Bellport’s Ka’Shaun Parrish may have cemented himself as the best big-play guy in Suffolk County football on Friday, however the feat that stands out the most from the Clippers’ Suffolk Conference II semifinal against Half Hollow Hills East belongs to their defense.
Bellport got big plays from all over its oft-overlooked defensive unit and brought a Thunderbirds offense that was averaging more than 41 points per contest to a virtual standstill. Their suffocating plays didn’t allow Hills East to get on the board until late in the fourth quarter as Bellport scored a 20-6 victory in a cold rain at the T-Birds’ Tom Collins/Chris Panatier 9/11 Memorial Stadium.
Bellport (5-1) will be going for its 12th county championship and first since 2010 a week from Saturday when it faces the winner of Saturday’s semifinal between West Islip and Northport.
"There’s no question that Ka’Shaun has made big plays that get a lot of headlines and attention, but the defense has been fairly solid all year," Bellport coach Jamie Fabian said. "We didn’t have a good week on defense last week [a 24-14 loss to West Islip], but it rose to the occasion today against a very good team. [Defensive co-ordinator Steve] Schwicke really had them ready."
"This is what defense looks like when everyone is doing their job," linebacker Calvin Pedatella said. "This wasn’t one guy with 20 tackles. I wouldn’t be surprised if 10 different guys had five tackles apiece."
Actually there were seven. Linebacker Marc Promutico had 12 of them and Pedatella and lineman Alex Ciota had nine apiece to pace the defense.
Parrish, a senior and Hansen Award contender, made three huge plays that ultimately shaped the outcome of the game.
The first was a 40-yard punt return in the middle of the second quarter that gave the Clippers the ball on the Thunderbirds’ 34 and set up quarterback Jack Halpin’s 4-yard touchdown run behind blocks from Ciota and David Hartmann.
The second was a 51-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter in which he showcased awesome acceleration to race away from the Hills East tacklers as the Clippers went up 14-0.
The last might have been the most impressive: he went on a sweep to the right side, got stopped cold and then reversed directions to go right for a 54-yard touchdown run and a 20-0 lead with 10:42 to play.
"A lot of times, teams won’t kick the ball to me so I haven’t has as many return opportunities, but when I get the chance I want to make the most of it," Parrish said.
"The guy is just awesome to have on your team," Pedatella said.
Hills East (5-1) hurt itself in some excellent scoring opportunities by committing penalties. It drove into the red zone on its first possession before a holding penalty stalled things. It again got into Bellport territory on its second possession before another holding penalty proved a setback.
And then there was the boa constrictor-like effect the Clipper defense had. By the third quarter the struggling Thunderbirds considered midfield four-down territory.
"They came at us with a little shock and awe," Hills East coach Mike Maratto said. "Penalties are drive killers and we made mistakes, but their defense threw some things at us that our guys should have been ready for."
There could be a great opportunity ahead for the Clippers: a second shot at West Islip.
"Would we like that? Sure. But it really doesn’t matter," Promutico said. "The goal is a championship and we’ve got to beat whatever team is in the way."