MAHOPAC – It was a significant moment in Section 1 history, but Samantha Del Ponte only had one thought after she latched on to a deep ball from Nichole Ljuljic in the closing minutes of the opening half.
The speedy freshman receiver darted into the end zone and Lakeland made the 32-yard connection stand up, posting a 6-0 win over Brewster to secure the first-ever Section 1 small-school girls flag football championship Wednesday at Mahopac High School.
“We knew it was going to be a long throw, and Nicole told me, ‘Just keep running and I’ll get it to you,’ ” Del Ponte said. “I kept on running, the ball fell right into my hands and I ran a little more.”
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It was her 20th touchdown of the season.
“We’ve run the play before,” Ljuljic said. “The other time it was incomplete, though. We finally dialed it up. Me and Sam work on that all the time in practice. When that play was called in the huddle, I knew I wanted to pass to her no matter what.”
While the Bears went undefeated last season and won the season-ending tournament, it was not an official Section 1 title as girls flag football was pilot sport and thus not sanctioned.
That makes this a historic win.
“It was a motivator from the beginning,” Hornets coach P.J. Nyberg said. “We knew we could get here. We knew we had the pieces. After we had a big win streak we began to believe we could actually win this. Getting to the game changed to winning the game. They’re going to have their names on everything as the first ever. They’ll go on the wall at school. All those things really motivated us.”
There was plenty of drama for a one-score game.
Brewster was able to move the ball in the second half and was first-and-goal twice late in the game, but those drives ended on downs.
“We were one play away,” Bears quarterback Bre Washington said. “There were multiple calls that could’ve gone a different way, but we had multiple opportunities to put some points on the board. It’s on us.”
What it means
Defense won another championship.
Washington is elusive and very difficult to contain. She made several big plays, but in crunch time there wasn’t a lot of room to make defenders miss or enough time in the pocket to check every option down field.
“I think we easily have the two best rushers in the section,” Ljuljic said. “Laura MacDonald and Sam Moscati are absolutely unstoppable when it comes to making plays. They just know how to pull flags better than anyone. When the game is on the line, they execute every time.”
Players of the game
MacDonald and Moscati were right where they needed to be to make timely stops the entire game.
By the numbers
Lakeland (15-2-1): Ljuljic threw for 126 yards and one touchdown. … Del Ponte finished with 70 receiving yards and ran for 36 yards.
Brewster: (13-2-2): Washington threw for 115 yards and ran for 45 yards. … Madison Dakin caught six passes for 40 yards.
They said it
“It was the best feeling ever after we ran out the clock,” Del Ponte said. “It was so fun watching everyone come off the field and celebrate, so heartwarming.”
“This game did feel different,” Washington said. “I approached it, though, like just another game so I didn’t put too much stress up on anybody else.”
“It meant so much to everyone,” Ljuljic said. “This is my first year getting to play with these girls and this whole experience, getting to be part of a whole big family. We support each other no matter what. This was worth everything we did. This is such an amazing feeling that I’m having right now.”
Lakeland gets to be part of a celebratory event for sectional champions hosted by the Giants on June 7 at MetLife Stadium.