Think about the significance of one yard for a moment.
That’s all the swarming Plainedge defense yielded through three possessions in the first 19 minutes of Saturday’s game against conference rival Wantagh in a showdown of unbeaten squads.
And while the defense set the tone in a hard-hitting affair, Red Devils quarterback Dan Villari threw for two second-quarter touchdowns to help build an early 19-0 lead on the way to a 25-7 road win over Wantagh before a crowd of more than 700 in a Nassau Conference III football game.
The win moved Plainedge, the defending Nassau Conference III champions, to 3-0. Wantagh fell to 2-1.
“Our film preparation really paid off,” Plainedge defensive back Doug Elsesser said. “We recognized most of their plays and blew them up before they were able to get going. We played excellent team defense with nine or 10 guys always around the ball.”
The Plainedge defenders came in waves. They took away the cutback runs, clogged the running lanes and stifled Wantagh, the highest scoring team in the conference, throughout the first half.
“We had excellent run support from the secondary and the line had pressure,” Plainedge linebacker Dion Kuinlan said. “We’re really focused on getting back to the [Long Island championship] and winning it this year.”
Plainedge was in rhythm on both sides of the ball.
On the game's opening drive, the Red Devils marched 80 yards in five plays, capped by a Kuinlan 1-yard touchdown run. Braden Clark added the point-after kick to make it 7-0 with 10:12 left in the first quarter.
“The O-Line did a great job,” Kuinlan said. “And Braden Clark came in and did some serious blocking at fullback.”
The Red Devils extended the lead early in the second quarter. On a fourth down and five play from the Warriors 11, Villari looked right and then fired over the middle to a wide open Elsesser in the end zone for the score and a 13-0 lead with 11:15 left in the half. The drive went 66 yards in 12 plays with Kuinlan doing most of the damage, rushing for 36 yards on four carries, including a beauty of a 29-yard cutback run to the Warriors 15.
After Wantagh’s third straight three and out, Plainedge scored again. Villari fired a 10-yard pass to Donovan Pepe, who turned upfield and ran one defender over, before shaking another tackle on his way to a 48-yard touchdown romp and a 19-0 lead with 8:36 left in the half.
Villari completed 7 of 10 passes for 137 yards and two scores in the first half.
The Plainedge defense continued its strong play on Wantagh’s fourth possession, forcing another three and out for minus -2 yards, but a roughing the punter penalty gave the Warriors some life.
Wantagh used a blend of the run and pass and picked up a key first down on a fourth-and-2 rush by Nick Teresky near midfield. The march was halted when Luke Lombardi deflected a deep pass to Tom Von Bargen and Elsesser made a diving interception to end the half at the Plainedge 21.
The drive lasted 16 plays and covered 66 yards before the turnover.
“We emphasized team defense because we know Wantagh is a super athletic team,” Plainedge coach Rob Shaver said. “And we were laser focused on those cutback runs because Wantagh is very good at trapping guys. We were very physical up front.”
Wantagh opened the second half with an eight-play, 56-yard touchdown drive, capped by a Teresky 9-yard run with 6:22 left in the third. Quarterback Peter DelGais keyed the drive with a 26-yard pass to Michael Lombardi.
DelGais, who was under extreme pressure all game, managed to complete six of 11 passes for 77 yards and two interceptions.
Plainedge sealed the win with an eight-play, 61-yard scoring drive that used 6:10 of the clock. Kuinlan, who finished with 77 yards on 15 carries, scored from seven yards out for the final margin with 3:08 left.
“Very big win,” Kuinlan said.