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Football: Leonard’s late TD grab brings SWR stunning county title

When it was over, the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats could breathe a sigh of relief — and disbelief.

With its back against the wall, SWR needed a virtual miracle. Sometimes the football gods answer desperate prayers.

Trailing Bayport-Blue Point by four points and facing a fourth-and-seven from its own 29-yard line late in the Suffolk County Division IV final, SWR’s situation looked bleak, to say the least.

With Bayport not providing deep coverage, Dylan Zahn zipped a pass up the middle to an open Liam Leonard, who then raced 71 yards for what proved to be the winning touchdown in a stunning 26-23 SWR triumph Friday night at Stony Brook University’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium.

The score came with 1 minute, 11 seconds left to play. Bayport took the kickoff back to its 43. Brady Clark then completed four straight passes to Riley Spencer, P.J. Shanahan, Shanahan again and Calvin Dickinson, bringing the Phantoms to the SWR 19. After clocking the ball with 16 seconds left, a Clark pass was swatted away by Dylan Kiely in the end zone, and another shot at the end zone was overthrown.

That left six seconds remaining. Clark (14-for-22 passing, 239 yards) flipped a pass to his left to Derek Varley along the sideline and he made his way to the 4 before being stopped by Kiely and friends.

Game over.

Liam Leonard races off to the end zone on Shoreham-Wading River’s game-winning 71-yard touchdown catch while Bayport-Blue Point’s Gavin Locascio gives chase. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

“It’s just unreal,” SWR running back Max Barone told reporters.

Zahn said, “I’m just in shock.”

Leonard said: “I’m speechless. I don’t even know what to say, to be honest.”

The wild ending provided SWR (10-1) with its fourth straight division championship and seventh in eight seasons. The Wildcats will face Cold Spring Harbor or North Shore in the Long Island Class IV final Saturday at Stony Brook University.

Top-seeded SWR was seeking redemption against Bayport (9-2), which is responsible for the Wildcats’ only loss this season. That 34-14 defeat on Oct. 16 halted a SWR win streak at 19 games. The Wildcats have won 12 of their last 13 games against Bayport.

Not that this one was easy because it wasn’t.

Clark’s interception in his own end zone set up Jameson Smith’s 8-yard TD run and Sean Anglim’s extra point that put Bayport ahead, 23-19, at 3:11 of the fourth quarter.

Bayport had picked up two points in the third quarter on a rare sort of safety. Zahn had trouble handling a shotgun snap and was pressured as he rolled to his right, but while in the end zone he threw the ball away with no receiver in the vicinity.

The first five possessions of the game resulted in touchdowns. Ball control was the name of the game for SWR, which ran 44 offensive plays to Bayport’s 15 in the opening two quarters.

That ball possession was by design.

Under pressure from Bayport defenders, Dylan Zahn releases a long pass. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

“Oh yeah, definitely,” Barone said. “Drive down the field and enforce our will, keep them off field, their offense off the field.”

Many of those plays relied on the legs of Barone, who ran in SWR’s first three TDs from close distance, giving him 23 for the season. In the first half alone, Barone compiled 101 of his 126 rushing yards in the first half.

Gavin Locascio ran for Bayport’s two first-half TDs.

“It was a battle,” Zahn said. “Both teams came to play and we just came out and we executed. We just had faith, hope and we got it done.”

David Raynor grabs a pass just in front of Bayport defender Jameson Smith. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

Asked if he was surprised to have as much running room as he did on his winning catch, Leonard said: “I was shocked because they played good deep covers. All game like we couldn’t get anything deep open and, I mean, it happened when it happened and I’m glad it worked out.”

Zahn, who went 10-for-13 passing for 145 yards, said: “The defense had nobody over the top. I saw that right away and I was like, ‘We could do this. We could score.’ And it happened.”

Leonard made five catches for 107 yards, but that last one will become a part of SWR lore.

“That was the biggest one, for sure,” he said. “I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.”

After the game, the Wildcats looked as if they still hadn’t comprehended what had just happened.

“You couldn’t script it any better,” Leonard said. “It’s like a movie.”