barone, who had 82 yards from 23 carries. “He’s very reliable. You could throw it up and he’ll go up and get it. We put all our trust in him to win the game and that’s exactly what he did.”

It was Kiely’s second TD catch of the game — and the season. His 34-yard snag in the first quarter, and Travis Finnegan’s kick, made it 7-0.

Meanwhile, Zahn had a productive night himself, completing 16 of 32 passes for 149 yards as well as running for 45 yards. The 6-foot-5 quarterback bulled his way in from the 2 for a score that helped SWR to a 14-0 lead with 3:42 left in the second quarter. That score was set up when Zahn rifled a 16-yard pass to Liam Leonard near the right sideline.

Dylan Zahn (16 of 32, 149, two touchdowns, one interception) making his decisive TD pass to Dylan Kiely. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

SWR nearly tacked on a third TD before the half ended, but time expired after an Elijah Kneeland sack and an incomplete pass on second down from the Babylon 12. Earlier in that drive, Zahn fired a hard pass to Ryan Wilson. Wilson had an open path to the end zone, but the force of the pass appeared to cause him to lose his balance and he fell forward for a 16-yard gain instead.

Earlier in the second quarter, Babylon muffed a punt and Aidan Clifford came up with the ball, giving SWR possession at the Babylon 13. SWR advanced to the 8 before turning the ball over on downs.

“It stings a little because we had multiple chances to score and it was just on ourselves to score, but we couldn’t get in there,” said Kiely, one of 10 SWR seniors honored in a Senior Night pregame ceremony at Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field.

Babylon coach Rick Punzone was ejected at halftime, but whatever was said at halftime evidently made an impact because the Panthers came out firing in the second half. Young stepped in front of an errant  Zahn pass and returned it 53 yards for a TD late in the third quarter. And it was Young (26 carries, 76 yards), who lowered his shoulder for a 2-yard score with 8:18 left in the fourth quarter. James Bender’s extra point evened things at 14-14.

“We’ve played some dogfights this season, but they just shocked us,” Kiely said. “They came out, punched us in the mouth first and we had to answer back and we answered later, but thank God we answered.”

And then, after SWR answered with the go-ahead TD, it was time for its defense to preserve the lead. Babylon returned the kickoff to its 37. Young hit Brandon Timko and Kneeland for passes of 5 and 17 yards on the first two plays before he was whistled for intentional grounding on the third with three seconds left. On the last play he was sacked by Aidan Franks to end it.

“I thought my guys showed heart, resolve. Right?” SWR coach Aden Smith said. “There [were] a lot of ups and downs in the game. You know, they were able to come back and make some plays, and we responded in an appropriate manner. We preach playing four quarters, 48 minutes, every play and it came down to the last 30 seconds with a big play. My guys never, never relented on the promise or the commitment that we made to each other, so I’m proud of them.”

SWR, bidding for a fourth straight county championship, entered the game in first place in the power-rated division, but was waiting to see if it would remain there and who it will face in the playoffs.

What did Kiely think about Senior Night 2021?

“It couldn’t end any better for me,” he said. “I needed a touchdown before the season ended and I got two of them. So I’m happy and [we] won the game. It’s like a movie.”

He couldn’t have scripted it any better.