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Peyton Capizzi

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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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Eddie Munoz leads the pack as he gains yards during a game last season. File photo by Mark D'Angio

By Joseph Wolkin

Ward Melville’s football team lost four key members during the offseason, each departing for collegiate play at a Division II or Division III school.

The Patriots will be without quarterback Matt O’Hea, linebacker Patrick Morelli, defensive end Tom Lorusso and running back Nick Cervone in 2016, leaving major holes in the team’s roster.

Wesley Manning evades a tackle and moves the ball up the field in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon
Wesley Manning evades a tackle and moves the ball up the field in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

However, for head coach Chris Boltrek, who enters his third year at the helm of the Patriots, improving on last year’s 5-3 record is the goal.

“Our expectations are pretty high,” Boltrek said. “We received the No. 3 seed out of 14 teams in the division. That shows everybody that the coaches in our league see us as being a pretty good team. Our expectations are to live up to those standards.”

Despite losing four seniors, 22 seniors return to the Patriots this year, making them a title contender after finishing 2015 tied for third in the division with Northport and Connetquot.

With O’Hea’s departure, Ward Melville looks to replace the young man who threw for 1,933 yards last year, good enough for 11th in New York.

“We return a lot of out skill players — key players from last year’s team after getting a year of experience under their belt,” the coach said. “I think this is a team with a lot of potential.”

Senior Wesley Manning will receive the majority of playing time at quarterback, with junior Peyton Capizzi beginning to show off his skills in preparation for his senior year. Manning enters this season with six pass attempts on his resume, featuring four completions for 79 yards, including a 19-yard pass for a touchdown against Northport.

In addition to a new quarterback, Boltrek is prepared to evaluate the team’s surplus of returning players.

John Corpac carries the ball across the gridiron in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon
John Corpac carries the ball across the gridiron in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

“Our biggest strength, really, is we’re returning real football kids, even though they might play other sports,” he said. “They just love football, and when you have that mentality, coupled with their skill and athleticism, that’s a real strength and asset.”

The team’s wide receiver core remains largely unchanged for 2016.

Senior Eddie Munoz, an All-State honorable mention, is coming off a year that featured eight touchdown catches along with a total of 516 receiving yards. He will also continue to be a safety for the team after intercepting three passes last year in addition to piling up 41 tackles.

Fellow senior John Corpac is back as a wideout for the Patriots. After catching seven touchdown passes last year, the first-time All-Division receiver looks to lead the team’s offense.

As the Patriots look to move from being a solid playoff contender to one that’s in the title hunt, Boltrek said he believes there is still work that needs to be done to bring Ward Melville to the next level.

“I think the biggest thing is we need our offensive line to gel at the beginning of the season,” Boltrek said. “Last year, our offensive line was young. We had a junior playing center and two other linemen who were sophomores. The two other guys were seniors, but they were both first-year starters. This year, we’re sort of lucky that we get our center back to have a senior at the middle of the line. Stability and continuity is what we’re doing up front. It’ll be huge for us during the season.”