Hold your index finger and thumb a half inch apart, a quarter inch, maybe.
That’s how close the Westhampton Beach varsity football team came to making the Division III playoffs last year. One little break here or there, and the Hurricanes might have made it into the postseason instead of newly minted local rival Eastport South Manor.
Westhampton Beach, which beat Eastport South Manor in the regular-season finale last year, 23-6, finished in ninth place, just 2.5 power points behind the same Eastport South Manor team, which nailed down the eighth and final playoff spot. Westhampton Beach won the battle that night under the lights at Carl. A. Hansen Memorial Field, but Eastport South Manor won the war.
Still, many would conclude that finishing with a record of 4-4, considering the youth movement the Hurricanes went through last season, was a victory unto itself. At one point last year, Westhampton Beach was sporting nine starters who were either freshmen or sophomores. It was that group of newbies who helped propel Westhampton Beach to impressive victories over Hauppauge and Eastport South Manor down the stretch. Although it wasn’t enough, it was something to build on.
Sophomores like tight end/linebacker Connor Raynor and tackle/defensive tackle Zach Laube grew into their roles quickly, and more will be expected this year—especially from Raynor. By the last few games in 2009, Raynor was fast becoming that player on both sides of the ball who can change games in an instant.
At 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, Westhampton Beach coach Bill Parry calls Raynor the strongest and fastest player on the team. Parry said to look no further than his team’s upset win over Hauppauge last year—a game in which Raynor dominated.
“He took over that game,” Parry said. “He’s an impact player, and in that game he was the man.”
Although the Hurricanes bring back a lot of players, and they do have experience, they have to replace several key players lost to graduation, including do-it-all quarterback Cory Hubbard and linemen Justin LaGrasse and Bobby Garone—especially LaGrasse, who was a three-year starter.
Cory Schulz, who did get some time at quarterback last season, gets the starting nod behind center. The senior is quick on his feet and has been throwing the ball well in practice, according to Parry. He’ll also start at safety. “He’s elusive,” Parry said of Schulz. “We just have to keep him healthy.”
Parry will look to Laube on both sides of the line at tackle again, as well as junior Neal Ebrus at guard on the offensive line. There are a bevy of linemen still sorting it out for the other guard position, as well as the second tackle spot and center, but Parry expects to see plenty of work for underclassmen Kevin Dean, Sean Ryan, Mark McCue, Brian Moore and senior Renato Alvarado. Alvarado also will be at inside linebacker.
Westhampton Beach is deep this year at running back. Antonio Garcai looks to get the nod at fullback, with Bryan Culhane and Danny Gomez in the mix. At halfback, four players look to make their mark: Brian Curry, Alex Marks, Scott Martin and Niko Jones.
The Hurricanes will need that kind of play from Raynor and more improvement of its younger core to continue, because the other coaches in Division III have predicted it that the Hurricanes are better this year as well. Westhampton Beach is the sixth-seeded team in the 14-team division, and with that upper seed comes a schedule that sees them play the top four ranked teams: Sayville, Islip, Eastport South Manor and Amityville. All were in the playoffs 10 months ago.
Sayville (6-2 last year) is physically much bigger than Westhampton Beach, while Islip (5-3) is always a thorn in the Hurricanes’ side, having beaten them in their last four meetings. Then there is Eastport South Manor (5-3). While Westhampton Beach has dominated the Sharks in the two teams’ only four meetings, outscoring them on average 47-15, Parry warns that the Sharks are bigger and more experienced this time around, as they return many starters on both sides of the ball. And don’t forget Amityville, which went 6-2 in Division IV last year.
The Hurricanes pick up right where they left off last year as they play the Sharks on opening day on the road at 2 p.m. on Saturday, September 11. Amityville comes to town on October 1, with Islip visiting a week later, before the Hurricanes go to mighty Sayville on October 23.
The playoffs are in reach for the Hurricanes if they can pick up one or two wins against these four teams while taking care of business against lower-ranked teams, like 10th-seeded Hauppauge (5-3) on Thursday, September 16, last-seeded Miller Place (0-8) on September 24, eighth-seeded Rocky Point (2-6) on October 15, and 12th-seeded Shoreham/Wading River (2-6 in Division IV) in the regular-season finale on October 30.
“We have experience but we don’t have size,” Parry said. “It’s like night and day. I weighed Laube in today at 198 pounds—he’ll be going up against [Sayville’s Joe] DeLuca, who is 265 pounds. That’s a big difference.”
In 2010, the Hurricanes will hope size doesn’t matter.