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Defense leads Lindenhurst to back-to-back Suffolk Division II titles

Will Ruckert of Lindenhurst cheers the crowd during

Will Ruckert of Lindenhurst cheers the crowd during the Suffolk Division II championship game against West Islip on Nov. 23, 2019 in Lindenhurst. Credit: Anna Sergeeva

Will Ruckert went out to the center of the field and pounded his right fist into the Lindenhurst Bulldogs’ school logo. His final game on his home field, his final conquest.

Ruckert’s swarming defense keyed a 27-7 win over West Islip on Saturday in the Suffolk Division II championship game before an overflow crowd of more than 3,000 at Edward Kienle Memorial Field in Lindenhurst.

It was the third straight Suffolk title for Lindenhurst (11-0), which won the Division I title in 2017 and now has back-to-back Division II crowns. West Islip (8-3) lost for the fourth straight year in the championship game.

Ruckert was overcome with emotion as he reflected on his four years and the opportunity to play for another Long Island title.

“This is my team, my brothers,” Ruckert said. “Right after we lost to Garden City last year, I texted everyone and said I’d be at the gym the next day. I asked, ‘Who’s with me?’ And everyone was all-in. This is the result of that commitment.”

Lindenhurst will meet Garden City (10-1), the three-time defending champion, for the Long Island Class II title at Hofstra at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Garden City beat Lindenhurst, 19-0, in last year’s Class II final.

Garden City made the rematch possible with a thrilling 16-14 comeback win over MacArthur. The Trojans avenged a 27-7 loss to MacArthur in Week 7 that ended their winning streak at 42 games.

“We understand the culture of that program and the mindset,” Lindenhurst coach Nick Lombardo said. “And we have the same winning culture here in Lindenhurst. We expect to win like they do.”

Lindenhurst held the Lions to 49 first-half yards and three first downs with a gang-tackling style led by nose guard Nick Passamonte, tackle Jeff Perez and middle linebacker Jack Winey.

“We play team defense. Everyone knows their roles,” said Winey, who had 10 tackles. “It’s different guys making big plays all the time.”

Lindenhurst took advantage of a short punt in the second quarter and drove 36 yards in five plays for the opening score. Halfback Jaden Barber went on a 30-yard burst to the 4 before scoring two plays later on a 1-yard run. Nick Antos’ kick made it 7-0 with 4:59 left in the half.

Barber, who rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, credited the offensive line. “The line makes it easy for me,” he said.

The game’s turning point came on Lindenhurst’s next possession. With the Bulldogs backed up at the 26 and 1:33 left in the first half, Barber went over left tackle for 3 yards. Instead of continuing to run the clock and take a seven-point lead into the half, offensive coordinator Ron Frole took a long shot at a score.

Quarterback Jack Randazzo stepped up into the pocket and delivered a perfect pass to wide receiver Matt Josefson in stride at the Lions’ 30 for a 71-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 1:05 left.

“I knew it was a touchdown right away,” Josefson said.

“The pass was right on the money,” Lombardo said. “It was a fade route and a nice catch-and-run.”

Ruckert, who had eight tackles, and sophomore linebacker Jake Trovato stopped quarterback Joe Costantino for a 2-yard loss to end the half at the Lions’ 43.

“We were flying around on defense,” said Perez, who had eight tackles. “We were winning the line play.”

West Islip seized the momentum in the third quarter. The Lions put together an impressive 16-play, 87-yard drive that lasted 7:15, capped by Costantino’s 3-yard touchdown run. Bobby DiCapua’s kick made it 14-7 with 4:38 left in the quarter.

Lindenhurst responded on the ensuing possession with a six-play, 77-yard drive keyed by a 56-yard run by Winey in which he stiff-armed a defender to the ground before stepping out of bounds at the 14. Randazzo scored on a 3-yard run to make it 20-7.

Barber added a 37-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter.

The Bulldogs’ line of guards Anthony Ciminera and Perez, tackles Sunkonmi Agunloye and Ruckert and center Passamonte paved the way for 261 rushing yards.

“Our line has been great all year,” Lombardo said. “We knew they’d be our strength. I feel every single week they get a little better.”

Long Island Championships

Friday at Stony Brook University

Class III, noon

Plainedge (11-0) vs. Sayville (11-0)

Class I, 4:30 p.m.

Freeport (11-0) vs. Floyd (11-0)

Saturday at Hofstra

Class IV, noon

Mt. Sinai/Shoreham-Wading River winner vs. (Seaford 10-1)

Class II, 4:30 p.m.

Lindenhurst (11-0) vs. Garden City (10-1)

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