This one could be dubbed the Comeback Bowl. Thursday marked the return of two fabulous Long Island quarterbacks, who suffered season-ending injuries last year. Smithtown West's Matt Heldberg and West Islip's Sam Ilario squared off in a Suffolk II season-opener.
The two highly-regarded seniors played well but it was Smithtown West senior Logan Greco who stole the spotlight. The battering ram of a fullback rumbled for 161 yards and three touchdowns in the first half as Smithtown West opened a 24-point lead on its way to a 50-20 win at West Islip.
Greco carried 19 times and scored on runs of 1, 5 and 3 yards as the Bulls' offense had the West Islip defense on its heels throughout. Greco averaged six yards after contact and added an explosive 56-yard gallop to set up his 1-yard score in the first quarter.
Rocking the pink turf shoes and running over everyone and everything in sight, Greco added two two-point conversion runs and sat out the second half. He came up limping after his two-point conversion run made it 37-13 with 3:05 left in the half.
"I'm fine, it's a deep thigh bruise," he said. "I got hit at the goal line and it was a precautionary move more than anything else. This was a big road win for us."
The pre-game buzz centered over the respective returns of Heldberg, coming off knee surgery, and Ilario, coming off ankle surgery. Heldberg wore a protective brace on his left leg and engineered a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive to open the game. He punctuated the march with a 1-yard scoring run.
"He's the key," Smithtown West coach Peter Cerullo said. "We lost him on the third play of the first game last year and it was devastating. He's gutty, smart and we can't afford to lose him. He's a great player and a heck of a leader."
Heldberg led Smithtown West on touchdowns in five of the Bulls' first six possessions as they accumulated 288 yards of first-half offense. Heldberg, who completed 4 of 8 passes for 48 yards in the first half, opened the third quarter with the kind of pass that has Bulls fans thinking title. On the very first play from his own 48, Heldberg rolled to his right and fired a perfect pass that found John Foley on a crossing pattern at the West Islip 27. Foley then broke three tackles and finished the 52-yard scoring play to make it 44-13.
That would be it for Heldberg and the starters.
"I'm very happy, pleased with our effort and the outcome," Heldberg said. "I've waited a year for this opportunity and it feels good."
The result didn't feel good for West Islip's Ilario. In his first action since he was severely injured in the first round of last year's playoffs, Ilario put to rest all questions about him coming back fully healed from his surgery. On the Lions' first play from scrimmage, Ilario went around left end, broke one tackle, and raced 75 yards for a touchdown. He displayed the same breakaway speed that allowed him to rush for 645 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior.
It wouldn't be that easy for the rest of the afternoon as the Smithtown West defense suffocated the Lions. Ilario finished with 120 yards on 13 carries and two scores. "It was a fantastic win," Greco said. "We're a completley different team with Matt in the huddle -- he's our leader."
"And our line responds to him and does all the hard work up front."