The fate of West Hempstead's homecoming literally fell into the hands of senior Daniel Sheeler - twice - in the final 60 seconds of Saturday's game.
With his team trailing 36-35 to Mineola with only a minute left in the fourth quarter, the 6-foot Sheeler ran out for a long pass as the crowd chanted "Let's go Rams!" Shoulder-to-shoulder with two defenders, he lept into the air, put up his hands and caught a stellar pass from Rams quarterback Bruno DeVito, landing just one yard shy of the end zone. The play led to a rushing touchdown from senior running back Justin Boatwright, his third of the day, putting West Hempstead back on top with 52 seconds remaining in the game.
Mineola, who had taken an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter, was still not ready to surrender though. They made a strong offensive drive toward the Ram's end zone, carrying the ball to the 40 yard line and then launching a hail mary pass with less than 30 seconds remaining. Their final comeback was foiled again by Sheeler, who intercepted the pass to secure a 41-36 victory for West Hempstead, now 6-1 for the season.
"I knew I had it. No one was around me," Sheeler told Patch after the game. He finished the day with three receptions for 50 yards and the interception.
"He's having an awesome year," Rams head coach Dominic Carre said of Sheeler, who plays tight end and defensive back, and he's the team's kicker. "We knew he was a good receiver but his blocking is now a million times better."
Sheeler's final catch was a dramatic finish to a game that was packed with excitement. Boatwright led with 19 carries for a total of 152 yards and three touchdowns, junior Michael Petrizzo had 12 carries, 92 yards and a touchdown and DeVito, who was 7 for 8 for the day, threw for 144 yards and two touchdowns.
"We ran the ball effectively and threw the ball well when we had to. We made big plays," Carre said. "They played awesome!"
It was a perfect ending to a festive homecoming too, which kicked off with a parade from Chestnut Street School down Nassau Boulevard to the high school, where the community enjoyed a carnival and packed the stands, sporting black and gold. (Check out photos from the parade .)
Noting that it was the last homecoming game for him and his fellow seniors, Sheeler said the day was "emotional."
"We had to step it up ... and go out with a big bang," he said. "I'm going to miss it."
It's certainly not the final game for the Rams varsity football team though. They have one more home game in the regular season on Saturday against Roosevelt, during which there will be a special recognition for the seniors and their parents.
"They're a good team," Carre said of Roosevelt. "We have to play solid defense and we'll be alright."
And then of course, there's playoffs.