The trophy meant so much to Jeremy Ruckert that, in the revelry after Lindenhurst’s first Long Island championship last Sunday night, he wouldn’t give it up. The Ohio State-bound wide receiver/linebacker/kicker — who displayed all of his skills in the title game — carried it high over his head with both hands as his teammates gathered in the end zone. Then he switched to a one-handed grip, held it aloft and waved as he raced across the turf at Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium to share the moment with friends, family and thousands of adoring Bulldogs fans.
“I’m not letting anyone else take this trophy. It’s mine. I’m taking a lot of pictures,” a beaming Ruckert said, presumably before giving others a chance to hold the hardware that was a long time coming and meant so much to a town that loves its football team.
“Without this town, I wouldn’t be where I am today, going to Ohio State. I love this town,” Ruckert said. “My dad grew up here; I grew up here. I bleed green and white.”
All the blood, sweat and tears the Bulldogs put in since practice began in August paid off with a 40-23 victory over previously unbeaten Oceanside in the Long Island Class I championship game that concluded a 12-0 season. “You can’t write a better story than this. I give it up for my teammates. We never quit. We have a bond you can’t replace,” Ruckert said. “I’ll never forget this team. They’re just amazing.”
Amazing is how the Bulldogs played in 2017. Ruckert was part of an offense that averaged 38 points and a defense that surrendered eight points per game. “The great thing about this team is it was not just about Jeremy,” coach Nick Lombardo said. “We had so many good players.”
Ruckert, despite being double- and triple-teamed, caught 51 passes for 842 yards and 12 touchdowns. In the LIC, he caught five passes for 110 yards and a touchdown, including a spectacular one-handed catch that kept a drive alive after quarterback Nick Anzalone barely escaped a sack. Ruckert also contributed four extra points, two field goals and a blocked field goal that he returned 61 yards to set up Ricky Conway’s TD run.
Anzalone was a model of accuracy and consistency all year. He completed 84.6 percent of his passes (165-for-195) for 2,074 yards and 24 touchdowns. In the LIC, he was 14-for-20 for 252 yards and three scores. Conway contributed 647 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns plus another 232 receiving yards and four TDs, including one against Oceanside. Justin Zotto had a TD reception and pick-6 in the LIC and caught 34 passes for 413 yards during the season.
Defensively, Zotto, Conway and Mitch St. Aubin (nine tackles in the LIC) formed a strong secondary and Malik Grant anchored the lines.
“It was a special team,” Lombardo said.
One that earned a very special trophy.
ROAD TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Suffolk I playoffs
Long Island Championships