Halfback Alec Kiernan went over the left tackle and bulled his way for 10 yards and a first down to the Half Hollow Hills East 1-yard line. It was a microcosm of Kiernan’s work day.
It was also the 14th run for a first down for Centereach’s workhorse. Five of those first down runs came on a third- or fourth-down carry as the Cougars scored on all seven of their possessions.
Kiernan finished with a career-high 233 yards on 34 carries and four touchdowns as Centereach beat Half Hollow Hills East, 52-12, in a Suffolk II game of previously unbeaten teams in Dix Hills.
Centereach (5-0), which never has won a playoff game, continued on a trek to win its first regular-season title since 1979. The Cougars started 6-0 in 1978 and finished 6-1-1.
“This is an unselfish team, a very close knit group of players,” Centereach coach Adam Barrett said. “They have something they believe in and are working toward since they lost a playoff game against North Babylon a year ago.”
And they have Kiernan and his explosive offensive line, which proved too much for the Thunderbirds.
Kiernan started the Cougars’ first drive with a 23-yard run and capped it with a 1-yard touchdown run with 7:33 left in the first quarter for a 6-0 lead.
Hills East (4-1) faked a punt on its next possession and the fourth-down pass was intercepted by linebacker Devin Demetres. He returned the theft 44 yards to the Thunderbirds’ 22. Four plays later, Demetres caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jay Morwood to make it 13-0.
“The interception was a reaction play,” said Demetres, who also had a 40-yard fourth-quarter scoring run. “They faked the punt and he looked right at the receiver and I jumped the route. Then I followed some great blocks for a long return. It was the turning point in the game.”
Kiernan added a 7-yard touchdown run to give Centereach a 20-0 lead and then the Cougars blew the game open with the help of two Hills East turnovers.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Josh Washington forced a fumble to set up Vin Liotta’s 4-yard scoring run for Centereach. On Hills East’s next possession, Liotta scooped and returned a fumble 23 yards for a score. It was 33-0 with 2:10 left in the half.
“We’ve been humbled as a team and as a program,” Half Hollow Hills East coach Mike Maratto said. “They have one of the best backs in Suffolk and the O-line is very good. I thought the game would be won up front and it was. But I also thought we responded well in the second half after we made some adjustments and we look forward to playing them in the playoffs.”
Hills East played without its outstanding halfback/linebacker Drew Martin, who was on his official visit to Air Force, and halfback Mike Brown, who was out with a severe ankle sprain.
Centereach opened the third quarter with an eight-play, 67-yard march, punctuated by a Kiernan 3-yard scoring run to make it 39-0.
“He’s a relentless runner, that refuses to be tackled by one guy,” Barrett said. “We lined up in a power set and got good angles on our blocks. And Alec has great vision and makes smart decisions.”
Kiernan spread the credit to his line and the unselfish play of Liotta, his fullback.
“I look for contact when I run,” Kiernan said. “I don’t have that extra shift, the overdrive, so I’m happy with grinding. The line and Vin Liotta made it easy for me.”
Hills East got on the board on Ernesto Mitchell’s 37-yard scoring run in the third quarter.
“We’ve been communicating well in all our line calls,” said Centereach center Andrew Colletti. “And when we have a break down, Alec picks us up by getting the tougher yards after contact. He carries us. We believe we can make history this year.”