Clarke Lewis swatted the last pass away with conviction. The defensive back jumped over intended receiver Deyvon Wright at midfield to knock the ball down and put the exclamation point on a second half that saw Westhampton shut out the vaunted Half Hollow Hills West offense.
The defensive gem with seven seconds left secured Westhampton’s 17-13 win over Hills West in a pivotal Suffolk Division III football game Saturday before a standing room only crowd of more than 2,400 in Dix Hills.
It was the 18th consecutive victory for Westhampton. The defending Long Island Class III champion improved to 6-0. Hills West fell to 4-2.
“I knew they were coming my way for one final desperation pass,” Lewis said. “And we know Wright is athletic and can jump. I beat him to the ball.”
The Westhampton defense held the Colts to 84 yards and five first downs in the second half. A swarming front led by nose guard Edon Popi, tackle Jonathan Mendoza and end Jake Bennett shut down cut back lanes and held Hills West, which averages 33 points per game, scoreless in the final two quarters.
“We made adjustments at halftime after they gashed our defense in the first half,” Bennett said. “We stuffed the middle lanes and made some big hits. We have our own legacy to build with our senior class. We have guys that played very little in last year’s championship run and they want to leave their mark.”
Hills West put together one long drive in the fourth quarter that went 75 yards in 14 plays to the Hurricanes' 21-yard line with 5:19 left. On fourth-and-16, quarterback Gerald Filardi, who had a 19-yard scramble for a first down earlier in the drive, was pressured by Tate Buhl and threw incomplete.
“We were getting more penetration in the second half,” Popi said. “And Tate was all over him and didn’t let him get off a good pass.”
The first half was all about the playmakers and big plays. Hills West opened the scoring in the with a 12-play, 74-yard first quarter drive. Junior halfback Justin Brown scored on a 4-yard run as the Colts took a 7-0 lead with 6:57 left.
The lead lasted all of nine seconds.
Westhampton's Tyler Nolan returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown and Jackson Hulse added the kick to tie the score at 7.
“They came out and smacked us in the mouth,” Westhampton coach Bryan Schaumloffel said. “We were reeling on defense. And that kick return was a huge confidence boost.”
The Colts threatened to retake the lead on the next possession. Brown broke a long run down the visitors' sideline and 40 yards later was tackled by Lewis, who caught him from the pursuit angle at the Hurricanes' 10.
Brown came up limping from the hit and suffered a high ankle sprain. He was wrapped in ice and did not return — a severe blow to the Hills West offense.
“Clarke never gave up the chase and he’s not that fast,” middle linebacker Liam McIntyre said, laughing. “He was determined to run him down. Where there’s a will . . . ”
The devastating hit was game changing. Hills West lost Brown, who had six carries for 64 yards at that point, for the game. And two plays later, the Colts fumbled in the red zone and Lewis recovered at the Hurricanes' 12.
Westhampton took the lead after a nine-play, 83-yard drive when McIntyre barreled into the end zone for an 8-yard score for a 14-7 lead with 4:24 left in the half.
Hills West freshman Dakim Griffin broke a 61-yard touchdown run to get Hills West within one, 14-13, with 4:07 left in the half. Griffin had 131 yards on 11 carries in the first half and could manage only two yards on four carries in the second half.
Hulse added a 26-yard field goal with four seconds left in the half for the 17-13 lead.
“We’re starting to realize how special this run is — 18 wins and counting,” said McIntyre, who had 12 tackles. “The mentality is that we are a team that ‘only wins’.”