By Bill Landon
You can’t catch Tyler Ammirato, or block Kevin Gersbeck.
The Miller Place seniors raced toward victory for their team, touching the end zone five times in a 42-12 victory over Port Jefferson in the Division IV qualifying round Nov. 4.
The No. 3-seeded Panthers will travel to No. 2 Shoreham-Wading River Nov. 11 for a 6 p.m. semifinal matchup.
“I thought our kids prepared well all week,” Miller Place head coach Greg Murphy said of the days leading up to the seeding-round match. “They did exactly what we thought they were going to do; they performed well.”
After just 12 minutes, Miller Place had a four-score advantage over the Royals.
First, Gersbeck, a wide receiver, returned the ball 72 yards on the opening kickoff for the early score, and Ammirato, a running back, tacked on the second when he broke outside and ran 15 yards with five minutes remaining in the opening quarter. Senior wide receiver and defensive back Eric Cisneros did what he’s done all season, and split the uprights both times to help his team to a 14-0 lead.
Port Jefferson’s running backs tested Miller Place’s defensive line, but time and time again found nothing.
Miller Place junior quarterback Anthony Seymour bowled his way up the middle with 2:44 left on a quarterback keeper for the third touchdown of the game, and the Royals were forced to punt the ball away on their next possession. Gersbeck struck again when he shed two tacklers and bolted down the left sideline. Cisneros, who was perfect on the evening, put Miller Place out front 28-0.
“They’re a tough team — they always put their heart out there,” Gersbeck said of Port Jefferson. “Our hard work and our preparation — we were focused in practice all week so that was a big part of our win.”
The Panthers’ offensive attack featured several players under center. On the next possession, Ammirato took the snap on a keeper, and grounded out 14 yards for the first touchdown of the second quarter.
“They came out and punched us in the face on defense a little bit, but we knew that was coming,” Ammirato said. “They played tough, but I think we wore them down a little bit. We definitely got our job done.”
Again, the Royals struggled for traction and went three and out.
“They’re a very good football team over there, they have excellent athletes — they have some size and they’re coached very well, so I’m not surprised that they came out ready to play,” Port Jefferson head coach Andrew Cosci said. “I don’t think we played our best game. We played better as the game went on, but after that first quarter, it made it tough to come back.”
Cisneros set up the next score after a catch and run where he was forced out at the 1-yard line, and again, it was Ammirato who finished it, giving the team a 42-0 lead heading into the locker room at halftime.
“Looking at Port Jeff on film, I thought they had some good kids — decent size — but with their lack of numbers, I thought we could wear them down through attrition with the kids we have,” Murphy said. “We took advantage of that first half and we played Miller Place football.”
Forced to go to the air, Port Jefferson junior quarterback Jack Collins started to thread the needle, finding receivers over the middle to move the chains for the Royals. It was their first sustained drive of the game, but Miller Place senior linebacker Shane White put an end to it when he stepped in front of an intended receiver and intercepted the pass.
Murphy had rested his starters to open the second half, and although the Royals were on the move again, the drive was halted when junior safety Anthony Filippetti caught a floater for the Panthers’ second interception of the game. He returned the ball 32 yards.
Miller Place sophomore quarterback Tom Nealis handed the ball off to his running backs to keep the play inbounds while taking time off the clock, but Port Jefferson averted a shutout with just over eight minutes left to play when Collins took matters into his own hands and bulled his way up the middle on short yardage. Port Jefferson failed to complete the 2-point conversion when Miller Place sophomore defensive back Jon Scarlatos stuffed the runner, but with seconds left in the game, Collins threw a strike to senior tight end Brian Mark who scored a 32-yard touchdown as time ran out.
Ammirato said despite the margin of victory, his team still has work to do.
“We’ll study film, practice hard, and go over our game plan every day [for next week],” he said leading up to the game against Shoreham-Wading River. “Our defense has struggled a little all year, but we’ve finally turned that around.”
The Panthers lost to the Wildcats, 27-14, Oct. 14, so Miller Place is looking to improve from its one of just two division losses this season.
“We’ve even been preparing for Shoreham this week in practice, and we’ve been looking for redemption against them since we lost,” Gersbeck said. “It’s going to be a big game.”