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Tom Nealis

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The defensive end's big stop, catches lead Panthers

By Bill Landon

Miller Place’s Panthers made a stand.

The football team’s defense rose to the occasion when the Suffolk County championship title was on the line in a 25-25 game with just under two minutes left to play.

As No. 1-seeded Babylon barreled toward the end zone at Stony Brook University Nov. 16, No. 2 Miller Place’s defense forced a turnover on fourth-and-8 at their 34-yard line, and Anthony Seymour scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession to put the Division IV game away, 33-25. The win clinched Miller Place’s first football title since the championships began in 1992.

At the heart of it all was 5-foot, 3-inch senior Anthony Filippetti, who made the stop to force the turnover and followed it up by getting behind the secondary for a 27-yard reception to the Babylon 6 to set up the final score. The catch came after Seymour was sacked for a 7-yard loss.

To cap the championship-winning drive, Seymour faked a handoff to Tyler Ammirato heading over right tackle, and bolted off left tackle for a 3-yard rush into the end zone that snapped a 25-all tie with 21 seconds left.

“After we stopped them on downs I looked at Anthony [Seymour] and said, ‘If we don’t get in the end zone I’m never talking to you again,’” Ammirato said jokingly. “But he did, and we got the win. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

The county title-winning drive started with 1:45 left. Ammirato, a Seymour-to-Tom Nealis connection and Filippetti helped the Panthers drive 66 yards in seven plays.

“With our playmaker — Nealis — it’s comforting to know that you have a kid like that,” Miller Place head coach Greg Murphy said. “It makes you feel that you’re never really out of it. He’s been doing that all year long.”

Filippetti scored the first Miller Place touchdown of the evening on a 54-yard run on the second play from scrimmage and Cameron Hammer’s kick tied it at 7 with 7:43 left in the first quarter.

Babylon capped the first with another touchdown, but the point-after attempt failed, making the lead 13-7 heading into the second.

Seymour and Nealis were at it again to open the second, with Nealis catching a 34-yard pass from his field general. The teams were tied again when the Panthers’ point-after attempt also went wayward.

Nealis hauled in a 54-yard pass and run soon after, being forced out at the 2-yard line to set up Ammirato’s first of two touchdowns. The kicks failed on both and the scores were separated by a Babylon touchdown.

“In the beginning of the game we ran the ball trying to establish the ground game to eat up the clock,” Murphy said. “We needed that a little bit trying to get Tyler [Ammirato] going.”

Matt McNulty charged the Babylon holder after its final score and pulled off the block, which shifted momentum back Miller Place’s way.

“It was just a big moment — I had to pick up my teammates, I just had to do what I could,” the defensive end said. “I was hyped — I wanted that ball back and a chance to make a play and that’s what happened. We knew that the toughest defense was going to win today and making a stop like that in a championship game is what it’s all about.”

Miller Place (10-1) will meet Seaford (9-2) Nov. 24 at noon at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium in its first appearance in the Long Island Class IV championship game.

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Tyler Ammirato rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries in Miller Place's first Suffolk County semifinal win in seven seasons. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

It was an accomplishment seven years in the making.

Miller Place’s football team had its postseason cut short in a semifinal appearance each of the last six seasons, but Friday night was different.

Anthony Seymour completed two of six passes for 49 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for 72 yards on seven carries during Miller Place’s win. Photo by Bill Landon

Despite frigid temperatures and howling winds, two Miller Place interceptions and two Tyler Ammirato touchdowns drove the scoring in a 28-0 shutout of No. 3 Shoreham-Wading River in the Division IV semifinals Nov. 11.

Ammirato, a senior running back, showed how anxious he was to get back on the field after missing several games to injury. Rushing for 130 yards on 18 carries, he scored both first-half touchdowns, the second set up by an Alex Herbst interception at the Wildcats 40-yard line. He broke free for touchdown carries of 55 and 30 yards, and with kicker Cameron Hammer scoring on the extra-point kicks following each of the runs, the Panthers were up 14-0 just five minutes into the contest.

“It’s the best feeling for us as a program — we’ve been to the semifinals six years in a row and to break through is a dream come true for everyone out here,” Ammirato said of the win. “On Sunday we’ll watch film to prepare for Babylon. We lost to them the first time so we’ll watch that film to see what we did wrong, we’ll watch a couple of other games of them and we’ll just keep rolling.”

No. 2-seeded Miller Place will face No. 1 Babylon in the county final at Stony Brook University Nov. 16 at 7 p.m.

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment for this program — nobody realizes that this has been our swan song and to finally break through is a tribute to the kids because they believe in themselves,” said Miller Place head coach Greg Murphy said. “We’re finally healthy with Tyler [Ammirato] coming back — that’s a big piece of the puzzle for a kid who last year scored 30 touchdowns.”

Miller Place head football coach Greg Murphy smiles as he embraces coaches following the Panthers’ semifinal victory. Photo by Bill Landon

But Murphy’s “tough group of kids” had other athletes rising to the occasion.

After a scoreless third, junior linebacker Rob Morales also came up with an interception after stepping in front of a screen pass. He covered 35 yards before scampering into the end zone. He also had 13 tackles.

“When the plays come you’ve just gotta make them,” Morales said. “I saw the ball, I caught it and I ran. This is big this school has never won a Long Island championship and this is a big stepping stone towards that goal.”

Shoreham-Wading River, three-time Long Island champion, had its season cut short when Miller Place quarterback Anthony Seymour threw deep to the right side of the end zone to Tom Nealis who never broke stride for a 25-yard touchdown that put the game out of reach.

“They left me one-on-one with the cornerback and I knew they were going to come to me with a fade, and I was open, just beat ‘em,” Nealis said. “I’ve been coming to these games since I was 5 years old and to know that broke this streak, and to do it beating Shoreham-Wading River for a second time this season, it feels great.”

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By Desirée Keegan & Bill Landon

The Miller Place football team has seemingly been playing catch-up all season, and with a 21-14 homecoming win over Shoreham-Wading River Oct. 14, the Panthers have climbed up another rung on the ladder toward their destination: the top of the Division IV leaderboard.

“It’s kind of been our M.O. all season — we’ve been playing catch up a lot this year, but the kids believe,” Miller Place head coach Greg Murphy said. “They believe that they’re going to get it done and these kids have tremendous character. I couldn’t be prouder of this bunch.”

Miller Place quarterback Anthony Seymour tries to shake off a tackler on a keeper play. Photo by Bill Landon

The Panthers snapped the Wildcats’ 12-game winning streak, and with the victory, also avenged a 49-6 blowout at the hands of Shoreham-Wading River in the Suffolk County semifinals last season. Junior tight end Tom Nealis sealed the homecoming victory with a 5-yard go-ahead touchdown catch from senior quarterback Anthony Seymour with six minutes left in the game.

Seymour faked a handoff and dropped back to pass to Nealis, running a slant pattern, who despite having double coverage on him, came down with the ball as he slid on his knees in the end zone.

“Our defense played their butts off — we only allowed 14 points from a lethal offense [like theirs],” Nealis said. “We ended their 12-game winning streak. They came here [on our homecoming] and we ended it — that really means a lot.”

During that game-winning play, Nealis was matched up with Shoreham-Wading River sophomore quarterback and defensive back Xavier Arline, who had a 48-yard touchdown run of his own in the game.

“Arline, he’s a great defender,” Seymour said. “But [Nealis] came down with the ball for the touchdown — he’s been really big for us this year.”

Shoreham-Wading River senior running back Kyle Boden struck first for the Wildcats, but things changed when he went down with a knee injury late in the third quarter and sat out the rest of the game.

Miller Place tight end Tom Nealis reigns in the ball for a catch during the homecoming football game Oct. 14. Photo by Bill Landon

Miller Place’s Sebastian Cannon helped propel the Panthers to tie the game up first, after the Wildcats jumped out to a 14-0 lead with three minutes left in the first half. The junior running back returned a kickoff 60 yards before being forced out of bounds at the 8-yard line, and then finished what he started two plays later on a 14-yard dash into the end zone for his team’s first score. He also ran in an 8-yard touchdown to tie the game on the way to 48 yards on eight attempts in the contest.

“We jumped on them early, and we had a chance to capitalize on that momentum, but I think one of the big plays was that kickoff return after [our] second touchdown,” Shoreham-Wading River head coach Matt Millheiser said. “It was a big return which gave them some momentum — it got the crowd into it because they had been quiet for awhile. When they scored on that drive, that put us on our heels.”

Cannon said his team was poised to make the plays needed to turn the game around.

“I was confident that we could make a comeback — giving us momentum going into the second half,” Cannon said. “But it was our defense that won the game for us.”

Shoreham-Wading River and Miller Place are now tied at 5-1 behind undefeated Babylon in the standings. The Wildcats have dominated their division like few other Long Island teams ever have, winning the last three Long Island championship titles. No team has ever won four straight since the LIC began in 1992.

“In the end they out played us, they out coached us; they did a great job and they beat us all the way around,” Millheiser said. “We’ve been here before, so we’ll get back to work on Monday [to get ready for Babylon at 6 p.m. Oct. 20] and see if we can right the ship.”

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