Burnt orange foliage swaying in chilly gusts is just one sign fall has gripped Long Island. Bare-chested teenagers yelping from rickety bleachers is another. High school football is a rite of passage, and seven games into the 2009 season the excitement is building in communities large and small, from Garden City to Riverhead. The road to the Long Island championships runs through these towns and teens, and will be decided by more than a few hard hits, electrifying touchdowns and gutsy play calls. With four great weeks of football still to play, it’s a good time to take stock of the season to date. Here are Long Island Pulse Magazine’s mid-season football awards:
Player of the Year: Holy Trinity senior running back Anthony Brunetti has been a force in the CHSFL for four years. That in itself is quite an accomplishment. But he put aside an injury-plagued 2008 as the Titans have surprised with a league-best 7-0 start. Brunetti, an equally accomplished baseball player, rushed for 223 yards and four touchdowns and added six tackles and a sack at linebacker on Friday in a 40-6 win over Queens rival St. Francis Prep. Brunetti has 1,584 yards on 198 carries and 18 touchdowns. He is on pace to become just the 14th Long Islander to ever crack 2,000 yards in a season.
Coach of the Year: Seaford’s Rob Perpall has the Vikings poised for the program’s third straight perfect regular season in Nassau Conference IV. Seaford also boasts a 28-game conference win streak. The Vikings passed their biggest test of the season in Friday night’s 28-0 win over previously unbeaten Roosevelt. This bunch of Vikings has outscored foes 284-32 behind steely defense and the hard running of Justin Buckley. Perpall has always been known as an offensive guru, but he’s quietly developed one great defense after another at Seaford.
Biggest Surprise: Seeded seventh in Suffolk Division I, Sachem North opened the new year by handing Floyd its first regular season loss in eight years. The Flaming Arrows kept piling up impressive wins from there, rallying to beat Longwood while holding off tough Brentwood, 42-41. Sachem crushed defending Long Island champ Connetquot, 35-7, on Saturday. Veteran coach Dave Falco has a connection to Sachem’s championship past and a meticulous nature, two ingredients bound to serve him well. Another is home-run back Davon Lawrence. These Flaming Arrows will be a tough out come playoff time.
Most Impressive Streak: That Garden City is unbeaten is no surprise. The Trojans have been a powerhouse since Tom Flatley took over as coach in 1985. Yet this squad has started off uniquely great in Nassau Conference II. Seven games into the season and Garden City has yet to allow a touchdown. In fact, it’s allowed just one field goal—three points—in posting shutouts in six games, including Saturday against rival Carey, 28-0. Three times the Trojans haven’t allowed a first down in the first half of games. Amazing.
Unforgettable Finish: A rain-soaked opening day in Northport saw one of the great storylines of any season play out. Defending Long Island champ Connetquot led 28-21 into the fourth quarter. Northport senior Tom Delahunty left the game in the first quarter with what was thought to be a broken left arm. But a quick run to Huntington Hospital revealed no broken bones. Delahunty not only returned, he almost single-handedly won the game. He scored on a 12-yard touchdown run, returned a blocked field goal 41 yards and moments later put Northport ahead, 34-28, with a 16-yard score. Connetquot’s bid to win stalled at the Northport 5-yard line with five seconds left. Whew!
Jason Molinet is an award-winning journalist who spent 11 years covering sports for Newsday. Read more stories at: http://www.jasonmolinet.com