West Islip RB Salvatore Calderone dives over the goal line...

West Islip RB Salvatore Calderone dives over the goal line for a touchdown against Half Hollow Hills East in a Suffolk Division II football game on Saturday at Half Hollow Hills East. Credit: George A Faella

West Islip team captain Sal Calderone felt some disrespect going into Saturday's season-opening showdown with Half Hallow Hills East, which was ranked No. 11 in Newsday's Elite 11 preseason football rankings.

“We should’ve been in that Top 11," Calderone said, "and I think we showed it.”

Calderone made sure of it.

The senior running back and linebacker rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns and forced a safety to lead West Islip's 16-7 upset victory over host Hills East. West Islip entered the season as the No. 5 seed in Division II while Hills East was seeded No. 4.

“It’s going to give us a lot of confidence going into next week [against Connetquot],” Calderone said.

Calderone’s second touchdown of the game extended West Islip's 9-7 lead with under five minutes to play. The Lions running back capped a 21-yard sweep with a dive toward the end zone's right pylon.

West Islip coach Steve Mileti praised the effort from his running back and the rest of the team.

“This was a statement game for him, and I’m super proud. That’s what he’s supposed to do in a game like this,” Mileti said of Calderone. “To come here Week 1 and make a statement, I think it’s a tribute to the program and the boys that played four quarters in this 90-degree heat. They never tapped out.”

Calderone scored the first touchdown of the game in the first quarter on a barreling 39-yard rush, dragging Thunderbirds defenders into the end zone with him. And though West Islip never trailed on Saturday, Half Hollow Hills East, which made it to the Suffolk Division II semifinals last year, had its chances to lead.

West Islip stopped the Thunderbirds three times in the red zone. The Lions forced two fumbles and one interception from a Half Hollow Hills East offense that controlled the ball for most of the afternoon.

The Lions' final turnover sealed the game. Defensive back Rocco Carpinello snagged an interception with just over a minute to play and returned the ball 85 yards to near Half Hollow Hills East’s goal line.

“After, I was dead. But the adrenaline kicked in again and I was really happy about it," Carpinello said about the play. "Our coaches gave us the right calls, and we played through fourth down and made big plays."

The Thunderbirds scored their only touchdown on a nine-play, 80-yard drive that Jovanny Brown finished with a 17-yard sprint into the end zone.

The Thunderbirds, who finished 7-3 last year, had not lost a season opener since 2019.

“They finished and we didn’t,” Thunderbirds coach Alex Marcelin said. “There are a couple things that we need to correct. And I think that we had our opportunities, we didn’t seize the moment.”

With a big season-oepning win under its belt, Mileti said the team, which finished 4-5 last season, can now focus on playing Connetquot next Saturday.

"Week 1 is a tremendous game because it sets the tone for the season," Mileti said. "We took it on the chin a couple times from these guys but never gave up."

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