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Tigers fail to end on a perfect note

There was a dazed look on the faces of almost every Fort Hamilton football player as they walked around the field aimlessly. One of those “what just happened?” reactions.

The top-seeded Tigers didn’t know what to do, where to go, after No. 5 Curtis rallied from a two-touchdown deficit in the final 15 minutes of the two teams’ PSAL City Championship division semifinal for a dramatic 20-19 victory in Bay Ridge. The Brooklyn powerhouse’s first loss was a crushing season-ending one.

“We’re heartbroken,” wide receiver Brandon Reddish, whose two touchdown receptions built a 19-6 lead late in the third quarter. “We had control of the game.”

Or, so they thought.

Fifth-seeded Curtis went on a 13-play, 67-yard drive across the final few minutes, capped by quarterback Tynell Brown’s 8-yard touchdown run and two-point conversation with 31 seconds left. The Warriors recovered the ensuing squib kick, ending any doubt.

“That’s just life sometimes %u2013 it was their time,” said quarterback Frank Laino, referring to the Tigers’ last-second semifinals win over Susan Wagner last year at this time.

Fort Hamilton (11-1) had its chances. There was Nick Fiorito’s missed 32-yard field goal in the first quarter that would’ve given the Tigers an early lead. He also had an extra point blocked by Curtis star Dominique Easley, which proved crucial later on.

Frank Laino was picked off in the fourth quarter during a drive that could’ve eaten up clock and the Tigers failed to move the sticks on two other drives in the final stanza.

Even though the offense failed to muster much in the final quarter, the defense was holding strong, until that final fateful drive.

Brown broke their hearts with a 31-yard run on 4th-and-9 from the Curtis 39 and later scampered in from eight yards out. On the game-winning two-point conversion, he hit Jevon Gardner in the end zone. On the play, he rolled right, drawing defenders who thought he might run, and found Gardner.

“Great play by him,” Fort Hamilton coach Vinny Laino said. “We couldn’t stop that sprint play.”

He spent close to a half-hour speaking with his players afterward. The journey, which began after the Tigers lost in the city championship game to Port Richmond last December, had ended. He emphasized how proud he was, and hoped his players could understand they may have fallen short of their goals, but losing a football game isn’t the end of the world. They had accomplished plenty.

“They’re disappointed; I feel bad for the boys, they worked so hard,” he said. “We gave it everything we had, so I’m proud of them, proud of them for that.”

The loss also signaled the last time Vinny Laino would coach his son Frank, or 17 other seniors. The group went 23-2 the last two years, but ultimately fell short of a city crown.

“It’s a pretty horrible feeling,” Frank Laino said.

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