While Super Bowl HHH isn’t something the National Football League will ever be promoting, you’d have a hard time convincing the hundreds of fans who made it out to Half Hollow Hills High School West on Saturday that they weren’t witnessing the game of the century.
In an historic showdown, Hills West (8-1) welcomed the boys of the Half Hollow Hills High School East football team for just the second gridiron matchup ever between the two Colts and Thunderbirds.
Dependent on the outcome was a spot in the Suffolk County Division II semifinals. No. 2 Hills West earned just that with a 27-7 win over No. 7 Hills East (5-4).
“Obviously it was a little bit more than just a football game, [more] than [just] a playoff game; playing Hills East for the first time [in the playoffs], there was a lot going into [preparation] during the week,” Colts’ Head Coach Kyle Madden, in his 18th year at the team’s helm, said. “I thought Hills East did a great job in the beginning… But I thought our guys did a good job keeping composed at halftime.”
The Thunderbirds came out fighting in the first half and kept the score even at 7-7 heading into the break, but it was all Colts from that point on.
On Hills West’s opening drive of the third quarter, Alexander Filacouris gave the Colts a lead they would never relinquish with his touchdown run from 2 yards out; it was the sophomore’s second score in the game. From there, the Thunderbirds couldn’t mount a comeback as the offense faltered, with several punts and a turnover. Colts’ junior running back Lucas DiGiorgi provided the dagger with his two rushing touchdowns in the second half.
For the Thunderbirds, the loss finishes off their season – but a widely successful season, at that. For the first time since 1998, first-year Head Coach Michael Marrato said, the Thunderbirds found themselves in the playoffs.
“It was just an awesome year,” Marrato said. “A great bunch of boys and great senior leadership… To make the playoffs in my first year… I couldn’t be happier with these guys.”
When Hills East did find success on Saturday, it came at the hands of senior quarterback Derek Merckling. Capping off a nine-minute-long drive that ended in the second quarter, Merckling gave Hills East its only score of the day with a 1-yard touchdown run. Junior running back Nick DiPietro kept that drive alive for Hills East with a nice 21-yard catch off a Merckling pass on a fourth-and-long.
“Our team, you know what, they’re just all heart. I couldn’t ask for anything more than that, out of them or this season,” Marrato said. “I stand by how they played today 100 percent… [And] I’m really looking forward to next year; we’re going to make even more noise.”
For the Colts, the playoff run continues on Nov. 15 with a semifinal showdown where Hills West will welcome No. 3 Riverhead (7-2) for a scheduled kickoff at 1 p.m.
When the two schools first met this season, on Oct. 1, the Colts took care of the Blue Waves with a decisive 42-28 win. Much like he did against Hills East, Filacouris played a big role in the win over Riverhead and will almost assuredly be asked by Madden to do the same in the rematch.
“He played quarterback, receiver, running back, defense… returns kicks,” Madden said, “He is probably one of our most important players.”