Panas – yes, Panas! – sent shockwaves through Section 1 football on Friday night with the most dramatic win of the season. Here’s Rick Carpiniello’s story on the Panthers’ wild, improbable, playoff-clinching win over district rival Lakeland:
By Rick Carpiniello
CORTLANDT MANOR – Walter Panas High coach Dan Patronik got word that the mission was simple for his Panthers, who had not made the Section 1 football playoffs since 2004.
“From what I heard coming in, it was beat Lakeland – win and in.”
What he didn’t figure was the way it would go down. Panas beat the Hornets in a wild game in which Chris Beato kicked three field goals – including a game-tying 49-yarder with 23.5 seconds left in regulation – and then kicked the winning PAT in overtime. Panas beat Lakeland in the neighborhood showdown 23-22, as the Hornets went for a two-point conversion to win the game in OT only to have quarterback Brian Prunty’s pass broken up in the end zone.
Panas, 5-2 – with more wins that it had the last two years combined – is headed for the tournament.
“This means everything to us,” Patronik said. “We’ve been struggling and this school’s been called a stepsister in the school district … We kind of took it upon ourselves to say, ‘Listen, we want to step out a little bit and show Lakeland and the district and the community that we’re Walter Panas High School and we’re proud to be Walter Panas High School.”
And to do it that way?
“I’ll take a win any way I can get it,” Petronik said. “That way was extremely exciting. Heart-attack city, but I’ll take it. The kids stepped up. They got the stop on the two point conversion. I respect (Lakeland coach) Rob Capellli for going for two and the win. It shows a lot of guts on his part. I respect that man across the board, and that team.
“We could have rolled over many times in that game, but we never gave up and made our own opportunities tonight.”
Jimmy Flaherty (22 carries, 162 yards, three TDs) broke a 65-yard touchdown run on the third play of the game to give Lakeland a 6-0 lead. Flaherty was running wild on the Hornets’ second possession, too, but Panas came up with a stop at its own 31, the ran the ball — behind John Brophy and James Jackson — to the Lakeland three, but had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Beato.
Just before the half Liam Hagens connected with Brian Larkin for a 48-yard catch-and-run to the Lakeland eight, and with six seconds left in the second quarter, Beato booted a 26-yard field goal to tie it at 6-6.
On the first play of the second half, Panas’ John Brophy – who had a monstrous game despite two fumbles, with 31 carries, 204 yards and three touchdowns, including one from 20 yards on the first play of OT – broke what looked like a 67-yard TD run, but was called back to the Lakeland 26 by a penalty flag. Beato then missed a 30-yard field goal.
Flaherty scored on a quick drive to put Lakeland back on top 13-6, but Brophy answered with a touchdown to tie it again. With under four minutes to go, Kevin Petriccione’s 27-yard field goal made it 16-13 Lakeland, until Beato’s 49-yarder retied it. Amazingly, with a long kick return by Anthony Capozzi, and a long pass from Prunty to Anthony Kaplan, Petriccione had a chance for a 40-yard field goal and the win with one tenth of a second left. That was blocked by Steven Kelley.
“To miss a kick earlier, and to get a chance to tie it up late, you can’t ask for anything more,” said Beato, who had told his coach all night that he’d be good from 45.
“It was a pretty far kick. It was going to be close to my max. But my snapper had a good snap, my holder had a good hold, and it just went through.”
Brophy also felt he atoned.
“The two fumbles got me down, but my team told me to pick up my head and that’s what I did and I scored the winning touchdown,” he said. “I just pinned my ears back and bullrushed forward. My offensive line came to play today, the whole offensive unit.
“This is a tremendous feeling. I couldn’t be any more happy for the seniors. I did it for them.”
Capelli’s team closed the regular schedule 3-4 and out of the playoffs.
“Typical of all year,” the Lakeland coach said. “We’re young, we made mistakes. I’m very happy for Panas. It’s just one of those years for us. We made crucial mistakes at crucial times, and the kid hit a 49-yard field goal. Credit to them. They have some very good athletes and they didn’t go away.
“Great game. Just a long season.”
And asked about the decision to go for two in OT, he said, “Why not? We got a field goal blocked, missed extra points. Who cares? We’re out of the playoffs. Let’s have fun. Why not?”