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Justin Zotto’s key interception leads Lindenhurst past Ward Melville

Lindenhurst's Justin Zotto returns a punt during the

Lindenhurst's Justin Zotto returns a punt during the first quarter of a Suffolk I football game against Ward Melville on Friday, Oct. 7, 2016. He returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown as time expired in the second quarter to give Lindenhurst a 16-7 lead at halftime. They went on to a 23-14 win. Photo Credit: James Escher

Just when it seemed as if Lindenhurst would carry a two-point lead into halftime, Justin Zotto made the play of the game.

With Ward Melville at the Lindenhurst 24-yard line and less than 10 seconds left in the second quarter, Wesley Manning fired a pass with considerable zip, but Zotto jumped the route, intercepted it and streaked up the sideline. He danced around multiple defenders and scored on a 75-yard return as time expired in the half, pushing Lindenhurst’s lead to nine points in a 23-14 Suffolk I victory Friday night.

“I knew I was going to make it the whole time,” said Zotto, whose touchdown made it 16-7. “One of my teammates got out in front of me and made a good block, and at that point it was just me and the quarterback. I made a quick move and no one was going to stop me.”

“He read the play; he undercut the route,” coach Nick Lombardo said. “He did a great job.”

Zotto intercepted another pass in the beginning of the third quarter but left the game on Ward Melville’s next possession with what he said was a left leg injury.

Tight end Jeremy Ruckert made his presence felt, which frequently is the case when Lindenhurst plays well. But this time it was on special teams.

In addition to catching four passes for 93 yards as Austin Perri’s primary weapon downfield, he booted field goals of 30, 25 and 34 yards, had three touchbacks on kickoffs and added punts of 42, 41 and 40 yards.

“We take 10, 15 minutes before every practice to work on special teams,” Ruckert said.

He kicked consecutive field goals in the first quarter to give Lindenhurst (5-0) a 6-0 lead. That advantage held until Manning fired a slant to Dominic Pryor, who turned it into a 71-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter.

Manning and Pryor combined on a 66-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter as the wideout caught a deep ball down the sideline in stride and scampered into the end zone to draw Ward Melville (2-3) within 16-14.

Andy Merkerson’s 3-yard touchdown run with 3:30 left in the third quarter gave the Bulldogs their only offensive touchdown of the game.

The offense struggled to find consistency, but Zotto provided just enough punch to pace the Bulldogs.

“Any time you’re 5-0 in our division, it’s a positive thing,” Lombardo said. “It’s all the things you’d want your team to be at this point.”


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