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Plainedge-East Islip is a matchup of dominant teams

East Islip QB Derek Burrell takes the keeper

East Islip QB Derek Burrell takes the keeper 32 yards against Kings Park, in the Conference III Semifinal playoffs, Friday, November 12, 2021 at East Islip. Credit: George A Faella

It’s everything one would want in a football championship game matchup.

Both teams were expected to be strong even before the season started, and both met those expectations. Each features some talented players whom you’ll have trouble taking your eyes off, but the teams in their entirety are greater than the sums of their individual parts. Both got better each week of the regular season, grew much better in the playoffs and now are performing at their peak.

The Long Island Class III championship game between Plainedge (11-0) of Nassau and East Islip (10-1) of Suffolk is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Friday at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium, with each program gunning for its second LIC crown. Plainedge was the Class III champion in 2019; East Islip was the Class II champ in 2007.

"They’re good. We’re good," East Islip quarterback Derek Burrell said. "They’ve worked all season for this and so have we. We’re very confident and I imagine they are too. We know we’ll need to play our best to beat them. They’re definitely going to have to play their best to beat us."

One can look at each team and speculate about where the advantages might lie.

Plainedge had five players who were part of the 2019 LIC titlist: seniors Thomas Everding, Anthony Morello, Joe Iadevaio, Travis Shaver and junior Joe Cassese.

"It’s the biggest game of your life, so you’re going to get butterflies," Everding said. "We have people who have been there, people who know what it takes to win a game like that. Experience with that might be helpful. It’s the last game of the year and there’s a championship on the line. The stakes are big."

"We’ve had a few kids that were in that game, so I see the experience as invaluable," Plainedge coach Rob Shaver said. "When a kid goes to a place like that for the first time, they can get a little pie-eyed. When you haven’t been in something that big, it can be a little overwhelming. So having those kids that have been there before is, I think, a good thing for us. They’ve been talking to the other kids about it and their experience has been calming for guys who haven’t played in that game."

Despite his respect for the multi-talented Iadevaio, East Islip coach Sal J. Ciampi believes he might have the best player or two in the contest in Burrell and running back Leo Lopez. Burrell is among the favorites for Newsday’s Hansen Award, given annually to Suffolk’s top player, and has rushed for 18 touchdowns and thrown for 13 more. Lopez, also has rushed for 18 TDs.

"He’s the best player ever to put on an East Islip jersey — and I know that raises some eyebrows," Ciampi said of Burrell. "He’s an elite athlete with a deep and vast understanding of the game. He’s a natural. We moved him to quarterback right before the season started, and it’s like he’s been the starting quarterback for years."

Plainedge was barely challenged during the regular season — trailing only for two minutes of its game against Manhasset — and posted four shutouts. In the postseason, it actually has raised its level, outscoring three foes 121-0.

East Islip is averaging 40 points per game. Its only regular-season loss was to Sayville, but it avenged that loss by taking out the Golden Flashes in the county championship game.

"In the playoffs, we became complete,'' Burrell said, "and every game we’ve gotten better and better."

"We were a great team in 2019 and we had the best player on Long Island," Morello said, referring to Newsday Thorp Award winner Dan Villari, now at Michigan. "This is an all-around better team. We’re more athletic. We have more of a mean streak on defense. We succeed because of how we play together as a team."

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