The Westhampton Beach football team missed out on the playoffs last season for the first time since 2006, albeit because of some factors that were out of its hands.
Westhampton Beach needed Comsewogue to beat Amityville, which would have knocked Deer Park out of the playoffs. Comsewogue and Amityville, though, were both assessed forfeits after a bench-clearing brawl ended that season-finale game early. The losses that both Comsewogue and Amityville picked up from the brawl allowed Deer Park, which had lost to Bellport in the final game of the season, to be the eighth seed in the playoffs, forcing Westhampton Beach, which had beaten Hauppauge to finish the season 4-4, to fall to ninth place and on the outside looking in.
Westhampton Beach head coach Bill Parry, who is back for his 18th season on the sidelines this fall, said he would think that not making the playoffs would fuel his team.
“It’s fueling us [as coaches], it was upsetting to us,” he said. “Kids are funny, you never know what they’re thinking, but I would think it should be fueling them too.”
The Hurricanes lost a total of nine players to graduation, including Evan Gagne, Steven Tagliavia, Zach Rignola, Jack Fink and Liam Culhane. Parry called the class “small, but it was quality kids.”
Returning this season are seniors Ben Bruzga and Patrick Dean, who should both start at linebacker and running back this season, and senior Henry Moreta will be taking over the starting quarterback role vacated by Tagliavia. Moreta does not have any varsity experience at quarterback—he was a backup running back last season—but Parry called him one of the team’s best athletes and he could possibly thrive in the new role.
Also returning this season is senior lineman Jordan Laube, senior linebacker/fullback Nick Einstman and senior defensive end/tight end Brian Haley. Devin Laube started all eight games at center last season and is expected back at the position this season and may play some defensive tackle. Senior Juan Restrepo only saw a handful of carries in the Hurricane backfield last season but should see more time this season, and senior Bryce Phillips will be back as the team’s starting safety and will back up Moreta at quarterback.
Dylan Laube will be the team’s first freshman up on varsity in quite some time and join Zack Arrasate and Zak Jones as a few of the other callups from the junior varsity squad. One disturbing trend Parry has had to deal with over the past few seasons is a decline in overall numbers coming out for football, which has halted him from calling up more players. The varsity team is going to field about 30 players, the lowest since 1999. The team is used to having 34 to 37 players on the roster, a big decline when injuries and other outside factors come in to play later in the season.
Parry couldn’t exactly point to one factor that explains the decline, such as if it was parents worrying about concussions, or students playing other sports, such as soccer. “Normally we have between 60 and 70 kids in the middle school playing. Last year we fielded 37 kids, so that’s a huge difference,” he said. “Soccer numbers aren’t really huge either. A lot of kids think they’re one-sport athletes, that they’re going to get scholarships in lacrosse, so they focus on that, even though the lacrosse coach (Drew Peters) is with me and doesn’t want them doing that.”
Even with low numbers, Westhampton Beach was preranked fifth in Division III, which would easily give the Canes a spot in the playoffs, if all things went according to plan. Sayville was ranked the top team in the division, while Huntington was second and Miller Place third.
Westhampton Beach will open up the season two days after school starts, on Friday, September 5, at home against Harborfields at 6 p.m. and will host Miller Place in week two, Friday, September 12, again at 6 p.m. Other notable games are September 27 when the Canes host Sayville at 1:30 p.m.; October 10 when they host cross-town rival Eastport South Manor at 6 p.m.; and November 1, the regular-season finale at Huntington, which is slated to start at 1:30 p.m.
“I expect us to be competitive. I expect to make the playoffs every year, I’m not changing that. I think we should make the playoffs,” Parry said. “We need to get a few breaks and we need to stay healthy and injury free and we should be okay. If we get nicked up we’re going to be in trouble because the numbers are so low.”