Connetquot's football team had been waiting for home-field advantage all season. It couldn't have come at a better time than Saturday's Suffolk I quarterfinal against Ward Melville, which Connetquot won, 39-7, behind three touchdowns by senior running back Ryan Harvey.
An estimated 2,500 fans, many of whom had followed the Thunderbirds on the road for eight straight regular season games, watched the successful christening of the new facility, complete with FieldTurf, lights, new bleachers on the visitors side (also packed) and a new scoreboard.
"Everybody in the locker room was getting amped up, chanting and everything," Harvey said. "This is like the best field ever. We just played amazing today."
After Will Kistinger started Connetquot (8-1) off with a 27-yard field goal at 9:46 of the first quarter, Harvey came back on the team's next possession and ran 25 yards for his first touchdown. It was 11-0 and Connetquot was just getting started.
A 21-point second quarter featured a 1-yard run by Harvey, an 80-yard interception return by Kistinger and Ryan Renfro's 4-yard touchdown reception from Brian McKean. That made it 32-0 at the half. Harvey's 23-yard TD run in the third ended Connetquot's scoring. Kistinger also had two fumble recoveries. Brian Lorentsen led the defense with 15 tackles. Ward Melville is 5-4.
The winning players were ecstatic with their new field. "Unbelievable," said wide receiver James Higgins, who caught eight passes for 137 yards. "We've been waiting all year to get here, it finally comes and it's an awesome atmosphere and a great big win."
The team had the opportunity to find a temporary home site while its field was undergoing the renovation, but the players decided to play each game on the road. "It was difficult but we overcame it," Higgins said. "We made it every field is our home. We went on the field with that mentality."
Kistinger agreed, saying, "Our team loves playing football, no matter where we play we come out ready to play."
Harvey, who carried the ball 16 times for 179 yards, said the team used the new field as motivation. "We were like, 'This is the field we're going to play on for the playoffs, you guys better earn it.' We did."
The renovation, which includes another turf field for other sports, started in May, athletic director Mike Dellacave said. "It's a huge job, lot of decisions had to be made, between weather issues and a few other issues we were slowed down a little bit." He estimated the cost of the project, which was part of a larger bond issue, at $2 million.
Coach Mike Hansen said he thinks the team was motivated by knowing it could get a playoff game on the new field. "That was kind of the carrot we held out to the kids," he said. "You play hard, earn a home playoff game. The kids bought into it. It was a challenge, something they could be proud of. I'm so happy for our kids, especially our seniors, they were able to play on the new turf."
Connetquot, the top seed, will get another home playoff game next week against an opponent to be determined.