When Sam Ilario was clocked in 4.50 for the 40-yard dash at last spring's Blue Chip combine, the fastest time of the day, no one was chasing him. Not so Saturday, in the West Islip junior's first game as a starting varsity quarterback.
There was no stopwatch on Ilario, but it's likely he was running at a record clip when he broke to the outside on a quarterback draw play and scooted down the sideline to complete a stunning 77-yard TD run that sent West Islip on its way to a 28-16 victory over host Whitman in the Suffolk II opener for both teams.
"The line did a great job and when I cut to the outside, I just used my breakaway speed to make it to the end zone," said Ilario, who gained 156 yards on just 12 carries, scored two touchdowns and threw for another.
Sudden Sam's mad dash jump-started the Lions, as well as his own career as the team's signal-caller. Ilario was a running back last year when three-year starter Anthony Santo ran the show. "We were spoiled having Anthony for three years but this kid is legit," West Islip coach Steve Mileti said. "Out of our spread, he can score in a split-second."
The Lions were a quick-strike offense all day. Their second touchdown that produced a 14-8 lead that was never relinquished, came after Ilario launched a long pass to wide receiver Nick Aponte, who made a diving catch on the 1 for a 38-yard gain. That set up Ilario's 1-yard dive, the first of three second-quarter touchdowns that broke the game open.
Aponte came up defensively from his safety position on Whitman's next possession, twice stopping Whitman runners in the backfield for losses to force a punt that Ryan Wieczorek returned 36 yards for a touchdown and a 21-8 lead.
"I'm not actually the regular punt returner, but Nicky was tired," Wieczorek said. "I actually ran away from my wall. I took a gamble when I saw the open field."
Ilario and Wieczorek teamed up for another big play two minutes before halftime. Ilario lofted a pass down the right sideline for Wieczorek, who outleaped a Whitman defender to make the catch, then raced into the end zone to complete a 38-yard scoring play.
"There was a play like that in a scrimmage and it got intercepted," Wieczorek said. "I wasn't going to let that happen again."
The presence of Wieczorek lined up wide and Aponte in the slot so worried the Whitman secondary that it neglected to protect the middle, where Ilario ran the quarterback draw to perfection. "When the defense sees me on one side and Ryan on the other, it really opens things up for the quarterback draw," Aponte said. "Ryan stepped up. He's just as good an athlete as Ryan and me. The main thing was his composure for his first game and he did a great job."
Mileti called Ilario's running style "north-south. He gets past the linebackers in a flash." Then the chase is on. They haven't caught Ilario from behind yet.