The pressure is always in the back of Kyle Haff’s mind, particularly on Saturday afternoon before West Islip’s homecoming.
Once he stepped on the football field, he brought the pressure himself.
The junior linebacker had six tackles and led a defense that recovered three fumbles, intercepted three passes, had four sacks and stood tall on a goal-line stand to preserve a shutout, leading West Islip to a 28-0 Suffolk II win over previously undefeated Northport, which averaged over 34 points per game its first three games.
“Honestly, I’m the nervous type,” said Haff, who powered into the backfield to disrupt a handoff and force a fumble on fourth-and-inches from West Islip’s 1-yard line in the third quarter. “I throw up before every game, but it’s just what gets me going.”
When Haff gets going, the rest of the defense follows. Northport quarterbacks Sean Walsh and Max Napoli were constantly under siege by defensive linemen Paul Monserrat (two sacks), Jack Ilario (one) and Jack Pollock, who forced rushed throws and prevented Northport from finding its rhythm.
West Islip (4-0) found and maintained its tempo, and Mike LaDonna was the conductor. With a standing-room-only crowd roaring, LaDonna rushed 16 times for 190 yards and three touchdowns, while also completing a 5-yard TD pass to Patrick Cunningham for a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
After Northport punted in the second quarter, West Islip marched down the field. LaDonna ran left off the line for a 6-yard gain and was hammered by a helmet-to-helmet tackle, prompting a 15-yard penalty.
Now first-and-10 from Northport’s 11-yard line, LaDonna took the ensuing snap under center and scampered between the tackles and into the end zone for a 14-0 lead with 2:50 left before halftime.
“My line played great,” LaDonna said, crediting Tom Armetta, Donnie Ryan, Matt Lohan, Ed Talanian, Pollock and tight end Matt Calhoun, who recovered a fumble on defense in the second quarter. “They gave me holes, and I was just running.”
The NYIT baseball commit never stopped running. On second-and-14 from the 36-yard line in the third quarter, LaDonna found space on the right side and ran 36 yards into the end zone. A holding call nullified the touchdown and brought the play back to the 30-yard line, and LaDonna, an advantageous runner, took the next carry 30 yards for a 21-0 lead.
“He’s, ‘Next play, give me the ball,’ ” coach Steve Mileti said. “He’s our horse. With an offensive line that blocks like that, with the ball in Mike LaDonna’s hands, great things will happen.”
Haff forced the fumble on the goal line on Northport’s next drive, and Monserrat emerged from a pile of West Islip players with the recovery at the 9-yard line.
LaDonna ran for one yard, then again for three yards, staying patient until his line opened a hole. They did. On the next carry, LaDonna broke through the secondary for an 87-yard run and a 28-0 lead, the exclamation point on a statement win for the Lions.
It all started with the defense, which didn’t let any of Northport’s many weapons make an impact.
“After one turnover, two turnovers, it starts to snowball and the whole team gets behind it,” Haff said.
A six-turnover outing makes West Islip the lone undefeated team in Suffolk II, but Mileti said the Lions take it one game at a time.
They don’t feel the pressure.