This was vintage West Islip football.
An extremely hard-hitting showdown with undefeated Bellport came down to the final quarter. West Islip held a tenuous three-point lead and was saved by Ryan Behrens' interception that halted a Bellport drive into the red zone to maintain that edge early in the fourth quarter.
Behrens secured the turnover at the Lions' 10-yard line with 9:54 left.
"It was the turning point," West Islip defensive coordinator Frank Riviezzo said. "The interception stopped a long Bellport drive and put our offense back on the field. And we followed our game plan."
It was then that the pride of the Lions, the offensive line, got to work. Center James Gitzinger, guards Anthony DeCristofaro and Martin Curran, tackles Alex Wagner, Connor Mushorn and Nick Aliani led West Islip on a 15-play, 90-yard scoring march. The drive lasted 8:11, included four third-down conversions, and ended with a fantastic 26-yard scoring run by quarterback Joe Costantino with 1:43 left to seal a 24-14 win on Saturday.
Costantino finished with 263 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries for host West Islip to clinch the Suffolk League IV title and the top seed in the Suffolk Division II playoffs. The Lions (3-0) will host the second-place team, either Northport or Half Hollow Hills East, of Suffolk League III in next week’s semifinals. Bellport (4-1) will play the first-place team from League III.
The fourth-quarter drive will go down as one of the finest in West Islip’s rich history. Years in the making, the rock-hard Lions tradition of team first and sacrifice was on full display.
"That drive was what we’re all about," said Costantino. "A lot of heart and intensity and all the guys working together to win a football game. There was nothing fancy about it. It was just straight ahead and let’s get it done. Bellport is a great team and we showed them some power football."
Costantino’s final run was epic. He broke three tackles, including an open field miss by Ka’Shaun Parrish, one of Long Island’s top players, on his way to pay dirt.
"We drained most of the life from the play clock and played physical," said Behrens, who had nine tackles.
On the interception. Behrens said, "I watch a lot of films and [Jack] Halpin trusts his receivers and likes to put it out there and gamble. I was in the right spot."
It started well for the Clippers. Defensive tackle Alex Ciota intercepted a third-down pass at the West Islip 40 on the Lions' first possession. That turnover set up an 11-play, 40-yard drive capped by Donte Phillips' 4-yard scoring run on fourth-and-goal. Phillips went around the left end and beat the secondary run support to the pylon by diving in for the score.
It took one play for West Islip to answer. Costantino came over the right tackle, found an open lane and raced 70 yards to the end zone. Tobias Wefering added the extra point to make it 7-7 with 5:03 left in the first quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, Costantino rolled left and found Nolan Walters uncovered behind the Bellport secondary for a 16-yard scoring pass and a 14-7 lead. Wefering added a 39-yard field goal as time expired for a 17-7 halftime lead.
The Clippers opened the second half with a seven-play, 80-yard drive, capped by Halpin's 39-yard scoring strike to Parrish to make it 17-14.
The final quarter served to remind Long Island of the Lions' tenacity.
"People doubt our team and I really don’t know why," said Behrens, who plans to play lacrosse at Brown University. "We just win."