GARRET MEADE PHOTO
Devante McFarlane of Half Hollow Hills West used a stiff arm while trying to round Riverhead’s Charles Bartlett.
DIX HILLS — Half Hollow Hills West found out why Suffolk County Division II has been referred to as the black and blue division, and it isn’t just because of uniform colors.
The 2009 Rutgers Trophy-winning Colts made their debut in Division II on Tuesday a winning one, although they were left with some bumps and bruises. They can thank hard-hitting Riverhead for those.
Forty-eight minutes of football wasn’t enough in the season-opener between the past two years’ Rutgers Trophy winners. It took a 28-yard field goal by junior Kevin Stanis to settle the contest in the first round of overtime at Robert A. Collotta Memorial Field. It was Hills West’s 13th straight win, a streak that started with last year’s 12-0 season when the Long Island champions competed in Division III.
“It can’t get any better than that,” said Hills West quarterback/strong safety/outside linebacker Chris Busuttil, who was the holder for the game-winning kick. “I didn’t know what to do. I just threw my helmet up and started running around. It was the best game I ever played. It’s the best game I’ve ever been a part of.”
Riverhead had possession first in overtime, starting with the ball at the 20-yard line. The Blue Waves used two passing plays and four runs. But Hills West, known for its spread offense and explosiveness, showed it can play defense, too. The Colts held Riverhead’s Rodney Rollins to one yard on a fourth-down play from the 2.
Then Hills West’s Devante McFarlane ran the ball three times for nine yards, setting up Stanis’ field goal.
“I was pretty nervous, but the snap was great,” Stanis, who made his varsity debut, told News 12 Long Island. “I knew that it was going to go in.”
Riverhead Coach Leif Shay said he didn’t regret the decision to go for a touchdown instead of a field goal.
“I felt that at fourth-and-one you got to have faith in our kids and I’ll always be that way,” he said. “I’ll always have trust and faith in them.”
As can be expected from Hills West, it made big plays and generated big numbers, including 397 yards in total offense. Although Riverhead hit hard and pressured Busuttil, sacking him five times, it was susceptible to the pass. Busuttil, making his first varsity start, was on, completing his first nine passes. He finished going 17 of 22 for 250 yards, throwing for one touchdown and running for two others.
Busuttil had help from his friends on the receiving end. Both Jessean Banks (five catches, 95 yards) and Deven Williams (five catches, 92 yards) nearly had 100 yards in receiving each.
“I can’t ask for better guys to throw the ball to,” Busuttil said. “You could see today; they catch everything.”
In addition, McFarlane ran for 97 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.
The Colts snapped 68 offensive plays over the 30 minutes 13 seconds they had the ball. They converted 11 of 17 third downs.
“I drew a lot of stuff up in the sand today, to be honest with you,” Hills West Coach Kyle Madden said. “None of those plays were in our playbook. We made them up as we went.”
A 91-yard kickoff return by Rollins, followed by Ryan Bitzer’s pass to Jake Messina for the two-point conversion, tied the score at 28-28 with 8 minutes 58 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Bitzer (7 of 13, 104 yards), a sophomore quarterback playing in his first varsity game, engineered a drive later in the quarter that brought the Blue Waves as far as the Hills West 2-yard line. But Williams recovered a fumble by Charles Bartlett on a controversial second-down play. A replay indicated that Bartlett may have stuck the ball across the goal line on the play.
Hills West then mounted a 14-play drive of its own that ended with an interception by Mario Carrera on the final play of regulation time. Earlier in the game, Carrera had recovered a fumble.
The entertaining game saw the teams trade leads five times.
“Last year we were beating teams by 30 every game and at halftime [today] we were down by three and guys thought we were down by 30, so it was a little different for them,” said Madden.
Busuttil ran for two touchdowns. The senior also connected with Williams on a 12-yard scoring pass. Third-seeded Hills West also received a three-yard touchdown burst from McFarlane.
No. 6 seed Riverhead benefitted from a seven-yard touchdown run by Bartlett, a 24-yard touchdown pass from Bitzer to Michael Curaba, and field goals of 39 and 42 yards by Esteban Aarp. Bartlett had a big game, rushing for 115 yards on 19 carries.
Although naturally disappointed with the loss, the Blue Waves can be encouraged by their play.
“We came out with a lot of confidence,” Bitzer said. “We were the underdogs. We played our hearts out.”
Shay said: “I’m so proud of our guys. They hung in there. We were winners today. I don’t care what the scoreboard said.”
McFarlane acknowledged that Hills West is facing high expectations this year. As for competing in Division II, he said: “It really doesn’t make a difference. Football is football, that’s how we see it, and you just got to play.”