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Syosset, Lindenhurst each looking for first Long Island Class I title

Syosset quarterback William Hogan throws a pass during

Syosset quarterback William Hogan throws a pass during the second quarter of Nassau I varsity football game against Syosset on Friday, Oct. 24, 2014. Credit: James Escher

The Syosset and Lindenhurst football teams were made for each other in 2014. They have much in common.

Entering this season, neither had ever made an appearance in the Long Island Championships. That's 22 years of watching someone else lift the trophy.

Both teams are red-hot after slow starts. Lindy (9-2) started 1-2 and reeled off eight straight victories to set a school record for wins in a season. Syosset (7-4), the sixth seed in the postseason, began 1-3 before winning six of the next seven games, including impressive playoff wins over No. 3 MacArthur, No. 4 East Meadow and top-seeded Baldwin.

The Braves are the first four-loss team to make the Long Island final in any class in the 23 years of the LIC -- and that covers 184 qualifiers.

Both teams have junior quarterbacks with a hot hand heading into Friday's Long Island Class I title game at noon at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium.

They are the perfect fit.

"I was numb the first night after we beat Baldwin," Syosset coach Paul Rorke said. "We went to see Lindy play the next night and it became work again. It was too quick."

Welcome to the winner's circle.

Syosset junior William Hogan, a hard-hitting strong safety for four games, moved to quarterback and ignited the Braves' offense. The 6-2, 170-pound transfer student from Reno, Nevada, broke his collarbone in last year's opener out west and missed the whole season. This year, fully recovered from surgery, Hogan is making the most of his opportunity and sending Syosset into uncharted territory.

"He was playing safety for us and he's a big-time college prospect as a defensive player," Rorke said. "He came on in relief at quarterback midway through our season and everything changed. He's special, a real winner. His greatest attribute is his poise. Nothing fazes him."

Hogan ultimately gained the trust of the offense and became the leader of a unit that has averaged 32.5 points per game since his insertion.

"We win games in the fourth quarter and the comebacks have been great," said Hogan, who has an uncanny ability to avoid pressure and remain calm as mayhem occurs all around him. "Our confidence continues to grow as we come together as a team. We have one more step."

Hogan's receiving corps is electric with playmakers Michael Elardo, Ian Berg and Alex Concannon. Elardo owns the Long Island record for receiving yards in a season with 1,343.

"He has excellent chemistry with his receivers," Rorke said of Hogan. "He's very accurate, whether it's downfield throws where guys don't have to break stride or just the short passes. And when he's under duress, he's at his best."

Lindy quarterback Ryan Hofmann also has been at the top of his game. Hofmann has made clutch throws to red-zone targets in 6-5 freshman Jeremy Ruckert and 6-3 John McCaffrey. When he throws underneath, he relies on third down go-to receivers Anthony Auriemma and Joe Palmeri.

"Ryan has matured immensely and his confidence level has soared," Lindenhurst coach Nick Lombardo said. "We know he can throw, but we have to establish the run with Gino [Bonagura] and Joe [Barber] to win this game."

The Lindenhurst defense is nasty, having allowed only 12 points per game, but Hogan and his offensive teammates present a different kind of challenge.

"Syosset has a dynamic throwing game and we have to do more in our running game to keep them off the field," Lombardo said. "We're an interesting group and I don't have to say much. They're well grounded and not a team of studs -- they all contribute."

Hofmann said he would like to lead Lindenhurst to its first L.I. title.

"It's right there for us," he said. "It's ours to win."

Hogan believes Friday's game could become another exciting shootout.

"We expect it to be high-scoring," he said. "There's been a buzz around school and people are excited. Our coaches said the alumni are fired up, and I can't wait. The key is to be prepared to win it late in the fourth quarter."

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