West Islip's victory over East Islip adds to memories
Gregg SarraGregg Sarra
Gregg Sarra is Newsday's high school sports columnist and writer.
They learn about the East Islip-West Islip football rivalry at a very young age. It is considered Long Island's hottest crosstown rivalry. The teams used to play for bragging rights only. But now a brilliant Islip Cup is the prize and the winner brings it home to proudly display in the high school.
This is a rivalry bred at a young age as the torch has been passed from generation to generation. There is no middle road. You are either the blue and gold of West Islip or the red and white of East Islip. The all-time series is thisclose as East Islip leads, 17-16-3.
Those communities rekindled this rivalry in sunny West Islip Saturday. The teams, who weren't scheduled against each other during a two-year hiatus, were playing again in a game that carried significant playoff implications.
"The rivalry starts in pee-wee football," West Islip quarterback Sam Ilario laughed. "It doesn't start at the high school level. We want to beat them when we strap it on at every level. It starts early and just builds."
Ilario, West Islip's standout quarterback and Hansen Award candidate, said the emotion is hard to describe.
"The adrenaline flows all week for this game," he said. "We preach calm before the storm and to stay focused. But a switch goes off right after the kickoff."
The communities came out in full force for Saturday's showdown. More than 2,500 fans packed the bleachers and fans stood two deep along the perimeter fences. A sea of blue and gold, plenty of painted faces and a few signs depicted the home sideline love for the Lions, who came away with a 28-14 come-from-behind win.
"We started the Islip Cup in 2002 to add some flavor," said Tim Horan, West Islip's director of athletics. "These are two traditionally strong programs that have enjoyed much success over the years. And our alumni embrace these games. It's an event."
Former West Islip coach Jack Braddish walked the home sideline, reminiscing about some of those years.
"This is a great rivalry," he said. "It's evolved over the years and we've all become great friends through competition. The atmosphere is electric and you can feel the power and the passion in the fans. The games are hard fought and it's a wonderful environment."
Former West Islip great Brent Ziegler (1980), who went on to play for Syracuse, could be heard rooting for the home team. His son Kyle had a terrific game at defensive end with eight tackles, two for a loss.
"These games are inspiring," said Ziegler, who exudes his love for his alma mater. "It brings the community together."
On this day, Ilario left an indelible mark on this rivalry. He etched his name into the annals of West Islip football with 183 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
"One of our goals this season," West Islip coach Steve Mileti said, "was to bring the Cup back to West Islip. It was an important win for so many reasons."
Mileti then joined his Lions for a team photo -- for the memories.