The Eastport South Manor football team held a dinner Thursday, November 6, the night before its crucial Division III quarterfinal matchup at cross-town rival Westhampton Beach. Since it could be viewed as the final team get-together of the season, the dinner is called “The Last Supper,” where seniors stand up and say a few encouraging words for their teammates.
Whatever was said worked, as fifth-seeded ESM defeated fourth-seeded Westhampton Beach, 12-7, for the team’s first ever playoff victory in its 11-year existence. Senior Jake Hobbie’s 79-yard touchdown run with 7:34 remaining in the game wound up making the difference for the Sharks.
Without going into specifics, ESM first-year head coach Bill Ashton would only confirm that what was said the night before his team’s big game was emotional. “Nobody wanted to go home,” he said. “It’s a great group of kids and they all just play for each other. It’s our first playoff win in school history and they really wanted that.”
Hobbie said once he broke one tackle he knew he had a good shot at scoring. “I saw the middle open a couple of plays before and I knew I had chance to get it,” he said. “I was doing it for my team. I didn’t want it to end, I wanted to keep the season going.”
Following the final buzzer, ESM’s student section ran onto the field to celebrate with its team, much as the Westhampton Beach students did back on October 10, when the Hurricanes came from behind to defeat the Sharks, 32-31, in overtime. Hobbie described the victory as “revenge.”
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” he said of the win. “Nothing could even compare to it, it feels good.”
ESM advances to the Division III semifinals at top-seeded Sayville this Saturday, November 15, at 1 p.m. The Golden Flashes have won the past four county championships and won, 42-0, at home over ESM back on September 13.
Ashton simply said to be the best, you have to beat the best.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us. They’re a great team, a team everyone wants to beat,” he said. “Our kids take a lot of pride in what we do, the coaching staff does too. We’re preparing for it like it’s the next game.”
Westhampton Beach took the lead in last week’s quarterfinal game with 4:53 remaining in the first quarter. Not too long after senior quarterback Henry Moreta’s 15-yard run, senior Ben Bruzga took a reverse play up the middle 11 yards for a touchdown. After junior Ryan Wagner’s extra point, the Hurricanes led 7-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, the ball looked as if it was going to roll out of bounds for a delay of game penalty on Westhampton Beach. The ball took a favorable hop for ESM senior Justin Pugal, though, who broke one tackle, then ran up the sidelines 85 yards for a touchdown.
“I just turned my jets on and brought it to the house,” Pugal said.
The point-after attempt was missed, creating the one-point lead that Westhampton Beach held for much of the game.
Both offenses had a hard time getting things going in the second half. Ashton said the windy conditions limited his team’s ability to throw the ball, so he started to go back to the run game late in the fourth quarter and it paid off with Hobbie’s game-changing run. The Sharks botched their two-point conversion following the score, keeping the Canes well within striking distance.
Westhampton Beach gave itself a good amount of time to come back after stuffing ESM on 4th and 1 and 2:34 remaining on the clock. The Canes still couldn’t get anything going on offense, though, and wound up turning the ball over to ESM with 1:33 left. Westhampton Beach got the ball back with just seconds left in the game, but ESM’s defense stood tall once again and denied the Canes’ offense.
“Every week our defense has gotten a little bit better,” Ashton said. “We were really worried about the trap, the sweep and the bootleg and we were able to get around that tonight and stop them.
“They’re a great team, and we had a hard time running the ball against them early on, so we had to make some adjustments,” he added.
Westhampton Beach head coach Bill Parry said that a few of his top players, namely Moreta and Bruzga, started to cramp up late in the game since they play all three facets (offense, defense, special teams). Senior Hunter Hulse, who suffered an injury at Amityville a few weeks ago, was also playing hurt. Parry was pleased with the way senior Kyle Rignola, not usually a starter, stepped in for those who were injured.
“I didn’t anticipate that there would be cramping in 37-degree weather. I figured they would have been fine,” he said. “But I take nothing away from [ESM]. They played a very good game.”
Hobbie led the way for most of ESM’s offense, running the ball 20 times for 210 of the Sharks’ 288 yards of total offense. Junior Nick Garone had nine tackles on defense and senior Patrick Minogue made three sacks.
Moreta led the Westhampton Beach offense. He gained 54 yards on 17 carries and also threw for 110 yards, completing 7 of 20 passes. Freshman Dylan Laube, who had burned the ESM defense for four touchdowns earlier in the season, was held in check for much of the night. He caught four balls for 74 yards, gaining only 30 yards on 11 carries.
Moreta will be one of more than a dozen players who are expected to graduate in June. He’ll be joined by Bruzga, Hulse, Rignola, Devon Ware, Justin Kretsos, Rob Dunning, Henry Seeliger, Ryan Duncan, Juan Restrepo, Cristian Schroder, Patrick Dean, Jordan Laube and Chris Chomicki.
Parry said he thought he had an overachieving group, since it relied heavily on a first-year varsity quarterback in Moreta and freshman halfback in Laube.
“These guys were a lot of fun to be around and very hard-working,” he said. “Henry came along and did a really nice job, and I don’t think there’s another team in all of Suffolk County who started a freshman halfback and asked the kid to carry the team. So I do think we were an overachieving team to some degree with a 6-3 record. We’re not happy with the way the season ended but very happy with the way the kids battled.”