Forced fumbles, sacks and tackles for loss look great on the stat sheet for a defense. It looks even more impressive when they all belong to one player.
Connetquot linebacker Michael Ansaldi did it all in Wednesday night's Suffolk I opener in Patchogue. The senior forced two quarterback fumbles in the first half, returning one fumble for a 50-yard touchdown as Connetquot beat Patchogue-Medford, 44-23.
"Our defense kept us in the game in the first half," Connetquot coach Mike Hansen said. "We turned the ball over a few times but the defense bailed us out. Ansaldi had some huge plays."
The Thunderbirds forced a fumble on Patchogue's first drive and took a 6-0 lead five plays later on a 7-yard touchdown run by Marcus Gutierrez, who rushed for 306 yards and three scores on 32 carries.
Patchogue responded with a 70-yard scoring strike from Anthony Lee to a leaping Connor Coughlin to tie the score at 6 with 6:15 left in the first quarter.
After a botched snap on an ensuing punt, the Raiders took over on the Connetquot 19. PM threatened to take the lead as Lee scrambled 18 yards to the goal line before Ansaldi stripped the ball and the fumble was recovered by Mike Gentile in the end zone for a touchback.
"He was going in for the go-ahead score and I went after the ball," Ansaldi said. "It was almost in desperation to try and strip it. And I got it."
After the teams traded possessions, Ansaldi was right in the thick of it again as he came on a middle-blitz and nailed Lee deep in the backfield. Ansaldi scooped up the loose ball and rumbled 50 yards for the touchdown and a 13-6 lead.
Ansaldi said defensive coordinator Mike Konsevitch "dialed up some great calls on defense and I was getting a free run at the quarterback. I was getting through untouched. There was some real adrenaline flowing when I was running for the touchdown."
The Connetquot defense struck again on the next possession. Senior linebacker Chris Beal broke through the line and put a big hit on Lee, whose pass was intercepted by tackle D.J. Gallino. He went 22 yards for the touchdown and a 19-6 lead.
"We continually changed the look to confuse the quarterback," Ansaldi said.
Patchogue didn't go quietly. Lee opened the third quarter with a 25-yard scoring pass to Kevin Morrissey and Spencer Greenberg added a 26-yard field goal as PM took a 23-19 lead with 3:11 left in the quarter.
Connetquot's Michael Grimaldi responded with an 8-yard TD pass to Ricky Hahn and Gutierrez ripped off fourth-quarter TD runs of 1 and 29 yards. "Our line is in great shape and my fullback Chris Beal led the way," said Gutierrez, who rushed for 183 yards in the second half. "Rob Dawson, Jimmy Oliver, everyone was doing the job."
Ansaldi wasn't finished. He added an 8-yard sack and two tackles in the fourth to punctuate an unforgettable opener.