Football Players Are Urged to Relax and Play the Game

“We’re inexperienced and we’ve got things to work on," the coach said.
Jacen Tuthill, East Hampton’s junior quarterback, throws and runs well. Jack Graves

Saturday’s Division IV opener began badly for the East Hampton High School football team, but, following a talk by their coach, Joe McKee, the players’ spirits improved, and though the host team, Port Jefferson, was to go on to win 42-19, the Bonackers, McKee said afterward, had their chances — especially in the second half.

“Port Jefferson had its whole offensive line back, and it showed — they pushed us around a bit,” the coach said, adding that “we’re inexperienced and we’ve got things to work on, tackling for one, basically the fundamentals, but I think our offense will come around — Jacen Tuthill is a good passer, and a good runner too.”

(East Hampton reportedly did well in the 7-on-7 passing tournaments it appeared in this summer.)

In other fall debuts this past week, East Hampton’s golf team shut out William Floyd 9-0; the boys volleyball team defeated Connetquot 3-2 as James Stanis had 21 kills; the field hockey team lost 4-0 to Miller Place, but reportedly looked good in a 2-1 loss to Pierson; Sayville swept East Hampton in girls volleyball, and the boys soccer team lost 4-1 to Elwood-John Glenn.

Back to football, Port Jeff scored the first time it had the ball, with Hunter Ginas capping the 72-yard drive with a six-yard sweep around left end. 

A holding penalty during the kickoff return set East Hampton back on its 23, after which several illegal-motion penalties and a bobble by Tuthill forced the jittery Bonackers to punt from the end zone.

Brendan Daige’s punt was a good one, though McKee, seizing the moment, before the home team’s first-down play from East Hampton’s 39, gathered his players around him for the aforementioned talk the thrust of which was that they calm themselves and play the game, which, win or lose, he said, ought to be fun. “You’re down 6-0, not 50-0,” McKee said.

Minutes later, on fourth-and-goal from the six-yard line, Ryan Lynch, a defensive back, intercepted a Jack Collins pass at the goal line. He ran it back to the 15, where a personal foul call on Port Jeff advanced the ball to the 30. 

After the first quarter had given way to the second, East Hampton could make little headway and had to punt again. A second-down 31-yard carry by Thomas Mark treated the Royals to a first-and-goal at East Hampton’s nine, after which Mark drove in for the touchdown and tacked on two more points for a 14-0 lead.

Tuthill took to the air on the next series, connecting with Joey Berti and Damien Breault before throwing a “Hail Damien” from Port Jefferson’s 35 as he was hit. Breault, on his knees in a crowd, somehow clasped the ball to his chest at the five, and two plays later Shane O’Dwyer was in the end zone for East Hampton’s first score. 

Breault was rushed on the extra-point attempt, but booted a line drive just over the crossbar for 14-7.

At that point, it looked as if East Hampton could well get back in it, but, lest the Bonackers get any ideas, the Royals launched another scoring drive before the first half ended.

That drive looked as if it had come to an end when a linebacker leapt to intercept a Collins pass at East Hampton’s 25, but he fumbled, resulting in an incompletion. Minutes later, Collins, after escaping the grasp of an onrushing lineman, carried the ball in from East Hampton’s three. The point-after kick was good, and the die had pretty much been cast.

“We had two interceptions and a fumble recovery, but we couldn’t quite take advantage,” McKee was to say Monday. 

This Saturday, it is the Hampton Cup game at Southampton, at 1:30. East Hampton won it last year, the third time in a row that it had done so — matching the streak of the 1981, ’82, and ’83 teams.

To generate interest in the sport, McKee has begun a flag football league here, at Herrick Park, with games to be played on Wednesday and Friday evenings. Fifty to 60 kids came out Friday, the first night, he said, but there would probably have been more, he added, perhaps as many as 20 more, had there not been a countywide heat alert that day.

Meanwhile, the P.A.L. youth football numbers here are way down. “We had five teams two years ago, three last year, and now one, the under-11s,” Don Reese, who heads East Hampton’s youth football and basketball organization, said here Sunday morning as the young Bonackers, coached by Joe Pannasch, Andrew Daige, and Danny Lester (with Chris Corwin and Nick Ward assisting), ran the ball with abandon against their Southampton peers.

Southampton, its coach said, had two P.A.L. teams at the moment, the one it had on the field that day and an 8-9-year-old team.

Reese said that younger team had been bolstered by Sag Harbor kids who had previously been playing in East Hampton’s organization. At the high school level, Pierson, Sag Harbor’s high school, is combined with Southampton in the sport.

As for the reasons why youth football’s numbers were down here, Reese said he thought it was owing to several factors — the salient concussion news attending football (“though you can get a concussion in any sport”), the death of a Shoreham-Wading River High School player in 2014, and the fact that the student body here has to a large extent Latino roots being among them.