Smithtown West called “heads” in what looked like a coin toss of a boys soccer showdown with Huntington and came up a winner.
The Bulls used a strong aerial game that was ‘head-lined’ by high rising senior Gavin Reis as it scored four times in the final 18:25 for a 4-1 Suffolk V win over the visiting Blue Devils to move into the division lead.
Reis broke a scoreless tie when he used his noggin to redirect a header from Alex Tylar into the right side of the goal. A little more than six minutes later he got to a centering pass from Sam Mastrangelo just before Huntington goalie Dylan Hayden arrived for a 2-0 lead with 12:15 to play.
The threat of another Reis header on Tylar's direct kick from midfield brought the defense out from the goal mouth and allowed a drive that Tylar thought was too strong to get in for a 3-1 lead with 6:47 left.
“With what [Reis] can do, they had to respect it,” Tylar said. “He was my target and I was too long but it ended up over [everyone’s head] and in.”
“[Reis] is big and physical and a natural on headers,” Smithtown West coach A.J. Gerke said. “He’s so dynamite close to the goal, we’re a little surprised when he misses.”
The chill in the air at game time gave the contest a postseason feel and the matchup may very well be one we see in the playoffs. Smithtown West (5-0-2, 5-0-2) was the Suffolk AA runner-up last season. Huntington was the Suffolk AA runner-up the year before. With the state now in six classifications with a Class AAA division for the largest schools, they are two of the toughest kids on the block in Class AA.
“That’s the best team we’ve faced,” Gerke said. “They were the better team in our first meeting and we managed to grind out a tie.”
And Huntington (8-2-1, 5-1-1) was the aggressor most of the time in the first half. Gerke said he called out the Bulls to “play more blue collar and win the 50-50 balls.” And Smithtown West had 11 second-half shots to the Devils’ four.
“We’re a team of moments,” Tylar said.
Those moments finally came late, topped off by John Savino’s late goal after chasing down a punt from goalie Nick Kondenar and drilling a shot across his body for the far post.
“Once we got that first goal, we had momentum and they started coming,” Reis said.
Alan Wilberger scored off a leading bass from Cruz Flores with 10:33 to play to cut the margin to 2-1, but that was as close as Huntington got.
The returning Bulls still have a bad taste in their mouths from losing the 2022 county title game to Connetquot despite playing the final 10 minutes of regulation up a man.
“We all know we didn’t finish that one right,” Savino said.
Added Tylar: “wW need to get what we missed last season.”