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Jay Morwood

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Devin Demetres rushes with the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Centereach threatened to retie the game late in the fourth quarter, but a costly interception halted the Cougars march down the field, and with that, went the football team’s chance to compete in the Division II finals. Centereach fell to North Babylon 14-7 in the county semifinals Nov. 10.

Chris Witherspoon leaps up in an attempt to intercept a North Babylon pass. Photo by Bill Landon

The Cougars had a historic run, opening the season on a five-game winning streak and completing the season with an 8-2 record.

Centereach head coach Adam Barrett said the transformation of his team  to finally become a playoff contender was due to several factors.

“The players have really committed to the offseason program and took the necessary steps to improve each year, which was key,” he said. “Having leaders that want to be the best they can be, and never settling has really helped the younger kids contribute. Having a great core of young coaches that bought into the program and the system that I brought here and having them relate to the kids is a big factor as well.”

On their opening possession, the North Babylon Bulldogs began a march down the field from deep inside their own territory, leaning on running back David Estrella. They ground out yardage and sustained the drive until ultimately finding the end zone on short yardage with four minutes left in the opening quarter.

North Babylon threatened again with six minutes left in the half, but the Cougars defense made a stand, forcing the Bulldogs to punt on fourth-and-15.

The spark for the Cougars offense came three plays later, when senior quarterback Jay Morwood handed a pass to junior Devin Demetres, who despite seeming to be stopped at the line of scrimmage, broke outside and defended against four would-be tacklers while covering 65 yards during his touchdown run. Sophomore kicker Matt Robbert completed the point-after attempt to make it a new game.

Marcus Garcia-Miller drags a tackler as he moves the ball up the field. Photo by Bill Landon

On the opening drive of the second half, a Centereach fumble proved costly. After North Babylon recovered, the team completed three plays before Estrella sauntered into the end zone once more for a 14-7 lead.

With less than two minutes remaining in regulation, Centereach mounted a drive downfield connecting on a pair of long pass-plays, one of which was a 32-yard toss to Marcus Garcia-Miller, but both were called back because of offensive pass interference. On a third and long, Morwood threw a Hail Mary pass near the end zone where a North Babylon corner leaped in front for the interception, and with it, victory.

Barrett said that seniors Alec Kiernan, Vinny Liotta and Mike Grieco have led the team to places he hasn’t seen, and were a big part of the team’s success.

“Buying in to everything we do and making other players better around them is why I consider them leaders,” Barrett said. “They lead by example on the field, in the classroom and in the community. Even though the season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, the seniors have really shaped the program into what it is today.”

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Jesse DiStasio stretches his arms over the goal line for the game-winning touchdown. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

Centereach’s football team scored four touchdowns in 18 minutes to erase a 28-0 West Islip lead and send the game into overtime Oct. 28. After West Islip was held to a field goal, Centereach senior Jesse DiStasio scored the game-winning touchdown in a 34-31 come-from-behind thriller.

Jay Morwood tosses a pass. Photo by Jim Ferchland

After a 32-yard field goal by West Islip’s Bobby Dicapua, Centereach had an opportunity to win the game with a touchdown. Senior quarterback Jay Moorwood rushed out of the pocket avoiding pressure and connected with DiStasio, who was running on a deep slant and caught the pass at the 2-yard line before lunging with outstretched arms over the goal line for the 20-yard touchdown.

“The defender stopped me short,” DiStasio said. “I stretched over and I just started crying. I couldn’t believe it; I just saw everybody running to me. It was the best feeling of my life.”

West Islip led 28-7 heading into the fourth quarter. Morwood’s athleticism, vision and elusiveness outside the pocket made him a threat West Islip couldn’t contain. After throwing three interceptions, Morwood’s performance emerged in the fourth quarter with three crucial touchdowns. He finished with 276 passing yards on 19 completions with four touchdowns.

“I had all the confidence in the world in my team,” Morwood said on that final overtime possession. “I knew we were scoring. No one was stopping us. It didn’t matter who was getting the ball. I knew we were going to score no matter what.”

Jesse DiStasio celebrates the win with his teammates. Photo by Jim Ferchland

West Islip quarterback Mike LaDonna supplied all the offense for the Lions with his legs. He had 22 carries for 191 yards on the ground with four touchdowns.

“I’ve never been a part of playing or coaching a better comeback in the second half of a game,” Centereach head coach Adam Barrett said. “We kind of wanted to forget that first half. It was one of the best games I’ve ever been apart of.”

Centereach junior wide receiver and kick returner Devin Demetres ignited a spark after West Islip went up four scores. He broke free of multiple tackles on a 98-yard kick return and took the ball back for a touchdown, and the Cougars continued to plant their foot on the gas peddle.

Morwood took the offense under his wing with his scrambling ability and accuracy. He connected with his 6-foot, 2-inch senior wide receiver Chris Witherspoon on a 23-yard touchdown in the far right corner of the end zone to cut the deficit to 15, and launched the ball to Demetres into double coverage, which was was tipped by a West Islip defender before landing in Demetres’ hands for a 65-yard touchdown to make it 28-20.

“Jay made a great throw and the defense undercut it,” said Demetres, who had four receptions for 110 yards. “They cut it it too much and I knew they were going to tip it up, so I just kept my focus on the ball.”

Devin Demetres races into the end zone for a touchdown. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Senior running back Alec Kiernan, who carried Centereach’s offense all season long, was shut down by West Islip’s defense, which even forced a fumble on him. Although he was not a contributor on offense, he made a big defensive play on West Islip’s next drive.

Kiernan intercepted a pass with 4:20 left to play, and took the ball into Lions territory.

“We had the momentum before that play,” Kiernan said. “That play definitely set up a beautiful drive by Jay [Morwood]. We knew we had a chance.”

The interception resulted in Morwood’s touchdown to Demetres from 11 yards out with 2:38 left. Centereach converted on a two-point conversion to tie the game 28-28.

“It’s not a one person game,” Kiernan said of the comeback. “It’s a team game. We love each other and that’s how our team plays.”

Centereach finishes the regular season at 7-1 in Division I. Ranked No. 3 in the postseason, the Cougars will host No. 6 Bay Shore at 2 p.m. in the No. 4 qualifying round game.

“Every coach wants to go 8-0 every year and win the championship,” Barrett said. “Since I got to Centereach four years ago, we were always building. For the way the program was, we’re just getting better every year and continue to be successful.”

The Huntington football team jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the second quarter of its homecoming matchup against Centereach, and it proved to be all the Blue Devils needed, as the team held the Cougars scoreless in the first and third quarters to pull away with a 14-9 victory.

Huntington junior running back Sam Bergman rushed three yards for the game’s first touchdown. Huntington sophomore quarterback John Paci Jr. threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Taquan Gooden-Hill in the second quarter, which put Huntington (2-2 in Division II) out in front for good.

Centereach put its first points on the board as the clock wound down in the same stanza, with a 23-yard field goal kick from senior kicker and wide receiver Rob Montgomery. Both teams remained scoreless in the third, and the Cougars held off the Blue Devils in the fourth, but managed to break through in the matchup’s final minutes, when Montgomery caught a 7-yard pass from junior quarterback Jay Morwood for six points. The point-after attempt failed.

Paci was just 1-for-5 for 30 yards and a touchdown under center for Huntington, but senior running back Kei’ron Byrams chipped in, completing two of three attempts for 28 yards. Bergman had 42 rushing yards. Huntington senior running back Jared Leake ran for 103 yards on 17 carries, and junior tight end Anthony McDonald had 10 tackles and a sack. Huntington senior tight end and defensive lineman Josh Hallman had five tackles and a fumble recovery.

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Former Centereach team members raise their helmets in a display of unity. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Joseph Wolkin

According to Centereach football coach Adam Barrett, having a 4-4 record isn’t good enough.

The Cougars’ 2015 record placed them in a tie with Half Hollow Hills East for ninth in Division II out of 14 teams. With several key areas to work on, including developing sophomores and juniors from last year’s team, Barrett is hopeful for the team’s 2016 season.

“We have to top our win total from last year,” he said. “Obviously, we want to be better. I think we have the talent and the group that can get us to the playoffs for the first time in a while. We have to get better.”

Centereach missed the playoffs once again in 2015, putting pressure on several returning starters, including incoming senior Shawn McFarland. The wide receiver, who also played on the defensive side of the ball last year, is expected to be a team leader this season.

However, McFarland isn’t the only returning starter Barrett is counting on to carry the team.

Junior running back Alec Kiernan is on the coach’s radar as someone who will stand out in 2016. Standing at 5-feet, 10-inches tall, he continuously defeated opposing rush defenses throughout his sophomore season. Highlight reels show him methodically moving his way through defenders, including an approximately 50-yard rush and another 40-yard one for a touchdown.

“We have a lot of seniors this year,” Barrett said with optimism. “We were a little bit younger last year. I think across the board, a lot of guys have more varsity experience already, so that will help us this year.”

The Cougars will have a first-year starter at quarterback in 2016, with Jay Morwood making the move from junior varsity. According to Barrett, there is a lot of pressure for Morwood to perform early and often.

With 14 seniors on the squad, Barrett expects the team to be stronger this season, but he understands the challenges ahead. The Cougars must defend the ball better after being outscored 184-130 last year, including shutouts at home against Huntington and Half Hollow Hills East, along with an away game at West Islip.

There might be light at the end of the tunnel though, now that there are more student-athletes focusing on the football program at Centereach.

“We’re getting a full-year commitment from these kids now over the last couple of years,” Barrett said. “In the past, it hasn’t been that way. These kids are really putting in the time over the offseason in the weight room and coming to spring ball after playing two to three sports. They have to go in the weight room and stay in shape all year, so that way they’re ready to go as soon as their spring sports are over. We have a year-round commitment to football, and it’s making a difference.”