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Lindenhurst defense sparks drive for LI Class II championship

Lindenhurst LB Will Ruckert tackles Centereach WR Matt

Lindenhurst LB Will Ruckert tackles Centereach WR Matt Robbert for the loss in the Suffolk division II semifinals, Friday, November 15, 2019 at Lindenhurst Middle School. Credit: George A. Faella

It begins and ends with the defense at Lindenhurst.

And it all starts with the Dawgs emotional leader Will Ruckert.

The senior captain has the unit lit before every series. And watch the fire in that unit burn when Ruckert gets a tackle for a loss. He goes into the “Ruck Strut.”

“He’s the absolute best,” said Lindenhurst coach Nick Lombardo. “I love the kid and his passion for the game and his team. He’s my kind of player. He’s physical, spirited, team-oriented and the consummate leader.”

And the Ruck Strut?

“It’s kind of ugly, but I love it,” Lombardo said. “It intensifies the defense. It’s his way of showing emotion and this game swings on emotion. We’re going to need a motivated defensive effort to beat Garden City. And it all starts up front with guys like Will.”

Lindenhurst (11-0) will meet Garden City (10-1) for the Long Island Class II football championship at Hofstra University Saturday at 4:30 p.m. The game is a rematch of last year’s title game won by Garden City, 19-0.

The losing result has stuck with Ruckert throughout the off-season.

“I haven’t been able to let it go,” Ruckert said. “We allowed 19 points and they shut us out. Nineteen to zero, no way. All I thought about was getting back to this game and having another shot at them. They’re a great program and so are we.”

Ruckert led a defense that has turned in four shutouts. The Dawgs are the least scored upon defense on Long Island, allowing 6.5 points per game.

“We take it personal when someone scores,” Ruckert said. “We put in the work in the off-season to get stronger and win the battles up front on the lines.”

Garden City (10-1) is looking to become the first team in Long Island history to win four straight LIC crowns. The three-time defending champions have only allowed 12 total points in the past three championships.

The Trojans share the record book with Lawrence, Floyd, Shoreham-Wading River and North Babylon as the only programs to win three straight LIC titles.

Garden City is making an LIC record 18th appearance, winning eight times. This is Lindenhurst’s fourth appearance since 2014 with its only win coming against Oceanside in 2017.

“It’s always a tough mountain to climb when you play Garden City,” Lombardo said. “We didn’t score a point last year and that really bothers our guys. You don’t need any added motivation when you play a program like Garden City. They have that championship pedigree.”

Garden City is riding an emotional high after a last-minute Chase Gardi field goal helped them upend previously undefeated MacArthur, 16-14, to win the Nassau Conference II title last week.

MacArthur had stopped Garden City’s Long Island record 42-game win streak in week six. The Trojans are on the cusp of history after exacting revenge on the Generals.

“We have to run the football successfully,” said Lindenhurst’s junior middle linebacker Jack Winey, who has 123 tackles. “And we have to play our brand of tight defense where we swarm tackle and punish people.”

Lombardo pointed to a defensive unit that includes 6-5, 252-pound end Sunkonmi Agunloye, tackle Nick Passamonte (6-3, 265) and Jeff Perez (5-10, 235) at the nose. The secondary is led by Jaden Barber, Matt Josefson and Warren Dixon.

“We shut out North Babylon to open the season and I knew our defense would take us where we want to go,” Lombardo said. “And with consistent defense and special teams here we are —  ready for our shot at redemption.”

Will the defense rest or finish the march?

Lindenhurst LIC Results

Year, Opponent, Result, Score

2014: Syosset, lost, 35-13

2017: Oceanside, won, 40-23

2018: Garden City, lost, 19-0

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