Jahniya McCreary #2 of Half Hollow Hills races downfield after...

Jahniya McCreary #2 of Half Hollow Hills races downfield after making her first of two interceptions in the Suffolk County girls flag football championship against Patchogue-Medford at Sachem High School East on Thursday, May 25, 2023.  Credit: James Escher

There is something different about senior Jahniya McCreary. It could be her breakaway speed. It could be her quick cuts and downfield vision. Or maybe it's her pure athleticism.

McCreary scored four touchdowns and was clearly the difference maker as Half Hollow Hills beat previously unbeaten Patchogue-Medford, 31-14 to capture the Suffolk flag football championship played at Sachem East High School in Holtsville.  It was the first year of flag football for both schools which enjoyed successful seasons.

“This is a total team effort," said McCreary who also stars in volleyball and basketball. "If I had to pick between sports, my new favorite is flag football.”

Patchogue-Medford finished 10-1-3.

 "She [McCreary] controlled the whole game," said Patchogue-Medford coach Brad Weinman. "She made excellent reads on her runs and she was explosive in the open field. And I thought they're defense had the best flag pullers we'd seen all season."

McCreary scored on touchdown runs of 10, 1 and 3 as Half Hollow Hills (14-2) built a 19-7 halftime lead. Her first score came on a neatly executed reverse around the left end. She also ran in the one-point conversion for the 7-0 lead with 20:45 left in the first half.

"She's a phenomenal athlete," said Half Hollow Hills coach Mike Lupa. "For me, she's the best flag player on Long Island. She's just different, a different level of speed out there."

McCreary's 3-yard touchdown run made it 19-0 with 10:12 left in the half. Patchogue-Medford responded with a 53-yard pass and run from quarterback Alexis Bulson-Cuozzo to Diamond Pertillar. The longest play of the game set up Pertillar's 5-yard TD run. Bulson-Cuozzo connected with Marie Cataldo on the one-point conversion pass to make it 19-7 with 2:06 left.

On Hills' ensuing possession, Bulson-Cuozzo jumped a pass route inside the 5 yard-line and returned the interception 51 yards with 29 seconds left. But the Hills defense halted Patchogue-Medford inside the 20 as time expired to end the half.

The Hills defense was led by senior end Olivia Hamilton, who led all defenders with 10 flag pulls. Hamilton, an elite fencer, was a force on defense.

 "From fencing to football and a county championship," Hamilton said. "I chalk up my flag pulling skills in football to my fencing techniques. I would have never thought my fencing skills would help me in another sport."

Weinman thought otherwise.

 "She has such quick hands and doesn't miss any flags," he said. "And I'm proud of our team in its first season. It was a great experience."

Hills freshman quarterback Samantha Heyman also had a big day. She completed seven of 11 passes for 54 yards and added 113 yards and a score on the ground.

"It's all about reading the defense and if they key on Jahniya, then I pull the ball and run," said the 14-year-old Heyman, who also plays varsity basketball and tennis. "We had a great season."

“The key to our offense is our QB," McCreary said. "I still don’t think [Heyman] is only a freshman, she plays like a senior."


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