By Michael Lewis
MATTITUCK, N.Y. — Quite appropriately, the oldest and arguably the best high school sports rivalry on all of Long Island came down to penalty kicks. But not necessarily the type you might expect at the end of a match.
Center Moriches’ 1-0 victory over Mattituck was decided by two penalties, one that was converted by the visitors, a Michael Luongo PK, and another that was saved by the Red Devils goalkeeper Colin Raupp in the Suffolk County League VII match at the Robert Muir Athletic Fields Saturday morning.
It was only the second game of the young season for both schools — they won their openers — in a hotly contested rivalry that spans 83 years, dating back to 1936.
“The technical side of the game we need to work on, but we’re a work in progress,” said Chris O’Brien, the head coach of the three-time defending county champions. “We’re only in a couple of weeks. I’m proud of the effort that our kids gave and I’m proud of th4e effort these guys [Mattituck] put out. Will [Hayes, coach] does such a nice job with his kids and we know we’re going to get their best effort.
“You know what? Two penalties. We put ours away and they didn’t. We had a great save on theirs. I should say they didn’t put theirs away. Our kid came up very, very big.”
That kid was Raupp, a junior keeper.
“If I’m going to put a man of the match, I would say it was Colin Raupp today for saving our lunch,” O’Brien said.
At the time, Moriches was nursing a one-goal advantage on a penalty kick of its own that Luongo converted in the ninth minute after a handball call on the Tuckers in their penalty area.
Luongo, who had a penalty kick saved in the Red Devils’ 3-1 win over Southold Thursday, made sure he didn’t repeat history, slotting one home to the lower left as goalkeeper Emmett Ryan was ready to dive in the other direction.
“It’s a simple process, but there is a lot of thought that goes into it,” said Luongo, who tallied his second goal in as many games. “The first is confidence. You have to be confident that you can score. The second part, the run up, you have to psych out the goalie a little bit and I am amore of a placement over a power kind of guy.”
“I’ve been playing against him ever since junior high,” Ryan said. “I know what he does. I picked the wrong side. I thought he was going to the left. He went to my right. He had a good shot, put it in a good place. Couldn’t get to it.”
No one realized at the moment it was going to be the lone goal in the hard-fought match.
As it turned out, another hand ball, this time on a Moriches player, led to another PK. Senior Jack Burkhardt, off a an outstanding 16-goal, 15-assist season in 2018, drilled his attempt to the lower left corner four minutes into the second half. Raupp, however, had other ideas. He dove that way, stretched as far as he could and knocked the ball away.
“I saw the kid the whole game,” Raupp said. “I saw him kicking across his body every time the ball was struck from him. So, I just knew he was going to go that way. Guessed right and pulled off the save.”
“It was a ridiculous save,” Hayes said on the sidelines.
He expounded on it after the final whistle.
“That was a perfect penalty.,” he said. “The only thing he could have done was hit it higher. Je got it as close to the post as he can while staying inside the net and Colin went down and made a great save. We know he’s a great goalkeeper and we know he’s going to get them some points. Those two points they picked up together was purely down to Colin’s skill on the penalty.”
Center Moriches held off its rivals for league win No. 2 while Mattituck dropped its first.
Given the hype and history of what has transpired between these two stories programs since the depression, the game did not live up to expectations. Like every other LI soccer program, the squads had a little more than a week to train instead of the traditional two weeks due to new state regulations.
As O’Brien related earlier, technical soccer wasn’t necessarily showcased as the teams tussled in a physical affair in what was an intense contest that kicked off at 10 a.m.
“This is an old-school game,” Hayes said late in the opening half.
“You know Center Moriches-Mattituck,” O’Brien said. “Like I just told the kids. We’ve played some highly technical games with each other and we’ve played some physical games. This was towards the physical side of it, for sure. I don’t know if the fouls were kept, but I know they were in the teens, both ways. It wasn’t pretty soccer, but we did enough what we had to do.
“We had a couple of pretty good chances to give us a second-goal lead. As a young team, we have to put those away. They played really, really hard. Both teams played hard. They really worked their tails off today and that’s the nature of this rivalry. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing them here or in our place or Timbuktu, we’re coming to come and if we see the blue jerseys with the Mattituck crest and they see our crest, it’s going to bring that intensity.”
The players felt it, too.
“Today’s game was very physical,” Luongo said. “Every play we were in a constant battle with ourselves and the other team. We obviously found a way to get through it.”
Ryan agreed. “Every single ball played was its own battle.,” he said. “In the end we didn’t win the war, but it was hard. We’ll come out and hit them hard again next time.”
Hayes liked what he saw from his squad. For four consecutive years the Tuckers ruled the roost before the Red Devils took over the past four seasons.
“I said after the country final a couple of years ago when we lost six-nil, that the rivalry was kind of cyclical and it kind of waxed and waned over time,” he said. “Right now, the moon is looking kind of full. We played a full 80 in a full-blooded contest and the difference in the game was a made penalty and a missed penalty. We gave as good as we got. We didn’t concede any cheap chances.”
In contrast to other derby matches here, this game was not played on the traditional soccer field but the one inside the school’s adjacent track. The usual pitch had been rundown, which wasn’t helped by Friday night’s rain, which was left over from Hurricane Dorian.
The track pitch was about five to seven yards narrower, while its length was about the same, Hayes said.
“We made the decision earlier in the season,” Hayes said. “Once our vaunted field is a shell of its former self. The rain over the last 24 hours has turned it into a mud pit. When we were walking across it, tufts of grass were coming up. So, we have to lay off of it for a little bit in order to get it back to its former glory.”
Hayes was crossing his fingers that the regular field would be used sooner than later.
“If the grubs don’t tear it to pieces, yes,” he said. “The reality of the situation is that she’s an old girl and she has had a long ride. She needs to charge her batteries.”
If you were wondering when these two rivals would tussle again, just circle your calendar on Oct. 2. That’s when the Red Devils will host the Tuckers under the lights at 6:30 p.m.
“It’ll be rocking,” Ryan said. “It’s going to be just as intense.”