Ethan Cooley and defense help Sayville to Suffolk III championship
Say Sayville and what comes to mind? Offense, of course. Say what?
"As a defense, we have tried to get noticed," middle linebacker Ethan Cooley said. Then he smiled and added, "That's tough because our offense is so good."
Cooley also is a starting offensive tackle, so he was part of two dominant units Sunday at Stony Brook's LaValle Stadium as Sayville routed Westhampton, 36-7, for its 23rd consecutive victory and third straight Suffolk III championship. Sayville (11-0) will face Lawrence (11-0) on Friday night at 7:30 at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium for the Long Island Class III championship. It's a rematch of last year's game, won by Sayville, 78-61, in the highest-scoring game in state history.
"Everybody assumed we'd both be back in the LIC," quarterback Zach Sirico said of the Golden Flashes vs. Golden Tornadoes matchup that is pure gold for Long Island high school football fans, especially those who love wide-open offenses. "Two great teams. I can't wait."
Lawrence did its part with a 54-21 rout of Plainedge on Friday. On Sunday, Sayville joined the party with a tidy victory that featured a prolific three-pronged running game, some downfield passing and a stingy starting defense that did not allow a point. "Overall, this game is pretty much the way it's gone all year," Sayville coach Rob Hoss said. "We wear you down. We want to run and manage the clock."
Tick-tock, tick-tock, the Golden Flashes' offense ran like clockwork, led by Sirico (11 carries for 103 yards, including the play of the game -- a dazzling 64-yard TD run), John Haggart (118 yards, three touchdowns, including a nifty tightrope-down-the-sideline run for a 31-yard TD in the third quarter) and impressive sophomore Matt Selts (11 carries, 87 yards).
"We pride ourselves on being perfect when we open holes for these guys," said Cooley, who, along with wide receiver Matt Starr threw key downfield blocks on Sirico's sprint. "Even though we know they don't need that much room."
Sirico, with his elusiveness, and Haggart, with his speed and power, are especially adept at making something out of nothing. On his electrifying touchdown run, Sirico broke the pocket, scooted outside to his right, made an ankle-turning juke, cut back to the left and used his downfield blockers to complete the journey to the end zone.
"I've told him, 'Your gift is your legs,' and all year long, when things break down, he improvises," Hoss said.
Sirico, a Loyola (Md.)-bound lacrosse player, acknowledged his "quick hips. It's just instinct. If I see an opening, I take off."
Cooley's instincts were correct all game long, just like those of oft-overshadowed defensive mates Kyle Murray, Tyler Anderson and Jim Giattino of the secondary, linemen Patrick Waters and Matt Iovino, and linebacker Kevin O'Connor. The unit limited Westhampton (7-4) to 181 yards of total offense.
Offensively, Sayville accumulated 501 yards, 341 on the ground. Sirico added 131 through the air on 9-for-16 passing, including a nifty 13-yard slant to Starr for a touchdown in the second quarter that made it 20-0 and put the Golden Flashes in firm control.
The defense made sure things stayed that way. "We have a great defense," Hoss said. "It's one of the best defenses I've ever had here. We're fast, physical and we fly to the ball."
But thanks to an offense that averages nearly 39 points a game, the Sayville defense often flies under the radar.