Forget big plays. Wantagh’s defense has been so dominant in the playoffs that it only begrudgingly gives up short gains.
Forget the short bursts. East Islip’s offense has been so explosive in the playoffs that it has five scoring runs of at least 49 yards.
Which team will blink in the Long Island Class III championship game at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium?
“East Islip is a very big, very physically strong team with good athletes running the ball,” Wantagh coach Keith Sachs said. “You’ve got to stop them from making big plays.”
That means the Warriors (11-0), who have not allowed a point in three playoff games and have surrendered a Long Island-low 5.1 points per game, must contain East Islip’s Kyle Fleitman and Justin Taveras.
Fleitman, the quarterback, has rushed for 1,806 yards and 22 touchdowns and passed for 790 yards. In helping the Redmen (9-2) reverse their only two losses, he ran for 248 yards last week against Sayville and 373 the week before against Westhampton. Taveras, a tailback, rushed for 176 yards against Westhampton and 139 against Sayville. He has gained 1,019 yards and scored 12 touchdowns.
“Wantagh is a great team with a great defense, but we have to accentuate our strength, which is running the ball,” East Islip coach Sal J. Ciampi said. “I’ve never had two dynamic kids like Fleitman and Taveras. In the past, we’ve been more methodical on offense, but these guys can score from anywhere on the field.”
In the playoffs, Fleitman has scoring runs of 66, 71 and 59 yards and Taveras has hit the end zone from 70, 35 and 49 yards.
Meanwhile, Wantagh hasn’t let a playoff opponent get into the end zone once. The gang-tackling unit is led by linebackers Gavin Casey and Sean Colbert, defensive tackles Joe Valenti and Jack LaVache and nose guard Pat Smith.
Offensively, the Warriors can hurt you with the running of Tommy Rohan and the receiving of Jimmy Joyce.
“The defense has gotten better every day. They know each other’s responsibilities and don’t worry about doing too much,” Sachs said. “Nobody cares who makes the tackle.”
In addition to its big-play backs, East Islip boasts imposing size up front, led by tackles Kyle Nunez (300 pounds) and Pat Fitzpatrick (270). They open the holes for Fleitman and Taveras, and Nunez was outstanding on defense in the upset of previously unbeaten Sayville last week with nine tackles, a forced fumble and a sack. Linebacker Chris Higgins (220) also is a force.
But the Redmen’s best chance to win their first Long Island championship since taking the 2007 Class II title is for Fleitman and Taveras to have big games. “Kyle is a dynamic kid, and a big thing for him this year is that no matter what happened, he knew that this was his team,’’ Ciampi said. “He felt like he needed to prove himself after we lost to Sayville [in the regular season].”
Sachs knows his Warriors aren’t likely to continue their playoff scoreless streak, but to win their first Long Island title since 2001, it’s all about containment. “Every time I looked up [while watching film], their quarterback was breaking a big play,” Sachs said. “When he cuts back, we’ve got to make sure we’re there.”
EAST ISLIP roster
56Kai Brothers *12G/NT
Coach Sal J. Ciampi
Coach Keith Sachs