GREENWICH — The Metropolitan Interdependent Football League final between Hopkins School and Long Island Lutheran featured a pair of unconventional touchdowns, one of which Lutheran won’t forget.
In a matchup in which points were tough to come by, the Hilltoppers scored a touchdown on a fumble return and Long Island Lutheran reached the end zone on a fake punt — an unexpected play that helped it garner the championship trophy.
Senior defensive lineman/punter Adam Campbell ran a fake punt 55 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter for Long Island Lutheran, which needed the score to edge Hopkins, 13-12, in a physical, hard-hitting title game before a packed house at Brunswick’s School Cosby Field on Saturday night.
Hopkins, which entered the MIFL final winners of four straight games, finished its season at 5-3, following a 1-2 start.
“If you talked to us Week 3, we didn’t know where the season was going,” Hopkins coach Tim Phipps said. “We got beat back-to-back times, both of which were very hard defeats. But from that point on, these kids rallied and played incredible. They were a different team from Week 4 on. They were a team that got us to a championship and were two points away from winning it.”
Trailing 13-6, Hopkins closed to within 13-12 when senior quarterback Phil DeLise threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Dominic Roberts down the left sideline with 5:05 remaining. Instead of attempting the kick the extra point, which would have tied the score at 13-13, coach Phipps elected to go for a 2-point conversion and the lead.
DeLise’s pass on the ensuing 2-point conversion was incomplete and Long Island Lutheran remained in the lead at 13-12.
“I wanted to jump on the lead,” Phipps said. “I felt like the momentum was swinging in our favor and I stick behind it. Two-point conversions are tough, but we almost had it.”
Following a Lutheran 3-and-out, courtesy of a significant tackle for no gain by Hilltoppers junior defensive lineman Spencer Cipriano, Hopkins took over at its own 40-yard line after a Campbell punt with 2:30 remaining.
A 16-yard completion by DeLise moved the ball to Lutheran’s 44-yard line, but that’s the furthest the Hilltoppers got. After an incomplete pass, DeLise was sacked twice in a row, resulting in a lot of lost yardage, which Hopkins couldn’t make up.
“I just knew when we got together for the first time in August this was a special team,” DeLise said. “We hit a rough patch around Week 3, but each and every one of us had a mentality change. Unfortunately, we couldn’t close it out.”
Ahead 7-6 at halftime, Long Island Lutheran (8-1) seized a 13-6 advantage with 8:58 to go in the third quarter. Set to punt, Campbell received the snap and ran down the right sideline, breaking a pair of tackles along the way, for a 55-yard touchdown off the fake punt.
“The fake punt wasn’t a call,” Long Island Lutheran coach Chris Reno said. “Adam Campbell has done this a few times in the past. If he sees it, he’ll run with it — he’ll do it if he’s confident in getting a first down. When it works, I love it and most of the time it has.”
After a Hopkins turnover on its first possession, the Crusaders drove 70 yards for the game’s first score. Sophomore fullback Nikko Genova capped the long, time-consuming drive with a 1-yard run on 4th-and-goal with 1:26 remaining in the first quarter, putting the Crusaders in front, 7-0.
The Crusaders droved from their own 8-yard line to the Hilltoppers 47-yard line on their ensuing possession, but freshman safety Pearson Hill halted the drive in emphatic fashion.
Long Island Lutheran senior quarterback George Rosenberg completed a pass over the middle, but Hill forced a fumble, recovered it and dashed down the right sideline 53 yards for a touchdown with 20.4 seconds left in the second quarter. Hopkins’ point-after attempt hit the right upright and the Crusaders held a 7-6 lead heading into halftime.
Hill had a standout game on both sides of the ball. He caught several passes from DeLise and helped spark Hopkins’ running attack. Indeed, Hill will remember his senior season on the squad.
“It was a good season, we had a good run and I’m happy for our team,” Hill said. “We accomplished a lot and overachieved. It was a good learning experience, the seniors were good leaders for us.”
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Campbell gets kudos for having the foresight to go through with the fake punt, resulting in a pivotal touchdown. He also helped anchor the Crusaders’ defensive line, along with Genova.
Freshman Jeremiah Colclough paced Lutheran’s running game. Hill tested the Crusaders’ defense throughout and senior linebacker Brandon Smith and Cipriano were defensive standouts for the Hilltoppers.
A side note: the crowd was great, with fans from both teams traveling well. The stands were packed and their was a standing room crowd. Both team’s student sections were supportive throughout.
“Both defenses played very well, I am proud of our defense,” Phipps said. “Those kids put in a great week of work and it showed. They gave up 13 points to a team that is used to scoring a lot of points. Offensively, our quarterback is a grinder, I love the fact that I got to work with him as long as I did. He did everything he could to win the football game.”
Said DeLise: “Playing football at Hopkins was an amazing experience, it’s what I dreamed of as a kid.”