The Huntington football team came within 18 seconds of pulling off an upset of Half Hollow Hills East on its home field last Saturday, but the Thunderbirds rallied for a 14-10 victory in the Suffolk Division II playoffs.
The Blue Devils led the entire game, but couldn’t stop Hills East’s final drive capped off by Michael Monitto’s jumping touchdown reception of a 12 yard pass thrown by Jason Spinelli. Monitto bobbled the ball before securely grabbing hold of it for the winning TD with 18.8 seconds remaining.
Huntington dominated the game, controlling the ball and the clock through much of all four quarters. The Blue Devils were ahead 10-0 entering the final frame, but easily could have had a more substantial advantage. Big Blue was stopped four different times inside the Hills East 10 yard line and also missed several field goal opportunities.
Eric Sands gobbles up yardage for Huntington. (Darin Reed photo.)
“It was tough walking away from that game with a loss,” senior Alex LaBella said. “We played our hearts out and I was very proud of my teammates and the way they played. Huntington football has taught me a lot in my four years here; things that I will remember forever.”
Huntington’s points came on an eight yard touchdown pass from Alex LaBella to Luke Eidle and a 27 yard field goal by Nat Amato. Hills East cut the Blue Devils’ lead to 10-7 on an 80 yard pass play in the fourth quarter. The Thunderbirds scored the winning touchdown after Huntington advanced all the way to the five yard line late in the game, but was unable to punch it in.
“We beat them at almost every aspect of the game and it feels terrible knowing that we should’ve been the team going on to the next round,” senior Sam Bergman said. “Nevertheless, I’m very proud of our team this year and how we’ve grown, not not only a football team, but as a family.”
Huntington head coach Steve Muller and assistant coaches Todd Jamison and Andrew White saw their team outplay the Thunderbirds throughout the game, but still fall short.
“I thought that we were clearly the better team on Saturday,” senior Luke Eidle said. “We beat up Hills East for four quarters, but unfortunately the game didn’t go our way.”
Huntington concluded the season with a 5-4 record. Hills East is now 8-1. The Thunderbirds will play at No. 1 West Islip (7-2) on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the divisional semifinals.
Blue Devil players understandably took the loss hard last Saturday afternoon. Huntington used three different players at quarterback after starter John Paci IV was injured a week earlier at Bay Shore and sidelined for the playoff game. Eidle took the majority of snaps, but LaBella also saw a good chunk of playing time at QB, tossing a touchdown pass and gobbling up yardage on several acrobatic runs that saw him twisting, turning and otherwise dodging would-be tacklers.
“Our team played our hardest the whole game,” senior Anthony McDonald said. “We gave 110 percent every play. Luke stepped up big for us at quarterback. He learned all our plays in a week. In my eyes he was our team’s MVP. I’m proud of the team for the way it played yesterday and the whole season.”
Despite being in position to pull off a stunning upset, Huntington just couldn’t close out the game. Hills East is a very good team, to be sure, as the Thunderbirds showed with their impressive fourth quarter rally.
“I think we played an intense and great game,” junior Eric Sands said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t finish it with a win, but I️ wouldn’t change my Blue Devil team for another. I’m looking forward to my senior football season.”