Kyle Messina of Sayville shakes off the tackle of Michael...

Kyle Messina of Sayville shakes off the tackle of Michael Redd of Half Hollow Hills West during the Suffolk III semifinal between Sayville and Half Hollow Hills West on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. Credit: Neil Miller

Sayville junior Kyle Messina is an exceptional running back. His statistics speak for themselves.

It’s what Messina does when he doesn’t have the football in his hands that makes him one of Long Island’s most complete two-way football players.

He put a bow on Saturday’s Suffolk Division III semifinal playoff game with a hard open-field tackle that jarred the ball out of Anthony Raio’s hands and sealed Sayville’s 42-28 win over Half Hollow Hills West.

The timely hit with 25 seconds remaining caused the fourth-down pass to be ruled incomplete and ended the Colts’ season at 7-3.

Top-seeded Sayville (10-0), the defending Division III champion, will meet No. 3 East Islip (8-2) in the final at Stony Brook University on Friday at 4 p.m.

“Kyle is such a hard-nosed football player,” said Sayville coach Reade Sands, whose team took a 35-14 halftime lead. “He’s everything you love in a player that brings it on every play. Whether he’s fighting for yardage after contact or making a great defensive play, you come to appreciate a player of his caliber.”

Messina had eight tackles and knocked down two passes. He also complemented his defense with what he does best — score points. He rushed for 247 yards on 27 carries and scored three touchdowns.

It was almost all about the Sayville defense and how the Golden Flashes would try to contain record-breaking Hills West quarterback Joseph Filardi.

The junior signal-caller had amassed 1,252 total yards and 17 touchdowns in his last two games. His 651 all-purpose yards in last week’s 70-68 win over Smithtown West left the Sayville staff working hard to devise a game plan to slow him down.

“We wanted to contain Filardi and flush him out of the pocket,” middle linebacker Mikey Sands said. “We wanted to get pressure and then clog the middle of the field so he had nowhere to run.”

The Sayville front of freshman Javen Taff, sophomore Alex LaBella and senior Zachary Watson chased Filardi all over the field.

“We wanted to make him uncomfortable,” LaBella said. “I was getting through and into the backfield and flushing him from the pocket.”

“We followed a great game plan,” Taff said. “Our coaches wanted us to contain him.”

Sayville scored on its opening possession when Messina capped a three-play, 55-yard drive with a 2-yard run and Nicholas Watson added the kick to make it 7-0 with 10:39 left.

Hills West gambled on its opening possession and a fourth-and-10 pass fell incomplete, handing the ball to the Golden Flashes at the Colts’ 25. Five plays later, Messina barreled into the end zone on a 1-yard run to make it 14-0.

Filardi then found Raio for a 60-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-5 from the Colts’ 40. Raio sprinted past the secondary and Filardi led him beautifully for the score. Ryan Levy’s kick made it 14-7 with 5:33 left in the first quarter.

Sayville answered with a nine-play, 65-yard drive capped by Jake Tripptree’s 4-yard touchdown run for a 21-7 lead.

But Filardi took the Colts 76 yards in eight plays, with his 2-yard touchdown run making it a one-score game.

Messina scored his third TD on a 5-yard run to make it 28-14. The Golden Flashes threatened to extend the lead when Tripptree ran 25 yards to the Colts’ 2, but Filardi stripped the ball from his grip for a critical turnover with 2:09 left in the half.

“That was a big stop,’’ Filardi said, “and we needed to score before the half.”

And then the incredible happened.

Filardi, throwing from his own end zone, fired a short pass to Raio, but the ball went off his hands and into the hands of defensive back Luke Hansen for a 2-yard pick-6 and a 35-14 halftime lead.

“That was the turning point,” Filardi said. “We had a big takeaway and then we gave it right back.”

Filardi opened the third quarter with a 67-yard TD pass to Raio on the first play to get within 35-21.

“We had to contain Filardi because he hits big plays,” Mikey Sands said. “And we didn’t do it.”

Filardi completed 18 of 41 passes for 325 yards, two scores and three interceptions and rushed for 54 yards and two scores. He also broke the Long Island record of 43 touchdown passes in a season by Sayville’s Jack Cheshire in 2019. Filardi finished with 44.

But it was Sayville that moved on. “We had five sacks from different guys,” Reade Sands said. “It took a team effort to get this win.”


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