By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Danny Landberg lost his home, but not his focus.
The Erasmus Hall head football coach, whose Belle Harbor residence was deluged and literally destroyed by Superstorm Sandy last month, finally reached his ultimate goal Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium: Holding aloft the PSAL Bowl Championship Division trophy, along with his fellow coaches and players, after the Dutchmen pulled out a stirring 15-14 victory over Staten Island rival Tottenville.
"Most of all, I've got my boys and they're the medicine for me," said an emotional Landberg, drenched in a post-victory Gatorade bath rather than the torrential storm surge that sent his life into a tailspin with thousands of other tri-state residents during the biggest natural disaster to hit our area in over five decades. “I need them more than they need me. I’m just thankful and blessed I have them with me.”
The Dutchmen (12-0), who suffered a gutwrenching 20-12 championship game loss to Lincoln in the Bronx last December, were once again trailing in their quest to end the longest-running drought in the history of local high school athletics after Tottenville quarterback Brandon Barnes capped an 80-yard scoring drive with a four-yard run to put the Pirates in front, 14-7, late in the third quarter.
Behind but unbowed, Erasmus, which had gotten a nifty TD run from starting quarterback Matthew Domina on its opening drive of the game, turned to tailback Curtis Samuel to turn the tide. The third-year star lined up in the Wildcat formation and proceeded to use his lightning quick speed to spark what proved to be the title-winning drive.
Samuel kicked off the rally with a highlight-reel 53-yard run, bursting right and then quickly left before scampering inside the Pirates' 10-yard line. Senior Jonathan Samerson got across the goal line from three yards out moments later, pulling Erasmus within one in the final moments of the third period.
Landberg, perhaps wary of Tottenville's stiff defense, opted to go for the two-point conversion, and once again Samuel delivered. He veered right out of the Wildcat and dove through a pile of defenders into the end zone, giving Erasmus a 15-14 advantage it would not surrender, despite several late pushes by the Pirates.
"I knew I had to make a big play for my team," said Samuel, who will be back for a bid at the 225-year-old school's second title next Fall. "This one will last forever."
Despite being separated from his family in the wake of the storm, Landberg never missed a single practice or meeting with his players, many of whom were also affected by the storm, as were the Pirates, who fell just shy in their bid to win their third title under long-time coach Jim Munson.
Samuel finished the contest with 117 rushing yards and made three big catches and a key kick return to open the third quarter. Landberg called Samuel the "best player I've ever coached at Erasmus", and it was hard to argue with the compliment after watching the versatile back carve his way through the Pirates defense when it mattered most.
"We just figured it was time to pull the game out and Curtis would make something happen," noted Landberg, who took over the struggling program just over a decade ago in the hopes of bringing the Dutchmen back to relevance on the local high school scene.
Instead, he's lifted them to unprecedented heights, while keeping himself afloat in the eye of the vicious storm that ravaged his home and threatened to derail his dream of a football crown for Erasmus Hall.
"Coach just always told us to finish," noted Samerson. "So we finished!"
Grid Notes: Erasmus' win marked the third straight year a Brooklyn school has walked off with the title at Yankee Stadium. Fort Hamilton topped Lincoln, 8-6, in 2010 before the Railsplitters edged the Dutchmen for their first championship since 1990 last year. ... Tottenville QB Barnes was forced to leave the game late in the fourth quarter with a collarbone injury, forcing Munson to turn to sophomore Josh Rainey on the Pirates' final two drives. Rainey managed to get his team downfield quickly in the final moments of regulation, but was pulled down trying to unleash a game-ending Hail Mary as time expired. ... Tottenville also lost the title game to Curtis in 2009, but knocked off Canarsie in 2007 and won another crown in 2004. ... These schools were originally scheduled to meet during the regular season on Nov. 3, but that game was postponed due to Superstorm Sandy.