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Bitetti comes up big for Bethpage

Bethpage linebacker Paul Bitetti and defensive back Matt

Bethpage linebacker Paul Bitetti and defensive back Matt Zuk tackle Plainedge running back Ralph Caccavale in first quarter action Saturday afternoon. (Oct. 1, 2011) Photo Credit: Bruce Adler

Paul Bitetti figures there's guts and then there's glory.

Identifying the glory part is easy -- it's in the way his name shows up in the boxscore whenever he manages to scramble into the end zone for a touchdown. But the fullback-linebacker says the rough-and-tumble part is his favorite: the loud hits that can quietly win a game.

"Defense first," he said after Bethpage's 29-18 win over host Plainedge Saturday in Nassau Conference II football. "Offense is good for Newsday, but defense wins championships."

Bitetti -- purveyor of guts and glory, defense and offense -- did a little bit of both, rushing for two touchdowns and adding a team-high 13 tackles (11 solo, and two assists, including a sack) to help erase a 12-0 first-quarter deficit.

His effort highlighted a lockdown effort by the Golden Eagles (4-0), who kept Plainedge (2-2) off the board for the second and third quarters to become the only undefeated team in the conference.

No stop was bigger than Bethpage's Joe Schulteis' tackle with 2:30 left in the first half and Plainedge ahead 12-7. The Red Devils tried to convert a fourth-and-1 on their own 45 when Schulteis tackled Ralph Caccavale for a 10-yard loss.

Bethpage took the lead on the next play. Justin Rohr connected with Nick Pombonyo on a 35-yard touchdown pass to put the Golden Eagles ahead by a point. A two-point conversion followed to make it 15-12 with 2:05 left until halftime.

It was the first time this season that Bethpage had trailed, coach Erwin Dill said, and a good sign of the team's ability to work under pressure.

It's a strong rivalry born of both geography and history: The two schools, only about five miles apart, have squared off in the playoffs for the past three years.

"Plainedge is right down the block," Dill said. "It's two pretty good programs. A lot of the kids know each other."

Added Bitetti: "No matter who's the better team, we always play hard against each other. We had to fight back; they came out really fired up."

With the sidelines rocking and the stands firmly divided, the Red Devils took a 12-0 lead courtesy of first-quarter touchdown runs by Andrew Jones (a 1-yard score up the middle with 6:05 to go) and Gianfranco Soriente (a 4-yard run with 1:40 left).

Bethpage got on the board with a seamless double pass -- a lateral to Chris Ferruza, who chucked it back to Rohr for a 10-yard TD with 7:52 left in the first half. The Red Devils sputtered after that, quashed by efforts from Bitetti, Joe Sacklow (three sacks) and Anthony Carrello, who nearly blocked a punt (enough for a muffed kick and a short field), and blocked an extra point in the fourth.

"Ground and pound," Rohr said. "Our strength is with our line, and our line had another great performance. [We] smash the ball up the middle and ground and pound all day."

None more than Bitetti, who, despite only 32 yards rushing and one 30-yard catch, had scoring runs of 5 and 9 yards.

"We were deflated" after they went down early, Bitetti said. "But we knew our team character. We can come back from that. We can come back and play with anybody."

Had the guts, got the glory.

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