After watching the high-powered James I. O’Neill offense mount another impressive drive in the waning seconds, plunge into the end zone for the potential tying score as time expired, and then eschew the extra-point attempt in favor of a winning two-point conversion, a hush came over the Spackenkill home crowd.
A bit of nervousness, no doubt.
But within that Spartans huddle, the pervading thought was: “(O’Neill) going for it meant they wanted no part of us in overtime,” lineman Saad Khan said. “They knew what we could do.”
Now, perhaps, many more Section 9 high school football fans know it, too.
On a sweep left, needing two yards, defensive end Kyiev Bennermon knifed through blocks to make the saving tackle at the 1, ending the game and sending Spackenkill — players and fans alike — into delirium.
The Spartans, after Camron Abalos’ 8-yard touchdown to Joe Arcuri with 1:41 left, had just survived its heart-in-throat moment and secured a huge victory, upsetting O’Neill, 42-41, on Saturday.
“We have the most heart of any team in the state,” said Arcuri, who had four receptions for 140 yards and three scores. “I’ll stand by that comment.”
Spackenkill (4-1) is also one of the most talented.
Abalos, who at times proved an unstoppable dynamo compiling clips for his highlight package, threw for 402 yards and a career-high six touchdowns, and the senior ran for 121 yards. Speedster Kabongo Barry had seven receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns.
Bennermon, a big lineman who now moonlights at receiver, had six catches for 90 yards and a score. He also had a fourth-quarter sack, and Jared Milani and Marlon Brooks each had an interception.
The Spartans were again without star running back Dhyquem Lewinson, who has missed the last three weeks with a fractured collarbone. Teammates dedicated this victory to him.
“I’ve never seen us more prepared and intense coming into a game,” Abalos said, fighting tears. “We knew this was a huge game, and it couldn’t have had a better ending.”
Spackenkill exacted some revenge on O’Neill, the team it lost to in the sectional semifinals last season. The Raiders (4-1) entered averaging 57.7 points and thrashed each of its opponents, including five-time defending champ Marlboro.
And lest we forget, Spackenkill was a one-win team two seasons ago. So this, in every way, was a statement game.
“This is the greatest feeling ever,” Bennermon said minutes after the game. “Man, my legs are still trembling.”
O’Neill led 21-7 in a first half dominated by Tiquan Scott, who broke three long touchdown runs. But the Spartans surged during a wild, back-and-forth third quarter. Spackenkill eventually tied it at 35 on Abalos’ short curl to Barry, which the receiver turned into a 55-yard touchdown with 2:03 left in the quarter.
“This is amazing,” Barry said. “It was tough at times, but this is who we are. We smack every obstacle.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4
On the Web
To see a video and photo gallery from the Spackenkill-O’Neill game and to read about the rest of the weekend’s football action, visit http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com