Nick Aponte plays with blue collar grit. His contributions are many for the West Islip football team. His athleticism makes him a key component on offense and defense.
Aponte is the complete player. His reads and natural instinct allow him to come hard from the safety position in run support. His skill-set includes excellent makeup speed in coverage and dynamic leaping ability to produce takeaways.
Yesterday we zeroed in on Aponte in the Lions' 39-14 win over Smithtown East. We came away with an appreciation of his willingness to sacrifice his body and his ability to be a game changer from anywhere on the field. Here's a sampling of Aponte's performance:
First quarter: Aponte adjusts to a long pass down the middle and makes a spectacular two-handed diving catch for 45 yards to the Smithtown 17. On the next play, Sam Ilario scores for the 7-0 lead with 8:17 left. On Smithtown's next possession just 52 seconds later, quarterback John Daniggelis throws a 33-yard pass that a Aponte intercepts at the Lions 34.
"He's truly a playmaker," West Islip coach Steve Mileti said. "He doesn't surprise us anymore."
Second quarter: Tied at 7, Aponte catches a pass in the flat, breaks two tackles and rumbles for 19 yards to the Smithtown 12. Ilario scores on a 12-yard run for the 13-7 lead at 10:24. At 10:18, Aponte flattens Jordan Harmon after a reverse. Harmon turns the corner on the visitor's sideline and forget it! Aponte comes up hard to make the big hit sending Harmon out of bounds.
"I make up for what I don't have in size by getting leverage and laying into people," Aponte said. "I know I'm not as big as these guys but it doesn't matter."
At 6:52, Smithtown drives to the 12 and Daniggelis scrambles from the pressure and lofts a pass to the back of the end zone to a wide open receiver. Aponte helping in coverage jumps at the goal line and gets his fingertips on the ball to deflect it away. At 5:45, Aponte gets the handoff on the speed option and gets outside for a 19-yard gain. At 4:24, he jumps over a defender for a two-handed grab and darts outside for 25 yards to the Smithtown 5. Ilario scores to make it 20-7.
Third quarter: Aponte creeping in the secondary as Daniggelis buys time and fires downfield. Aponte leaves the middle and helps in coverage. He jumps over two players for a second interception, leveling the opponent and a teammate on the takeaway. All three players are helped from the field. The ferocity of the hit can be felt across the way on the West Islip sideline. "He's ridiculously good," Mileti laughed. "Just unreal."
So how difficult is it to beat the same team in back-to-back weeks on the gridiron? Huntington and Miller Place are about to find out. Both schools, in Suffolk III, will be asked to beat the same opponent they defeated in the season finale in the quarterfinal round of the postseason. Yesterday, Miller Place won at Bellport, 42-7, and will host the Clippers in a rematch at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Kings Park will be forced to return to play at Huntington where it lost, 38-14. Miller Place and Huntington won handily, but beware -- the playoffs are a different animal.
Two more schools were knocked from the ranks of the undefeated this week. Sachem North's Malik Pierre shredded Connetquot (7-1) for 356 all-purpose yards in a resounding 49-28 on MSG Varsity's Friday Night Football. Sachem, which hasn't lost a home game in three years, ended the T-Birds' quest for their first unbeaten, untied season in Suffolk I. The top-seeded T-Birds, who proudly wore the title of road warriors all season, will finally play a home game in next week's quarterfinal game against Ward Melville.
And also gone from the unbeaten ranks is Garden City (7-1), the perennial Nassau II champion. Host Garden City took it on the chin against feisty MacArthur, 24-17. The Trojans had no answer for the rushing of bruising back Tom Kelleher and the Generals' big offensive line. Kelleher had two more rushing touchdowns.
There were six undefeated teams remaining on Long Island as the regular season ended -- three in each county. In Suffolk, West Islip, Sayville and Babylon finished play 8-0. And in Nassau, it was Lawrence, Seaford and Long Island Lutheran that were 8-0.
Sayville is the only school that can defend its Long Island championship and finish undefeated. The quest for the LIC in all four classifications and the CHSFL title begins Friday.