The game of the year in Long Island football is set. The matchup of the two top-ranked teams in New York State — Freeport and Floyd — finally is upon us.
It’s a classic showdown of two undefeated teams from the neighboring counties of Nassau and Suffolk on a collision course to claim Long Island’s top prize.
Floyd and Freeport, ranked atop the poll conducted by the New York State Sportswriters Association, will meet for the Long Island Class I title at noon Saturday at Hofstra. Both teams are 11-0, average more than 40 points per game and play lights-out defense.
The social media banter has been passionate. The potential for this game has created a buzz since the opening kickoff of the 2018 season.
Can the game live up to the hype?
History says no.
Freeport coach Russ Cellan says historical data and records have nothing to do with this particular championship game. It’s all coffeehouse chatter, bulletin-board fodder.
“It’s great that people remember those past wins and they do matter, but it’s overplayed,” Cellan said. “The current players had nothing to do with our previous championship games with Floyd. This is their opportunity to leave their mark.”
These storied programs have met four times in the Long Island Championships. Freeport has punished Floyd in all four meetings, the first in 2003 and the last in 2016.
Does history put any additional pressure on the Colonials?
“It’d be nice to beat them in one of these games,” said coach Paul Longo, who has led Floyd to five Long Island titles. “We’ve had our successes in the LIC. We just seem to match up with them in years where they’ve been the better team. We’re looking forward to the game and we know Freeport is a great team, very similar to ours.”
Freeport and Floyd have run roughshod over opponents all season. Floyd has trailed in only one game the entire season. Freeport has been even better: The Red Devils have never trailed this season.
The stage is set.
Two powerhouse teams, long-standing winning traditions and enough firepower to blow the other one off the field. Who sets the tone will be determined by a fairly simple formula — who can establish the line of scrimmage?
“The team that wins on first-down plays and takes care of the football will win the game,” Cellan said. “Both teams are fully loaded and outstanding on both sides of the ball. The Floyd strength is the defensive front, and we need to figure a way to make the most of our first downs. Our strength is the running game. It’s really that simple.”
Neither team is big on the passing game. Both can be efficient in the air, but they dictate the pace with rhythm and flow on the ground.
“Our games have been out of whack early because of defensive plays, great special teams and an offense that always had excellent field position,” Cellan said. “We had to pull our starters early in every game this season.”
Freeport is led by a triumvirate of talented halfbacks, including Justin Lescouflair, Ja’Juan Warren and Jayvian Allen. The high-scoring offense is led by Terrance Edmond, who has 1,274 all-purpose yards and 26 touchdowns.
Does it concern Cellan that his guys have not been tested late in games? Could conditioning come into question? “I’m not worried about conditioning,” he said. “We run them more than enough.”
Longo faced the same situation this season, pulling starters in the first half of blowout games. Neither team was pressed through the first 10 games, but
Floyd struggled through a first half last week that showed some vulnerability. Hampered by mistakes and costly turnovers, the Colonials found themselves in uncharted waters — trailing.
Ward Melville came out with more verve, smacked big, bad Floyd in the mouth and garnered a 10-0 lead late in the first half.
Floyd came back on a touchdown by Ronale Thomas and a 35-yard scoring pass from Mack Driver to Tyshawn Lopez. Driver added two touchdown runs and Nick Silva added one in the second half as Floyd won, 34-17.
“That was uncharacteristic of us,” Longo said. “But it gave us the opportunity to see how our guys would react in an adverse situation and I like the way we responded. So out of a negative situation came a positive spin. Freeport has crushed everyone, so it’s paramount to have a great start against them.”
How will Freeport react if it falls behind? Said Cellan, “We don’t know how our guys will react if we’re behind because we’ve never been tested, but I’d like to think I know how we’d react. We’re smart and talented enough to keep playing and not get off track. Floyd found out last week how they would do. Until you’re there, it’s an unknown.”
Added Cellan, “We have no plans of being there.”