Zach Hageman stood near the 40-yard line as he awaited his first varsity field goal attempt, focused on his favorite aiming point -- the tree that sits just beyond the south end zone at West Islip, just about centered between the uprights.
Nobody spoke to him during the timeout preceding the kick, and that was just the way the junior wanted it. And as the ball sailed through the uprights with 4.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Hageman not only hit his mark, he placed West Islip atop the Suffolk II tree.
Hageman's 36-yard field goal from the right hash was the difference in the Lions' 16-13 win over Riverhead, the preseason No. 1 seed in the division, Saturday. West Islip improved to 2-0, while Riverhead is 1-1.
"I had enough confidence to make it, but I wasn't 100 percent," Hageman said. "I had my doubts."
West Islip coach Steve Mileti had no such reservations.
"I know he has a good foot, so if he just kicks through it, it was there for the taking," Mileti said. "It was a thing of beauty. It was like slow-motion watching it go through the uprights. What a life experience and a memory for that kid."
West Islip was put in position for the field goal when James Murphy blocked a Riverhead punt from its own 41-yard line with less than 30 seconds to play. West Islip got possession on the Riverhead 27, and after Mileti called two runs, which netted 8 yards, he sent Hageman out on third down with 9.2 seconds left.
Riverhead turned the ball over four times on, leading to both West Islip touchdowns, and had two missed field goals and a missed extra point.
Jake Clifford recovered a fumble for West Islip on the Riverhead 34, and four plays later Dan Johnson (143 yards on 26 carries) scored from 5 yards to tie the score at 6 with 1:46 left in the second quarter. Murphy intercepted a pass on the next drive, which led to Nick Aponte's acrobatic 21-yard touchdown catch from Sam Ilario that made it 13-6 Lions with 2.9 seconds left in the half.
The pass was Ilario's only completion, and came on his sixth and final attempt. He left the game with nine minutes left in the third quarter for what Mileti called "dizziness," after taking a hard shot on a rushing attempt. The athletic trainers gave him concussion tests on the sideline, but no diagnosis was made during the game.
Ilario stood on the sidelines with his helmet off as Riverhead evened the score on Quinn Funn's 27-yard catch-and run from Ryan Bitzer with 4:52 left in the third quarter. Bitzer finished 18-for-30 passing for 200 yards, including 10 completions to Funn for 133 yards, but was intercepted twice.
The game was still tied when West Islip got the ball back on its own 1 with 6:52 to play. Though backup QB AJ Ichert didn't lead his team to points on the drive, he ran for 14 yards and completed a pass to a leaping Aponte for 23 yards to push into Riverhead territory, leading to the blocked punt.
Said Ichert: "Like anybody else, I was nervous. But I always get my reps in practice. This means we're No. 1 right now, and honestly, that's where I think we should have been to start the season."