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Nat Amato

By Bill Landon

After what was argued to be a questionable call, Smithtown West’s football team couldn’t catch Huntington, falling 28-23 in the Bulls’ homecoming game Oct. 7.

On Huntington’s last possession of the third quarter, the offensive line stood and the line of scrimmage to start play, but decided instead to let the clock expire. What went unnoticed at field level was Huntington’s center bending over and touching the ball before he decided to stand up and let time tick off the clock.

Up in the press box, an assistant coach radioed head coach Steve Fasciani, who told player David Gonzales to pick up the ball and run with it. The wide receiver took off for the end zone, and officials blew their whistle at the 30-yard line, but Fasciani argued it was a live ball. After a 25-minute conference which including sourcing the rulebook, the ruling on the field stood that there was no touchdown.

“I have no problem with how our guys played in the second half today; all heart. They played tough and they took the next step in my opinion.”

—Steve Fasciani

In the fourth quarter, Smithtown West quarterback Kyle Zawadzki found wide receiver Chris Crespo open over the middle, who turned it up field for the touchdown with just over three minutes left to play. Kicker Matthew Villano scored on the extra-point kick attempt to pull Smithtown West within five, but Huntington took over and let the clock unwind.

“They play power football and they’re very good at it, but our second half — with how our defense played — was a huge step for us,” Fasciani said. “I have no problem with how our guys played in the second half today; all heart. They played tough and they took the next step in my opinion.”

Running back Eric Sands led the way for the Blue Devils, and after a long run down to the 2-yard line, he sealed the deal by punching into the end zone two plays later. Senior Nat Amato split the uprights for a 7-0 lead.

The Bulls struggled with their running game, and went three-and-out on their first three possessions against a formidable Huntington defensive unit.

Utilizing the hurry-up offense, Huntington connected on three consecutive pass plays to move the chains to the 15-yard line. Sands once again made his way into the end zone, racing down the right sideline and breaking a tackle before sauntering into touchdown land. After a low snap, holder Luke Eidle was able to gather it up and Amato struck again to put his team out front 14-0 with just over two minutes left in the opening quarter.

Smithtown West made progress up the field, but the Blue Devils defense forced a turnover, and Sands got the call once more as the junior raced 19 yards for the touchdown. Amato, perfect on the day, gave Huntington a 21-0 advantage with just under 10 minutes left until halftime.

“We thought they were identical to us with their offense — they’ve got a lot of talented skill players — but we knew coming in we were going to have to stop [Kyle Zawadzki].”

—Steve Muller

“[Eric Sands] was a monster in the beginning of the game,” Huntington head coach Steve Muller said. “We thought they were identical to us with their offense — they’ve got a lot of talented skill players — but we knew coming in we were going to have to stop [Kyle Zawadzki].”

But the coach said he knew his team couldn’t stop him.

“He’s very, very good, an outstanding athlete,” Muller said. “Since can’t stop him, you have to bend him a little bit.”

Zawadzki made that hard to do when he dropped back to pass Crespo, crossing over the middle, who made the 36-yard touchdown catch. Crespo struck again on a handoff, punching it in for the two-point conversion to trail 21-8 with less than seven minutes left in the second.

Huntington responded when quarterback John Paci hit a hole, broke outside and raced 51 yards down the right sideline before he was forced out at the 14-yard line. Sands finished the play by breaking free of two would-be tacklers and finding the end zone for his fourth touchdown of the game. Sands said he couldn’t take all the credit for the scores.

“My line, they’re excellent,” he said. “They’re my leaders and I can’t say enough about them. They played great; I can’t do it without those guys.”

Smithtown West fumbled the ball four minutes into the third, and Smithtown West running back and linebacker Matthew Caddigan recovered it. Zawadzki scored on a keeper, taking the ball five yards for the only third-quarter score.

“I thought we played a sloppy second half,” Sands said. “But [Smithtown West is] a competitive team.”

The Bulls drop to 2-3 in the Suffolk County Division II standings while the Blue Devils improve to 3-2. Huntington hopes to spoil another homecoming when the Blue Devils travel to Newfield Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. Smithtown West will face off against crosstown rival Smithtown East the same date and time.

League III's No. 1-ranked Bulls tally fourth shutout in last five games

Smithtown West's Andrew McDonnell heads away a Huntington corner kick. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

Brandon Erny has now scored the game-winning goal in four of the last five games for Smithtown West boys’ soccer team.

Smithtown West's Brandon Erny moves the ball through midfield. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Smithtown West’s Brandon Erny moves the ball through midfield. Photo by Desirée Keegan

In the Bulls’ 2-0 victory over Huntington Oct. 10, Erny knocked in Smithtown West’s first goal with 22 minutes left in the first half.

A senior co-captain, Erny made his way through midfield and passed the ball to junior Andrew McDonnell at his left. Erny then booked his way to the top of the box, grabbed the ball back from McDonnell and tapped it into the far left corner for the early advantage, and ultimately his team’s six straight win.

“I just wanted to get the ball up top,” he said. “I made the quick pass to Andrew and wanted to get the ball back as quick as possible. This was an important win today.”

Senior co-captain Aaron Siegel made multiple leaping grabs throughout the first half to preserve his clean sheet.

“I felt good today,” he said. “I was vocal; did really good in the air. All of their chances were basically long throw-ins, which I came out collecting. I was good on the line today and the back row did pretty well too, so that helped a lot.”

Smithtown West's Aaron Siegel makes a leaping save in the Bulls' shutout of Huntington. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Smithtown West’s Aaron Siegel makes a leaping save in the Bulls’ shutout of Huntington. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Huntington senior defender Matthew Gelb, with his mighty throw-ins, gave his team much of their chances at a goal, but the forwards had trouble capitalizing on any opportunities at the net. Huntington junior goalkeeper Nat Amato was also strong between the pipes.

Less than three minutes into the second half, McDonnell received the ball in the first half of Huntington’s zone, and moved it toward Amato — who started coming out of the box — and failed to beat him out as the goalkeeper made the stop. Amato did the same on a rebound opportunity. A minute later after a corner-kick send in, McDonnell got his head on the ball for the 2-0 lead.

Siegel said he knew Huntington was going to be a formidable opponent.

“It’s a tough win every year,” he said. “Huntington is really tough; always challenging. They have a coach over there who gets them energized. They always come at us full speed.”

He said his team stayed focused on Friday during practice to earn the win, his fifth shutout of the season and third at home, and will hope to do the same this Friday when his 10-1 top-seeded team takes on No. 2 Newfield (9-1-1 League III).

Huntington's Matt Gelb heads the ball over a Smithtown West player and into the Bulls' zone. Photo by Desirée Kegan
Huntington’s Matt Gelb heads the ball over a Smithtown West player and into the Bulls’ zone. Photo by Desirée Kegan

Siegel said the game will help them prepare for a postseason push. The co-captains are aiming for the county finals.

“We’re going to get playoff ready — playoff-speed ready — because there’s nothing like playoffs,” Siegel said. “Whether you’re the No. 16 team or the top seed, every team is coming at you, everything team is good and every team is fired up.”

Erny said heading into the matchup that the team will work on its defense against the closely-ranked Wolverines in the hopes that the Bulls can hold it down in the remaining two games against West Islip and Centereach to claim the League III title.

Newfield handed the Bulls their only loss this year. A 2-0 defeat Sep. 17.

“I’m looking for revenge,” Siegel said. “They took one from us on our own field and that’s the only time I’ve ever lost in three years playing here. It’s not going to happen again.”

Huntington's co-captains Carlos Rivera, Wilber Parada and Olvin Palma set up a play during the Blue Devils' 1-0 Class AA quarterfinal loss to Brentwood on Nov. 2. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Huntington's Jayvin Coto leaps up to head the ball in the No. 4-ranked Blue Devils' 1-0 loss to No. 1 Brentwood in the quarterfinal round of the Class AA playoffs on Nov. 2. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Huntington’s Jayvin Coto leaps up to head the ball in the No. 4-ranked Blue Devils’ 1-0 loss to No. 1 Brentwood in the quarterfinal round of the Class AA playoffs on Nov. 2. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Huntington had several strategies to score a goal, but none of them paid off on Monday. The Blue Devils had difficulty getting shots early and often enough, and the No. 4-seeded boys’ soccer team fell to No. 1 Brentwood, 1-0, in the quarterfinals of the Class AA playoffs.

“They played hard,” Huntington head coach John Pagano said of his team. “They played with the No. 2 team in the state and the difference was one shot.”

Blue Devils sophomore goalkeeper Nat Amato made most of his seven saves in the first half to keep the teams in a stalemate heading into halftime, but Brentwood only needed to make two stops on their end to record the Indians’ 14th shutout of the season.

With 16 minutes remaining in the game, Brentwood scored off a through ball. With the Indians forward in the corner, Amato came to the right side of the box and a Huntington defender dove but missed redirecting the ball. The Brentwood player then crossed it between Amato and another Huntington defender, who was guarding the opposite corner of the net, to break the draw.

Huntington's Marlon Licona regains possession of the ball in the Blue Devils' zone during the team's 1-0 Class AA semifinal loss to Brentwood on Nov. 2. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Huntington’s Marlon Licona regains possession of the ball in the Blue Devils’ zone during the team’s 1-0 Class AA semifinal loss to Brentwood on Nov. 2. Photo by Desirée Keegan

In the last 10 minutes, the Blue Devils continued to pressure and push into the Indians’ zone, leaving it all out on the field, but they couldn’t get a good attempt at a goal.

With 5:20 remaining, senior midfielder and co-captain Wilber Parada rushed the ball from the corner to the box, but no one could knock it in — it floated across the front of the net.

“There was no quit,” Pagano said. “They played until the last whistle. We had several scoring chances at the end and the game could’ve easily gone either way. I’m very proud of them.”

Huntington ended the season with a 15-2-2 overall record and a 10-2-2 mark in League III. The Blue Devils will graduate 18 seniors from the roster at the end of this school year, including co-captains Carlos Rivera, a forward, and Olvin Palma, a midfielder.

“It’s been gratifying,” Pagano said of coaching his departing leaders. “It was a pleasure coaching these boys, but it’s going to be sad to see them leave.”

Drops Centereach, 4-1, in enemy territory

Huntington junior defender Mark Rafuse heads the ball away from the net. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

We’ll be seeing the Huntington Blue Devils this postseason.

With a 4-1 win over Centereach Tuesday, the Huntington boys’ soccer team sealed its fate as the team moved to 7-1-1 in League II, guaranteeing them a spot in the playoffs.

Huntington senior forward Carlos Rivera stops the ball to change direction. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Huntington senior forward Carlos Rivera stops the ball to change direction. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“Clinching playoffs is nice,” Huntington head coach John Pagano said. “The score makes it look as if we won by a big margin, but I still don’t feel we played the way I think we could.”

Huntington senior forward and co-captain Carlos Rivera put the first point on the scoreboard after taking a short pass off a corner kick and up to goal and shooting the ball into the right corner of the net.

With 5:02 remaining in the first half, senior midfielder and co-captain Wilber Parada scored on the inside left corner off a serve into the box from the right side, for the 2-0 point advantage.

Centereach wouldn’t go down quietly though, and with 1:30 left in the half, junior forward Elmer Alfaro scored on a straight shot up the center, to cut Huntington’s lead, 2-1.

“They played hard,” Centereach head coach Jon Galfano said of his Cougars. “There were a couple of mistakes on the field, but you have to give Huntington credit, too. They set up some beautiful plays.”

Centereach opened the second half with several attempts, but it was Huntington’s Rivera who scored the next goal, off another short pass off the corner kick.

“I have to be proud of my guys, because they never give up, they never quit,” Galfano said. “As a coach, especially at the high school level, that’s all you can hope for, because the kids keep fighting.”

The game grew physical between the two teams, and Pagano said he was pleased with how his team handled the situation.

Centereach defender and co-captain Nick Gennardo tries to get the ball out of Cougars territory. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Centereach defender Nick Gennardo tries to get the ball out of Cougars territory. Huntington midfielder Wilber Parada fights him. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“The game got very physical and actually could have gotten out of hand, but my guys were able to keep their composure,” Pagano said. “They realized the importance of all of these games down the stretch and how we can’t afford to have a player thrown out because of a fit of anger, so I liked that, and our finishing was good. We scored four good goals.”

Centereach junior goalkeeper Jared Steiger made several diving saves to keep the score close, but with the net being pounded, seven saves were not enough.

“I felt good,” Steiger said of his work between the pipes. “There were a few I think I could’ve got, though. As a team, I think we played alright, but we could’ve played better. I think we need to control the middle of the field better.”

With 10:35 left to play, Huntington senior midfielder and co-captain Olvin Palma scored after rocketing a shot on net from nearly 30 yards out, which surprised Centereach’s defense, leaving it with little time to react.

On the opposite side of the field, sophomore goalkeeper Nat Amato, who is in his first year with the team, made some key saves. He made a total of five.

“I felt pretty confident,” he said of being in net, adding that the players have been warm and welcoming to the new addition. “This team has great chemistry, since they’ve all been playing together since they were young. It’s a great team.”

While the Blue Devils are excited for another postseason appearance, the team’s main goal is having a home playoff game.

“We haven’t had a home playoff game in a real long time,” Pagano said. “I think we’re on track to do it. This is a really, really good group of kids, and as you continue to win games, you start to think that maybe a county final run isn’t out of the question. So right now, the way we’re playing, I think we have as good a shot as anybody.”

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