On three kickoffs, Kevin Stanis found himself as the lone obstacle between a Riverhead kick returner and the end zone. The junior kicker made two touchdown-saving tackles, but it was the one that got away in the fourth quarter that really bothered him.
Riverhead returner Rodney Rollins finally shook a Stanis open-field tackle to complete a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to help the Blue Waves force overtime in yesterday's Suffolk Division II football thriller at Half Hollow Hills West. Sophomore quarterback Ryan Bitzer fired the two-point conversion pass to Jake Messina to tie the score at 28 and force the extra session.
"Our special teams were just awful and he had to make two great open-field tackles to prevent other touchdowns," Hills West coach Kyle Madden said. "The last one just slipped away and you could see how upset he was. I'm happy he got the chance to win it for us."
Stanis didn't let the game slip away. He drilled a game-winning 29-yard field goal in overtime to give Hills West a 31-28 win over Riverhead. It was the 13th consecutive win for the Colts, who moved up to Division II this season.
"I just focused on the kick and it felt great," Stanis said. "It's a good win."
The winning kick was set up by a Hills West goal-line stand in overtime. Linebacker Devante McFarlane stopped Rollins inches short of a touchdown on fourth-and-goal. McFarlane's initial hit drove Rollins back before a horde of defenders swarmed him.
"They came right at us," said McFarlane, who had 11 tackles. "That was such a big stop and sets the tone for our season."
The Colts drove the ball to the Riverhead 12 before setting up for Stanis' kick. Stanis also connected on all four extra-point kicks.
Hills West quarterback Chris Busuttil, who missed almost all of last season after breaking his left ankle in the season opener against Rocky Point, shrugged off numerous big hits to complete the first 10 passes of his career. He finished with 17 completions in 21 attempts for 237 yards and one score in his first start. He also ran for touchdowns of 15 and 1 yards.
"I'm really sore and feeling it already," said Busuttil, who rushed for 55 yards. "They're a really physical team."
The teams traded leads seven times. Bitzer, in his first start, was also on target. He completed 6 of 11 passes for 96 yards, including a 24-yard scoring pass to Mike Curaba to give Riverhead a 17-14 halftime lead. "It's a tough loss," Bitzer said. "But we'll bounce back next week."
It was only the second time in Suffolk history that the season opened with the previous two Rutgers Trophy winners pitted against each other.
As a brilliant late summer afternoon faded into the evening, Riverhead boarded its bus for the long ride east, and Busuttil, standing by his bench, said, "I'm walking into the locker room after a big win."
Something he couldn't do last year.