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Frank Laino, Fort Hamilton pull off late-game magic

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There was no new strategy for the Fort Hamilton football team as it was driving down the field with less than four minutes left. The Tigers were down four points and 3:46 away from their season coming to a close.

“We were just trying to get the balls to our playmakers,” coach Vinny Laino said, “and hope they would make a special play.”

It doesn’t get much more special than what Frank Laino and Levon Williams pulled off with 24 seconds to go.

On fourth down at the Susan Wagner 6-yard line with the game and season on the line, Laino found Williams on a slant in the end zone to give host Fort Hamilton back the lead. Nick Fiorito nailed the extra point and the third-seeded Tigers went on to beat the ninth-seeded Falcons, 29-26, on Saturday afternoon in the PSAL City Championship semifinals.

“We practice those situations all the time,” said Frank Laino, the junior quarterback.

Senior Taurel Price took a double reverse down to the Wagner 8-yard line to set up the score. But the play after Price’s big gain, Frank Laino missed Williams on that same slant pattern. Luckily, the Tigers went right back to it.

Susan Wagner (7-5) went ahead, 26-22, on a 1-yard run by Jordan Rodriguez with 3:46 left. That score was set up by Trevor Ellam’s 20-yard run down to the Fort Hamilton 4. A bad long snap that Price, who also punts, couldn’t handle gave the Falcons fine field position – at the Tigers’ 24-yard line – and they made it count.

“On another day, you lose on a play like that,” Vinny Laino said.

But not Saturday and not Fort Hamilton (12-0), which will meet top-seed Port Richmond, a winner against No. 10 Boys & Girls, in the PSAL city championship game next Saturday at Midwood Athletic Complex. The Tigers, like they were in two impossibly close games against Wagner and Canarsie in the first two weeks of the season, were just too mentally strong.

“We had to overcome a lot of obstacles,” Frank Laino said of Saturday’s game.

Fort Hamilton had a 22-14 lead with 8:08 left after Frank Laino’s 1-yard touchdown run, but Wagner came right back about a minute later. Ellam’s 33-yard scamper cut the lead to 22-20 and Rodriguez’s keeper run for the two-point conversion attempt failed.

The numbers weren’t impressive – Frank Laino had 63 yards rushing and 62 passing – but the quarterback managed the game to perfection. Brandon Reddish had 63 yards and a touchdown on the ground and Levon Williams had a running touchdown on a 14-yard double reverse.

There were a number of those trick plays Saturday. Wagner used a fake punt run by tailback Anthony Sama for major yardage and Fort Hamilton had a handful of end arounds and double reverses.

“It’s the semifinals,” Frank Laino. “You gotta lay it all out on the line.”

Fort Hamilton did and the Tigers used every last second to ensure they would advance to city championship game.

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