Pearl River looked like it might run away with Saturday's home football game against Beacon early on, building a 14-0 advantage and just missing on opportunities to add more.
"I was afraid it was (getting away from us)," Beacon Head Coach Brian Mahon said. "That's why I give the guys a lot of credit for not letting it happen."
Beacon turned things around, finally taking the lead on an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown by Taurus Phillips on the way to a 21-14 victory at Pearl River.
"We had a couple of bad plays on defense and they capitalized on it," Pearl River Head Coach Jeff Michael said. "They took advantage of the plays we gave them."
Phillips also got Beacon (2-2) within one before the big return with touchdown passes of 22 and 44 yards to Charles Delbene. He completed six of 13 passes for 103 yards and two scores, ran for a two-point conversion after his own interception return and broke up a two-point conversion attempt by the Pirates (1-3).
"He's a scrappy kid," Michael said. "He's one of the kids you like to have on your team because when everything was falling apart around him, he seemed to keep them going."
"It's only his third game as a quarterback," Mahon said. "We made a switch before the second game. He's a real athletic kid. He doesn't give up."
The same could be said for Beacon, which hung in the game while Pearl River dominated early. The Pirates threatened from the first drive, when quarterback Chris Van Houten and Joe Wholey just missed on a deep ball down the sidelines.
The defense held for a second time to force Beacon to punt from deep in its own end and Pearl River took advantage as Rob Gullo returned it 47 yards for a touchdown. Gullo also caught a two-point conversion pass from Van Houten to give the Pirates an 8-0 edge.
"It seemed like we were on the right path," Michael said. "We jumped out of the gate quickly. It looked like we were ready."
The Pirates got the ball right back when Bulldogs running back Justin Espinal fumbled and outside linebacker Kevin Considine recovered for Pearl River at the Beacon 14. The Pirates could only manage a 27-yard field goal attempt by Ronan Curry that sailed wide right.
Phillips seemed to fumble on the next drive, but the play was called an incomplete pass. Pearl River eventually forced a punt, leading to an eight-play, 59-yard touchdown drive. Van Houten completed a 20-yard pass to Cle Davis to help get the Pirates close, later capping the drive with a seven-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal.
Phillips broke up Van Houten's conversion pass, but the Pirates led, 14-0, early in the second quarter.
Around the same time, two things changed the game. Gullo left with a pinched nerve and Beacon found its offense.
"The Rob Gullo injury definitely hurt us," Michael said. "He's the heart and soul of our team right now. He's the guy kids turn to to get fired up. Not having him in the backfield on offense and not having him on defense (hurt)."
"We kind of found a weakness that we started to use," Mahon said. "Once we found that, it gave (our offense) confidence and we were able to start moving the ball."
Beacon pulled within a score with a nine-play, 70-yard drive. Phillips found Rae'kwon Melvin for seven yards to convert a third-and-five early in the possession and Jonathan Underwood broke loose for a 23-yard run.
Beacon faced fourth-and-five at the Pearl River 22 and Phillips fumbled the snap, but scooped it up and found Delbene open for a touchdown.
"The let off," Michael said. "We coach them all week. Don't let up until you hear the whistle. Unfortunately, we let up early."
Beacon needed only two plays to score again, this time with Phillips exploiting the Pearl River secondary for a 44-yard touchdown to Delbene. Patrick Schetter missed the extra point, leaving Pearl River with a 14-13 lead with 2:54 left in the first half.
That was the last real threat by the Beacon offense in the game.
"That was a blown coverage," Michael said. "The defense played strong the entire game other than two or three plays. They kept the game close. We couldn't take advantage. Whenever we got the ball back, we seemed to be beating ourselves. It was just mental mistakes and bad decisions."
The teams did nothing but trade punts the entire third quarter and much of the fourth until Pearl River took over on its own 25 with 9:24 remaining. The Pirates methodically drove the ball 50 yards, eating up well over five minutes of the clock. Van Houten converted one third down with a seven-yard run and another with a six-yard scramble. Then he completed an 11-yard pass to Shane Ocasal to the Beacon 27.
Two plays later on third down, Van Houten tried a sideline pass, but Phillips jumped the route and intercepted the ball, racing 80 yards for what turned out to be the winning touchdown.
"From where I was standing, it was a great read by (Phillips)," Mahon said. "He read it perfectly. The second he caught it, I knew no one was catching him. It was a great play."
"We had the flats open," Michael said. "Unfortunately, Chris tried to force the ball into coverage. It was a bad decision. The kid read the quarterback's eyes the whole way and took it for six."
Pearl River had one more shot and again drove into Beacon territory before Davon Cousar intercepted a Van Houten pass down the sideline at the Bulldogs' nine with 1:24 left.
Van Houten completed 13 of 29 passes for 98 yards and the two interceptions. He also led the Pirates in rushing with 56 yards and a score on 10 carries.
Espinal clinched the game with a 43-yard run on third down, allowing Beacon to run out the clock. Espinal finished with 137 yards on 19 carries.
Pearl River's next game is 7 p.m. Friday at Harrison, the top-ranked team in Class A.
Class A Football
Beacon 21, Pearl River 14
Beacon 0 13 0 8--21
Pearl River 8 6 0 0--14
Pearl River: Rob Gullo 47 punt return (Gullo pass from Chris Van Houten)
Pearl River: Van Houten 7 run (kick failed)
Beacon: Charles Dalbene 22 pass from Taurus Phillips (Patrick Schetter kick)
Beacon: Dalbene 44 pass from Phillips (kick failed)
Beacon: Phillips 80 interception return (Phillips run)