Austin Baiardi was at the center of it all. The Smithtown West sophomore was asked to step in and play for injured center Dan Farrell in the biggest game of the season.
And Baiardi was doing it for an offense that had found its rhythm and averaged 50 points through the first three games.
The offense didn't skip a beat Friday night, not even against top-seeded and unbeaten East Islip. Baiardi and the rest of the offensive line cleared the way as halfback Logan Greco rumbled to 242 yards on 32 carries and two touchdowns in a 35-21 win over East Islip before a packed house of more than 2,000 in Smithtown.
Smithtown West (4-0) opened a 21-7 halftime lead as Greco rushed for 169 yards on 17 carries, including the opening score on a 9-yard run in the first quarter. "We had a few guys step in and do a great job on the offensive line," Greco said. "Our center went down and Austin was the key."
Baiardi said his teammates helped him focus and remain calm before and during the game, especially as the crowd began to swell before kickoff. "I was definitely having a tough time calming down but my teammates were there for me," Baiardi said. "It was a big game and they helped me on the line. We just tried to give Logan some running room and he did a great job of reading the hole."
It was big plays from the Smithtown West defense early that set the tone. Defensive back Andrew Lapreziosa prevented a touchdown when he stripped halfback Matt Walter at the Bulls' goal line and the ball bounced out of the back of the end zone for a touchback on East Islip's first possession.
"We got stripped twice in the red zone," East Islip coach Sal J. Ciampi said. "Those fumbles can't happen. They made athletic plays and deserved to win. But we had our chances."
East Islip's Erik Adon also was victimized by a strip. This time, defensive back Christian Zawadzki made an open-field tackle on Adon and pulled the ball away at the Bulls' 14.
"We do strip drills every day," Zawadzki said. "He was carrying the ball on his inside arm and I just nailed it."
Bulls defensive back Ryan Keenan recovered at the 14 and the Bulls embarked on a seven-play, 86-yard scoring march capped by Greco's 9-yard run. Greco carried six times for 67 yards in the drive. John Pavacic added the kick to make it 7-0 with 5:37 left in the quarter.
"We made some big plays because we have so much speed," said Keenan, who had five pass breakups and a leaping interception in the end zone.
Lapreziosa added a 3-yard scoring run and Keenan caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Matt Heldberg with 21 seconds left in the half for the 21-7 lead. The Bulls extended the lead in the third with a 4-yard Heldberg scoring run.
"We have such great line depth,"Heldberg said. "And guys like Baiardi and [Mike] Palagonia stepped in and did the job."