By Andrew Wroblewski
In Saturday’s Suffolk County Division II semifinal matchup, it never really felt as if Half Hollow Hills High School West was anything but in control of the football game. However, with 5:10 remaining the third quarter, No. 2 Hills West (9-1) found itself in a situation that didn’t necessarily reflect that dominance: the Colts were losing 7-6 to No. 3 Riverhead (7-3).
From there, though, thanks in part to a pair of Anthony Lucarelli touchdown passes, the Colts bounced back and safely slipped a Suffolk County championship game bid into their back pockets with a 28-13 victory.
Early on for the Colts, scoring points was a problem. Usual Colts’ power back Lucas DiGiorgi looked on from the sidelines as a foot injury kept him out of the game. Two first quarter drives stalled in the red zone for Hills West and kicker Ryan Barone was called upon for field goals; he was good from both 26 and 25 yards to put the Colts up 6-0.
“We got into the red zone a lot in the beginning but we left points on the field, and that’s something we haven’t done all year,” Colts’ Head Coach Kyle Madden said. “They did a good job, packing the box and stopping the run, but we had some open receivers and we just didn’t hit them.”
Without DiGiorgi, Madden said, the Colts were missing a certain dimension of their offense – i.e. the ability to pick up tough yards in the red zone.
This, mixed in with Lucarelli missing some of his receivers early on – the junior overthrew Cody Clarson and had several passes deflected by the Riverhead secondary – had Hills West ahead by just 6 points at the half.
After exchanging punts to start the second half, the Colts lined up on offense at their own 26-yard-line. Lucarelli threw a pass that was intercepted by Blue Waves lineman Troy Trent and returned to the 5-yard-line leading to a Riverhead touchdown the very next play.
The Colts needed points.
“We were outplaying them the whole game; we can’t let that silly play [distract us],” Madden said. “After the interception… [Lucarelli] definitely played well.”
The following Colts’ drive was one that marched Hills West 60 yards down the field and was capped off by a 6-yard touchdown pass from Lucarelli to running back Raymond Lyte. After a successful 2-point conversion, the Colts went ahead 14-7 and never looked back.
Lucarelli later connected with Jordan Cameron early in the fourth quarter for a touchdown, and then Lyte broke off a 39-yard touchdown run with 5:38 remaining to put the Colts ahead 28-7. Lyte finished with 197 yards on 28 carries.
Defense was also important for Hills West; the Colts forced three turnovers and recorded eight sacks while effectively shutting down the Blue Waves’ offense in just about every way.
“I saw Ramin Wahab and James Palumbo… giving some great pressure [on defense] when we needed it,” Madden said. “For the most part, our defensive line did a really nice job allowing us to stay in coverage which is a big deal.”
Moving forward, the Colts head to Stony Brook University for the county final on Saturday at 4 p.m. to face No. 4 East Islip (7-3), a team coming fresh off an upset of No. 1 Bellport (8-2). Hills West defeated East Islip during the regular season, 28-27.
“I think it starts with our preparation during the week,” Madden said when asked about the championship game. “East Islip [is a] great team and great program, so it’s the preparation starting early in the week and then no mistakes when we get there.”
What is perhaps most important, though, the head coach said, will be the Colts’ ability to play “tough, hard football.”