G.Q. Grippo needed a second to catch his breath.
The senior played hero on Friday night, lifting Connetquot to a 34-26 overtime victory over Ward Melville in a Suffolk Division I matchup that was chock full of big-time plays and even more gridiron drama.
Grippo’s touchdown came on just the second play of OT, wrapping up a T-Bird comeback and keeping his squad perfect early on this season.
“We never let up. We knew this was a hard game, but we were going to come back and win this,” Grippo said. “It was insane. You see that lane and you know, you’ve just got to score.”
It was an inconsistent game from the opening whistle, but the final 12 minutes of regulation were close to bursting with back-and-forth play. Ward Melville (1-1) led for most of the game – sparked by a stout defense that held strong in the red zone – but Connetquot refused to go down without a fight.
The T-Birds (2-0) were without starting senior quarterback Dylan McDermott for most of the second half after he took a big-time hit just outside of the end zone, but the squad rallied when the standout was sidelined. It was, simply, next man up as George Wichelns and sophomore Drew Guttieri split time under center down the stretch.
“The kids have heart, they never quit,” said Connetquot coach Mike Hansen. “I challenged them and they stepped up. I learned so much about this team because they have unbelievable character, unbelievable heart and that can go a long way.”
Wichelns stole the spotlight early in the fourth, rushing for three straight carries, including a 4-yard touchdown to cut into Ward Melville’s lead. Cole Bunicci tied up the game, picking off Patriots quarterback Peyton Capizzi and returning the ball 27 yards into the end zone to knot the game at 26-all with 5:30 left on the clock.
“I think a lot of it had to do with experience, we do have a lot of new guys, but everybody handled this pretty well,” said Wichelns, who racked up 81 all-purpose yards in the fourth quarter. “Obviously I was a little nervous, but I was just going through my reads and it was working,”
Connetquot had a chance to put the game away during regulation, more than once, but a pair of fourth-quarter fumbles and a blocked extra point forced the game into overtime. The T-Birds, however, were still just as confident as they were at kickoff.
“We never give up, we always fight as a team,” Grippo said. “It’s one like we’re one whole big family who never wants to let anyone down. It’s incredible.”
Wichelns got Connetquot’s drive off to a dominant start, scampering for 12 yards and setting up Grippo’s game-winning touchdown. He capped off his night with a two-point conversion and put the pressure on the Patriots to respond.
Connetquot’s defense wrapped up the victory, holding Ward Melville on 4th-and-8 from the 18-yard line and securing a dramatic win that has the T-Birds more confident than ever.
It doesn’t get any easier for the squad – squaring off against defending champion Floyd next week – but after a pair of strong victories to start the season, Connetquot is certain it can take on just about anyone this fall.
“We have some young guys coming in and to have two games like that is big," Hansen said. "We’re building character and it’s two weeks and I can’t believe what this team has been through and how they’ve answered the call.”