Lindenhurst quarterback Nick Anzalone stood in the pouring rain and soaked in all the accolades that come with winning the Suffolk I football title.
The senior played a nearly perfect game Saturday night. When the Floyd defense double- and triple-teamed Jeremy Ruckert, Long Island’s top football recruit, Anzalone analyzed the situation, went through his progressions and patiently used other options.
Anzalone was 5-for-5 passing on Lindenhurst’s first possession, including a 53-yard scoring strike to a streaking Justin Zotto, and the Bulldogs never trailed in a 35-12 win over Floyd in the Suffolk I title game at Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium.
Anzalone, in his first year as the starter, completed 12 of 17 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns. Lindenhurst (11-0), which earned its second Suffolk crown in four years, will meet Oceanside (11-0) for the Long Island Class I championship at 4:30 p.m. next Sunday at LaValle Stadium.
“Everything in the game just seemed to slow down for me,” Anzalone said. “It’s come easier every week. My reads are easier and our guys were giving me plenty of time to see the field.”
Floyd (9-2) responded with a seven-play, 68-yard drive capped by Mack Driver’s 15-yard touchdown run to move within 7-6 with 6:43 left in the first quarter. Driver keyed the march with a 32-yard run.
The Colonials threatened to take the lead, but defensive back Dilon Smith intercepted a pass at the Bulldogs’ 11 to stymie the threat. “We came up big defensively,” Lindenhurst coach Nick Lombardo said. “That pick was a turning point in the game.”
Lindenhurst capitalized on the turnover. The Bulldogs marched 89 yards in six plays, with halfback Ricky Conway breaking loose for a 59-yard touchdown run and a 14-6 lead.
Conway’s run was exceptional. He broke through the line and was hit in the secondary by at least four players.
“I refused to go down,” said Conway, who finished with 96 yards on nine carries. “I just kept my feet moving and pushing them away. I didn’t make it easy.”
Three plays after a short Floyd punt to the Colonials’ 35, Anzalone locked in on Smith for a 13-yard scoring pass down the middle and a 21-6 lead.
“Nick has really come into his own,” Lombardo said. “He was on today, really on.”
Driver engineered a 10-play, 80-yard march and scored on an 8-yard run to get the Colonials within 21-12 before the half.
“They weren’t going away,” Conway said. “But our defense came up with a big stop in the third quarter.”
Floyd opened the third quarter with a 14-play, 55-yard drive to the Lindenhurst 19 before Smith recorded the Bulldogs’ fourth sack. On the ensuing play, quarterback Rob Taiani was leveled by Jeremy Ruckert, and his pass was intercepted by Will Ruckert to end the threat.
“The first interception of my life,” said an emotional Will Ruckert, who had seven tackles and two sacks. “What a great feeling to make that play.”
Jeremy Ruckert took over at that point. The wide receiver was bracketed in double and sometimes triple coverage and was moved into the backfield for the first time in his high school career. He gained 47 yards on six carries and capped the day with a 1-yard dive over the top of the defense for a 28-12 lead. His 22-yard run set up the score.
“I have so much confidence in my guys, and when they double- and triple-teamed me, I knew we’d get the job done,” Ruckert said. “We’re loaded with talent and we play as a team.”
Malik Grant punctuated the Bulldogs’ defensive effort with the team’s seventh sack on a fourth-and-3 play at the Floyd 35 to seal the win.
“We play team defense,” Will Ruckert said. “And we come hard every play.”