The West Islip captains honor Kyle Dilegame before a Suffolk...

The West Islip captains honor Kyle Dilegame before a Suffolk Division II semifinal playoff game against Half Hollow Hills East in West Islip on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

Kyle Dilegame would have celebrated his 17th birthday with his West Islip teammates Friday night.

They played in the Suffolk Division II football semifinal without him.

Dilegame, a senior halfback/ linebacker for the Lions, died in a house fire early last Saturday morning in West Islip. His teammates mourned his loss all week and vowed to bring home a win in his honor Friday night.

And they did so in stunning fashion.

Halfback Rocco Carpinello followed a block from fullback Chris Piropato and bulled his way into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown with 11 seconds remaining to give West Islip a thrilling 31-26 win over Half Hollow Hills East in front of more than 4,000 fans packed into the home and away bleachers.

The scoring run, Carpinello’s third of the game (he rushed 29 times for 180 yards), capped a nine-play, 80-yard drive in the final 2:25.

“It was Kyle’s birthday and we’re celebrating in his honor,” Piropato said, tears streaming down his face. “The whole week has been so difficult. But we came together as a family and stayed focused on a very good Hills East team. Kyle would be proud of this comeback.”

Piropato said there was something about the pregame warm-up that will never leave him.

“We were stretching and getting ready and there was this beautiful sunset,” he said. “I knew Kyle was looking over us.”

West Islip stopped a fourth-down pass into the end zone when Jovan Brewster made a leaping interception with 2:25 left.

With no timeouts, the Lions went the length of the field for the dramatic finish.

“We played for Kyle and for each other,” Carpinello said. “This was all about our West Islip family.”

The win allowed West Islip (9-1) to avenge its only defeat of the season, a 44-43 loss to Hills East (8-2). It was another bitter defeat for Hills East, which has lost in five consecutive semifinal contests and not reached the title game.

The Lions will face the winner of the West Babylon-North Babylon semifinal in next week’s Suffolk Division II championship game.

“We preach family and togetherness, and that’s what this entire week has been about,” West Islip coach Steve Mileti said. “We were given the choice of moving the game to Saturday, but the team wanted to play on Kyle’s birthday.”

The fans who packed the West Islip side of the field were wearing “We Play for Kyle” T-shirts, which sold out before the game started.

The game was a back-and-forth affair with three lead changes in the first half.

Carpinello went over right tackle and cut inside a block from wide receiver Nick Guimaraes for a 22-yard touchdown run. Shaun Boyle added the kick and the Lions led 7-0 with 5:37 left in the first quarter.

Hills East then scored on its final three possessions of the first half.

Hills East quarterback Jordan Heyman found Lucas Martin over the middle at the West Islip 24 and Martin deked one defender and outran the other two to the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown. Max Futter’s kick made it 7-7 with 7:56 left in the half.

On its second eight-play, 80-yard drive, West Islip pounded the ball down the field with a mixture of runs from Piropato, Carpinello and Brewster. Carpinello went over the right side again and caught the edge at full speed for a 34-yard touchdown run and a 14-7 lead with 4:05 left in the half.

Heyman answered with a six-play, 64-yard march capped by a 24-yard scoring pass to Tyler Sanders with 2:20 left. The kick missed and West Islip held a 14-13 lead.

Heyman threw his third TD pass, a 13-yarder to Logan Soler, to punctuate a six-play, 80-yard drive that gave Hills East a 19-14 lead at the half.

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