The Dix Hills School District hosted its own Super Bowl on Saturday. And the community came out in droves, packing the three extra sets of bleachers on the visiting sideline. Half Hollow Hills East, having never won a playoff game and making its first postseason appearance in 17 years, was poised to give intradistrict rival and host Half Hollow Hills West all it could handle.
And the Thunderbirds did just that-- for a half.
The teams kept the overflow crowd on its feet throughout a hard-hitting first half that ended tied at 7. And then Half Hollow Hills West, the district's perennial playoff power contender, took over the game and scored 20 unanswered third-quarter points for a 27-7 win in a Suffolk Division II football game in Dix Hills.
No. 2 Half Hollow Hills West (8-1) will host No. 3 Riverhead (7-2) in a semifinal playoff game Saturday at 1 p.m.
"There was a lot of talk around the district this week," said Hills West middle linebacker Joe Cipoletti, who had eight tackles. "It was our Super Bowl here in town. A lot of these guys were our teammates growing up in youth football so it was cool."
Hills East (5-4) became the first preseason 14th seed to win five games. Under new coach Mike Maratto, the program made great strides to reach the postseason.
"From day one I told them it wasn't about wins and losses, not yet," he said. "I wanted everyone to be all in and committed to a common goal to turn this program around. The players were looking for direction and leadership and they've been dedicated."
For a half, Hills East went toe-to-toe with its brothers from the West. The Thunderbirds dominated every phase of the game and still found themselves tied at 7. Quarterback Derek Merckling engineered a 19-play, 86-yard scoring drive that consumed 9:03. The key play was a Merckling 21-yard pass to Nick DiPietro on a fourth-and-8 strike to the Colts 8. Merckling scored on a 1-yard run and Anthony Morici added the kick to make it 7-0 with 5:58 left in the half.
"We outplayed them in the first half," Maratto said. "And they wore us down in the second half."
Hills East dominated the clock in the first half controlling the ball for a 17:40-6:20 advantage. The Thunderbirds ran twice as many plays, 32-16, and held an 8-4 edge in first downs.
Hills West responded to the opening score with a 12-play, 59-yard scoring drive capped by an Alexander Filacouris 1-yard touchdown run. The drive was keyed by two Anthony Lucarelli 9-yard passes to Filacouris. Ryan Barone added the kick to tie it at 7 with 1:09 left in the half.
"We made some halftime adjustments and shut it down in the second half," said Colts defensive end Ramin Wahab, who had six tackles and two big sacks.
Lucarelli, who missed two games this season with an injury, guided the Colts on three straight touchdown drives in the third quarter. He followed a pancake block from Cameron Jordan for 15 yards to the 2 and Filacouris scored on the next play, his second touchdown run, for a 14-7 lead with 7:41 left in the third.
Fullback Lucas DiGiorgi added scoring runs of 10 yards and 1 yard as the Thunderbirds had no answer for the Colts' diverse offense. "We have so many weapons," Filacouris said. "Once the offense got into its rhythm we were fine."