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Nick Messina

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Running back Nick Messina may stand out to the crowd, but his heroics on the football field are no longer a surprise to his teammates.

The Ward Melville football star’s Oct. 7 showing was more of the same, as the senior scored three touchdowns and accounted for 233 yards in a 32-0 homecoming blanking of Sachem East in front of nearly 1,000 fans.

“Messina played unbelievably, as expected,” junior Nick Troy said of his teammate, who also plays cornerback. “He is such an explosive player on both sides of the ball.”

Messina didn’t waste any time getting the Patriots on the board. He returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a score, setting the tone early for the blowout victory.

“It really gave us the momentum right out of the gate and took Sachem off-guard,” Messina said. “There’s nothing better than scoring the opening kickoff. My coach saw that they didn’t have anybody on the outside and he trusted the line to do their jobs, and all I had to do was follow my blocks.”

The Patriots scored on the opening drive of the second quarter, when senior quarterback Peyton Capizzi found junior wide receiver Marcus Velez for a 20-yard touchdown pass to give Ward Melville a 12-0 lead.

The 6-foot, 4-inch Velez was a matchup nightmare for Sachem East, gaining 89 yards on seven catches.

Messina made it 18-0 on a 40-yard dash into the end zone with 4:16 left in the first half. The extra-point kick attempt on the first touchdown was missed, as well as two 2-point conversion tries.

One of the biggest plays of the game came when senior lineman Stephen Torrico threw a great block to spring Messina for a 21-yard gain on a fourth-and-4 from Ward Melville’s 45-yard line.

“Personally, my favorite highlight was when Stephen Torrico laid a huge hit on one of their backs,” Messina said. “We spent a lot of time recognizing all of their different formations on offense and it really paid off because they rarely caught us with any surprises.”

Three plays later, he scampered into the end zone on a 2-yard run. Messina ended the day with 140 yards rushing on 17 carries.

“It was everything we could’ve hoped for as seniors playing in our last homecoming game,” Messina said of the win. “I think that everybody was contributing and doing their job the best they possibly can and that’s what really led us to victory. I think that every game we are getting closer and closer as a group and we’re learning to trust each other more and more, which really helps us during game time.”

Capizzi — who was 10-for-16 passing with 110 yards through the air and added 63 yards on 10 carries on the ground — hit Troy, a wide receiver and running back, for a two-point conversion following Messina’s touchdown for a 26-0 advantage.

“It felt sweet to catch the pitch from Peyton,” Troy said. “He’s patient and can find the window for the shovel passes.”

After Ward Melville senior cornerback Christian O’toole recorded his second interception of the game, Troy cashed in a 20-yard touchdown run for the final six points.
“The coaches really prepared us well for Sachem,” Troy said. “I think the team really started to click well in the game, especially the defense — they did a great job stopping the runs.”

Winning over Sachem East was a huge move for Ward Melville, which is now tied with Sachem East at 4-2 for No. 2 in the Division I standings behind undefeated Lindenhurst and William Floyd. The Patriots will tackle Longwood Oct. 20 at 6:30 p.m. before traveling to Lindenhurst Oct. 27.

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Ward Melville junior running back Nick Troy rushes with the ball during a practice. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Ward Melville senior running back Nick Messina breaks free of a tackle during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

The stinging loss in the Suffolk County championship game last fall left an open wound on every member of the Ward Melville football team, and the only effective medicine is redemption.

The 2016 season was history making, as the Patriots won three straight games to propel them to the county title game for the first time in 29 years. Trailing William Floyd by a touchdown, the team marched down the field only to be turned away in the red zone in the final minute of the contest.

“Obviously the kids want to get back there again, and these guys this season think they have something to prove,” Ward Melville head coach Chris Boltrek said. “They want to show we didn’t just get there because of last year’s seniors, but that they were a big part of it as well.”

Ward Melville is the No. 5 seed in Division I heading into this season, with William Floyd taking the No. 1 spot. Lindenhurst, Longwood and Connetquot are also in the mix, but Boltrek said the Patriots won’t take any team lightly.

“They have a chip on their shoulder going into this season,” the head coach said of his players. “These kids put in the work in the off-season, they have the mentality that nothing is given to you — you have to go out and earn it every year.”

Ward Melville senior wide receiver Liam Davenport makes a catch during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior defensive end and offensive tackle Jimmy Small said reaching the county title game is something he won’t soon forget, taking that experience and applying it to games this year in the hopes of feeling the intensity and enthusiasm again.

“Me and the rest of the guys from last year — we got a taste of playing in front of all those people, that excitement and the whole town having their focus on us, and that hasn’t happened in a long time for football,” the co-captain said.

He said he thinks his team has the right tools to get back to the championship game and take home the title this time around.

“I think by far our brightest spot is our front seven on defense,” he said. “We have a ton of returning starters, but I think the question mark is our special teams, which was a big part of our game.”

Despite the loss of kick returner John Corpac, Small said the Patriots have two kids even faster than the Stony Brook University commit.

“If everything works out, I think we’ll be even better in that aspect,” he said.

Ward Melville senior quarterback Peyton Capizzi carries the ball during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior running back Nick Messina, a three-year varsity player, reflected on the amount of work that goes into reaching the championship round.

“Just to reach that goal last year — the people coming back know what it takes to get there and it makes us want it so much more,” the co-captain said. “I think we’re strongest on our offensive and defensive line, but we’re going to have to work on our defensive secondary where we have a lot of new players.”

Senior co-captain Thomas Kutchma said to prove to other teams that last season wasn’t a fluke, and show they aren’t out of gas just yet, the Patriots have their goals set even higher this time.

“If we can do what we’re capable of doing we could win a Long Island championship this year,” the guard and defensive tackle said. “We think about that loss every day in practice and we give it 100 percent. We love the sport of football and we want to take advantage of it before it’s over.”

Ward Melville kicks off the season with a 6:30 p.m. home game against Central Islip Sept. 1. The Patriots will travel to Connetquot Sept. 8 for the second game of the year. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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Nick Messina rushes the ball upfield. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The No. 4-seeded Ward Melville football team had waited 30 years for another Suffolk County championship appearance, and despite a tough loss to No. 2 William Floyd Nov. 18, 28-21, the Patriots powered the program to new heights.

Dominic Pryor jumps up to make a catch. Photo by Bill Landon
Dominic Pryor jumps up to make a catch. Photo by Bill Landon

“We’re extremely proud of the boys and how far they’ve come this year,” Ward Melville head coach Chris Boltrek said. “Over the last three seasons, we have improved upon the prior year’s record and, for the seniors, Friday was the culmination of their dedication and effort. Hopefully, going forward, our trip to the county championship will encourage student-athletes throughout the district to play football and strengthen the program.”

Ward Melville’s first break of the game came on a fumble recovery when William Floyd was driving into the red zone. The Patriots offense went to work on their own 18-yard line, and senior quarterback Wesley Manning hit classmate Andrew McKenna, a wide receiver, over the middle on a 22-yard pass to move the chains to the middle of the field. Amid the drive, Ward Melville was forced to punt the ball away.

On their next possession, the Patriots also fumbled the ball, but the difference was that the Colonials made the Ward Melville pay for its mistake by finding the end zone four plays later for an early 7-0 lead.

The ensuing kickoff gave Ward Melville good field position following William Floyd drawing three consecutive penalties for an out of bounds kick, delay of game and offsides. Backed up on its own 25-yard line, William Floyd finally got the kick away and the Patriots’ return brought them to the Colonials’ 38-yard line with eight minutes remaining until halftime.

Wesley Manning tosses a pass over the middle. Photo by Bill Landon
Wesley Manning tosses a pass over the middle. Photo by Bill Landon

Ward Melville seized the opportunity and Manning found senior wide receiver Eddie Munoz over the middle, to move the chains to the 29-yard line. Manning spread the wealth and dropped the next pass to senior wide receiver Dominic Pryor on the left side for the 35-yard touchdown reception, and with senior kicker Joe LaRosa’s extra-point kick, the team tied the game 7-7.

With just over three minutes left in the half, William Floyd went up 14-7 with a 10-yard touchdown run from James Taitt, but Ward Melville had an answer. The Patriots went deep into the playbook, and Manning hit Pryor on a screen pass who, although running into a wall, flicked the ball to senior wide receiver John Corpac, who raced down the left sideline for the touchdown. LaRosa’s kick made it a new game at 14-14. 

Ward Melville had an opportunity to take a lead into the break, but failed to find the end zone on four consecutive plays from William Floyd’s 5-yard line.

Manning threw an interception to open the second half, and Taitt moved the ball to Ward Melville’s 1-yard line on the next play. Nick Silva finished the drive to put William Floyd out front, 21-14, to open the final quarter.

“Obviously we are very upset we didn’t reach our goal of winning the LIC, but I’m very proud to be able to say I helped lead the team to the county championship [final], which we haven’t been to in 29 years,” Manning said. “It’s been a great season and we all made memories and have a bond that will last a lifetime.”

The Patriots struggled with the Colonials’ defensive line, and with 6:54 left to play, Silva tacked on his third touchdown run of the game, to extend the advantage, 28-14.

Chris Boltrek coaches from the sideline. Photo by Bill Landon
Chris Boltrek coaches from the sideline. Photo by Bill Landon

On the ensuing kickoff, Ward Melville’s junior running back Nick Messina made a statement, when he returned the ball 74 yards and into the end zone, to pull the Patriots back within one touchdown with 6:32 remaining.

The Patriots’ final push brought them to the Colonials’ red zone with just over a minute left on the clock, but after four chances Ward Melville just couldn’t break through.

“This is a group of kids that are fighters — they don’t quit no matter what was going on,” Boltrek said. “They fought through adversity at all points of the season. They were never out of any game and that’s just the attitude they have. At one point we were 2-4, and for them to show the fortitude and character to believe in one another and believe in the process and keep fighting all the way to the county championship speaks volumes about them as young men. We’re going to miss our seniors, and I hope their Herculean effort has inspired the underclassmen to work even harder for next season — off-season workouts begin after Thanksgiving.”

Ward Melville’s ascent to the finals may have seemed unlikely, needing to win the final two games of the season to make a postseason appearance, and shutting out Connetquot and dethroning previously undefeated No. 1 Lindenhurst. But in his third year leading the team, Boltrek was able to continue the turnaround for the program.

“I have good athletes and I have good coaches, so I give them a lot of credit,” Boltrek said. “And the kids have bought into the idea that Ward Melville could be a football school.”

Desirée Keegan contributed reporting.

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John Corpac wasted no time taking one to the house on homecoming game day.

The Ward Melville football team’s senior wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner knew if his team’s homecoming opponent, Patchogue-Medford, watched any film of his Patriots, they weren’t going to let him get his hands on the opening kickoff during their Sept. 24 contest.

“I was expecting a squib kick,” he said. “And that’s what I got.”

As the two teams collided on the opening play, Corpac picked up the ball, which the Raiders were trying to keep away from the dangerous return man, on the far right side of the field, jolted left to avoid a tackle, and, like running down an open highway, cruised all the way to the end zone for an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

“I scooped the ball up, the hole was there and I only had to beat one guy,” Corpac said. “Kick returns are my favorite thing to do. It was the best feeling.”

The Ward Melville football team benefitted from a fast start during its homecoming matchup, but a strong finish proved the Patriots are ready to put up a fight this season. The team bested the Raiders 35-22 to avenge its 2015 homecoming loss.

“Last year Northport came in here and beat up a little bit on us — we lost — so for these seniors this was big for them,” Ward Melville head coach Chris Boltrek said. “There were definitely some things that we have to clean up for the next game, but when we really needed them to step up the kids did a nice job.”

Patchogue-Medford mounted a charge up the field on its first drive following Corpac’s return touchdown, and bulled into the end zone on a 1-yard run to even the score.

“Last year Northport came in here and beat up a little bit on us — we lost — so for these seniors this was big for them.”

— Chris Bolterk

Ward Melville responded by moving the ball on its next possession, but a fumble recovered by Patchogue-Medford changed the tide. The Patriots’ defense made up for its offenses mistake, and forced Patchogue-Medford to settle for a field goal attempt, which was missed.

To open the second quarter, Ward Melville wide receiver and strong safety Eddie Munoz, who also recorded an interception, received a 29-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Wesley Manning. Munoz helped set up the score with gains of 28 yards and four yards earlier in the drive.

Manning tossed his next touchdown pass to junior running back Nick Messina. The play wouldn’t have been possible without senior cornerback and wide receiver Andrew McKenna’s second interception of the game. He also chipped in 35 yards on the ensuing drive. Messina’s 13-yard catch and senior kicker Joe LaRosa’s point after brought the score to 21-7 before halftime.

“Our special teams was excellent, our defense really came up big causing a lot of turnovers in key moments,” Boltrek said. “And offensively we did some nice things. When we got nice blocks and we scored, we threw the ball well, so there was some good and some bad, but we have to improve.”

Patchogue-Medford added seven points following another 1-yard run with 20 seconds to go in the third to pull closer, but Messina rushed the ball 52 yards for a touchdown with 6.5 seconds on the clock to re-extend the Patriots’ advantage.

Shortly into the final stanza, Messina rushed home another touchdown, this time taking the ball 22 yards to help his team jump out in front, 35-14.

“On those few plays the line did exactly what they needed to do,” Messina said. “If we could do that more often we could go far, and score more touchdowns.”

Boltrek said his team needs to clean up the blocking up front going forward, though he was impressed with his running back’s performance.

“Nick is a kid we all depend on because of his speed and his athleticism, and it’s warranted,” Boltrek said. “He had two breakaway touchdowns, he did a nice job catching along the backfield, so he did really well for us.”

Manning completed 15 of 22 passes for 240 yards, including two touchdowns. He said all the players were confident coming into the homecoming game after a strong week of practice. He said he enjoyed showing the team could get the job done through the air, and in the second half, on the ground, too.

“The feeling kept getting better and better as the game went on,” he said. “It’s great to win on your senior homecoming. There’s really nothing better. I think we’re really going to carry on momentum. We had a tough loss against Longwood and now we just have to keep the momentum going next week against Floyd.”

Ward Melville travels to William Floyd Oct. 1 for a 2 p.m. kickoff.

The Ward Melville football team got on the scoreboard first Saturday in a battle on the gridiron against visiting Northport, but the Tigers ultimately spoiled the Patriots’ homecoming celebration, winning 35-21.

Ward Melville (1-2) opened the scoring with an impressive 16-play, 82-yard drive, capped by senior running back Nick Cervone’s 7-yard touchdown run and junior kicker Joe LaRosa’s point after, to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead.

But Northport responded with a touchdown run of its own to tie it up.

With 1:57 left in the quarter, Ryan Elliot punctuated a nine-play, 65-yard march with a 13-yard touchdown run. With the point-after attempt successful by Ryan Tromblee, the game was tied, 7-7.

On the next possession, Northport intercepted senior quarterback Matthew O’Hea’s pass over the middle. The pass, which was intercepted by Northport safety Dan Preston, was returned 70 yards for the tiebreaking score.

Northport continued to light up the scoreboard, and took advantage of two turnovers, scoring three touchdowns to end the first half leading 35-7.

The Tigers didn’t score after the halftime break, while Ward Melville capitalized on two opportunities in the fourth to close the gap, 35-21.

First, junior wide receiver John Corpac scored on a 15-yard pass from O’Hea, who finished the game going 10-for-16 with 101 yards and two interceptions, and after, senior wide receiver Vincent Negri scored off a 1-yard pass from junior quarterback Wesley Manning.

Ward Melville looks to bounce back from the loss when the Patriots travel to Sachem North Friday, with the hopes of spoiling their opponent’s homecoming festivities. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.