In a battle of an explosive offense vs a "grind it out" offense, West Islip scored three unanswered touchdowns in the second quarter and withstood a persistent Whitman ground game to post a 28-16 win Saturday.
For the Lions (1-0), the opening game, played in gusty wind conditions, featured a stellar debut for quarterback Sam Ilario, who ran for 130 yards and a TD, and passed for another 72 more yards, including dramatic tosses to Nick Aponte and Ryan Wieczorek.
For the Wildcats (0-1), a solid outing for QB Mitchell Bermudez (82 yards rushing) and fullback Joel Aleman (130 yards rushing) keyed a ground game that dominated time of possession against a team that is favored pre-season to win its division.
“We executed on offense,” said Wildcats coach Robin Rosa. “We gained a lot of yards and we kept possession of the ball. We just have got to finish.”
“They ran a triple option, and our approach on defense was conservative,” said Lions coach Steve Mileti. “We didn’t want to let their quarterback beat us. He’s a real athlete.”
Aside from a 78-yard Ilario scamper down the left sideline for the first WI touchdown of the game, the first quarter was balanced. And in fact Whitman countered with a 7 minute, 12 play drive of 86 yards that ended with a Bermudez 16 yard TD run -- and with the two point conversion the Wildcats had the lead at 8-7 with 9:52 in the half.
The Lions took over after that, however, with Nick Aponte playing at what can only be called another level. After returning the ensuing kickoff 35 yards to the Whitman 40, the WI senior snared a 38-yard Ilario pass less than a yard from the Wildcats' goal line, setting up an Ilario TD run and a lead WI would never relinquish.
For good measure, Aponte made two dramatic tackles -- behind the line of scrimmage -- on the ensuing series. That set up a punt situation which Wieczorek capitalized on with a 50-yard punt return for a TD.
On the next series, WI scored again, and dramatically -- on an acrobatic pass completion by Wieczorek on an Ilario pass that made it 28-8 Lions with 2:10 in the half.
To their credit, the Whitman squad didn’t pack it in at that point. Far from it -- aside from one drive by West Islip that was short circuited with a Terhon Legros interception, the Wildcats offense dominated play. After the Legros interception a resolute Whitman marched 86 yards on fifteen plays, with darting running back Jaron Batts getting into the offensive action along with Aleman and Bermudez.
A 24 yard run into pay dirt for Aleman with 5:09 remaining made the final a respectable 28-16.
“We had a little breakdown in the second half,“ said Mileti after the game. “But if we didn‘t make a couple of mistakes, we‘d have scored again.”
“You can’t judge what you are with game one,“ said coach Rosa. “We were down 28-8 and never gave up. I’m proud of that.”