Canes Football Won’t Use Youth As Excuse; Still Expect A Return To Playoffs

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The Westhampton Beach football team had one of its best seasons in 2012, finishing the regular season with a 5-3 record and upsetting Miller Place, 19-14, in the Suffolk County Division III semifinals to face Sayville in the finals. While the Hurricanes lost to the undefeated Golden Flashes in the championship game, the team was still proud of its accomplishments.

This season, the Hurricanes will look to finally get that elusive division crown, albeit with a very much younger squad. The team graduated more than 20 players after last season—including captains and two-way starters Brian Corrigan, Brian Culhane and Jack Murphy—and will carry only 10 seniors, at most, on the roster this season.

Still, Westhampton Beach head coach Bill Parry, heading into his 17th season on the sidelines, said his team has grown accustomed to making the playoffs the past few years—the Canes have made the playoffs seven of the last nine years, and reached the county final in the last two years—so anything less than a postseason berth this season is unacceptable.

“We’re optimistic,” Parry said. “Our goal is always to make the playoffs. The top eight make it in—we’re hoping we finish in the top four and get a home game.”

Westhampton Beach was pre-ranked sixth this season, just one spot off last year’s pre-ranking of fifth, but that still puts the Canes in the playoffs, if everything goes according to plan.

The team will not only be young this season, it will lack some of the depth it had last season. The Canes were just about three-deep at almost every position last year but won’t have that luxury this season, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.

According to Parry, the Canes will have only nine linemen this season, compared to the 13 or 14 last season. Some of this year’s linemen include seniors Kyle Ebrus, Jack Fink and Liam Culhane, the team’s only returning two-way starter on the line. Senior Kayne Mitchell, who suffered a broken leg in a regular-season loss at Miller Place last year, was medically cleared in early July and is still working his way into game shape. Parry said Mitchell was the team’s best defensive lineman before the season-ending injury last year, and he’s hoping he can return to form this season.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Canes will be led by seniors Evan Gagne, Zach Rignola, Tommy Speer and Steven Tagliavia. Gagne rushed for 750 yards last season and also caught 11 passes for 140 yards, and he should be the team’s starting running back this season. Rignola and Speer will also get some time in the backfield.

Replacing two-year starter Jack Murphy at quarterback will be Tagliavia, who got some sparse playing time at the position last year as a junior. He will be given the reins this season, and Parry expects him to do well.

“We have high hopes for him,” he said. “I think he’s going to be solid. The question with him is, is he going to be able to win games for us, or is he going to manage the game for us? Jack, as a first-year starting quarterback his junior year, he managed the game. As a senior, he won games. We’re going to see how that goes.”

Parry has brought up five sophomores from the junior varsity, the most, he said, he’s brought up in quite some time. They include Brian Haley, Nick Einstman, Devin Laube, Bryce Phillips and Jake Bramwell, who would have been a two-way starter but will miss the season after undergoing “Tommy John surgery” on his elbow over the summer. Other returning underclassmen who will see significant 
playing time will be Ben Bruzga and Patrick Dean, who filled in nicely at linebacker last season after a midseason injury to Culhane.

Westhampton Beach also has two transfers from the Stony Brook School in Hunter Hulse and Max Petersen. Hulse is known for his wrestling skills—he’s been a Division II county champion in the past and an All-State wrestler the past two years—but he’ll try to crack the lineup on the football squad. Max Paster will be a rarity this season: He has been cleared as dual-eligible to play both football and soccer this fall. He’ll strictly handle the kicking duties this season. Even though Westhampton Beach was pre-ranked sixth, it will still have to play the top teams in Division III this season, much to the surprise of Parry. Two days after school opens up, the Canes will begin the season at Sayville on Wednesday, September 11, at 4 p.m. The Golden Flashes, who were pre-ranked third, ran away with the county title last season, but are in rebuilding mode this season, starting a freshman quarterback and with a subpar senior class. They will still field about 65 players though.

The Canes will be at top-ranked Miller Place on October 26 at 2 p.m. and will host second-ranked Huntington on October 11 at 6 p.m.

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