After getting blanked in the season opener a week ago, Westlake football coach John Castellano figured it was just a matter of time before points would start to pile up for his young and inexperienced team.
“You just needed to pop that balloon,” he was saying late Saturday afternoon following the Wildcats’ second game of the year. “And once it popped, I knew we could get going a little bit.”
As it turned out, it was more like a dam bursting. The Wildcats erupted for four touchdowns in the second quarter and went on to a 41-14 rout of the host Red Hook Raiders. Senior quarterback Jason Ausiello tossed a pair of touchdown passes and junior Matt Sardo scampered 88 yards for another score during the first-half blitz that paved the way to Westlake’s first win of the year.
“I liked the way we played defensively,” said Castellano, “but I think the key today was our offense finally getting on track. It was crazy at the beginning. I got a little nervous because we’re in the first quarter, nothing’s happening.”
Westlake was fortunate that the Raiders from Section Nine didn’t get on the scoreboard first. Their talented quarterback, Dylan Bayliss, who threw five touchdown passes in a loss at Burke Catholic the week before, narrowly missed connecting for a long TD to Anthony Abbatiello on the opening drive of the game when his pass slipped through the outstretched finger tips of the senior wide receiver.
“The kid threw for 415 yards last week,” said Castellano about Bayliss. “So our goal was to keep him controlled. He does a great job of extending the plays. So we tried to throw a couple different coverages at him. I think we had him confused early and got some picks.”
In all, the Wildcats intercepted three Bayliss passes. By the time Andrew Llamas rose high in the air in the secondary to grab the first one, Westlake had already broken through to take the lead. The Wildcats went 29 yards in five plays, scoring on a 10-yard run by Sardo 45 seconds into the second quarter. The point-after kick by Josh Gelman gave them a 7-0 lead.
The interception by Llamas on Red Hook’s next possession set up the Wildcats at the Raider 3-yard line. On third down, Ausiello, who wound up completing all eight of his passes, rolled to his right and then tossed to Nick Gorman for a one-yard touchdown. Gelman’s PAT extended the Westlake advantage to 14-0 with 7:48 left in the half.
Red Hook soon managed to pick up a first down at midfield on a fake punt, but then had to relinquish the ball after three straight incomplete passes. The Raider punt rolled to the Wildcats’ 12-yard line. On first down, Sardo, who shared time with Ausiello at quarterback, slipped past the line of scrimmage and galloped 88 yards down the middle of the field for another Wildcat touchdown. With 4:46 to go before halftime, Westlake’s lead was suddenly 21-0.
Red Hook’s first-half misery wasn’t quite finished yet. On a third-and-11 play, a pass by Bayliss was tipped in traffic and then intercepted by the Wildcats’ Hamad Azhar. The turnover led to a seven-play, 58-yard scoring drive that began with a 31-yard run by Eric Nieves and ended with Ausiello throwing eight yards to Sardo in the right side of the end zone with just nine seconds left on the clock. The teams left the field at halftime with Westlake ahead 28-0.
If there was one play that bothered Castellano on Saturday, it came at the start of the third quarter when Red Hook recovered its own squib kickoff at the Westlake 37-yard line.
“I was a little upset when we started the second half,” he said, “because I said to ‘em they’re gonna onside kick. We had the hands team out there and we didn’t do a good job with that. But we made a good defensive stop. We made a great interception and then we popped it and I felt pretty good.”
The Wildcats’ third interception was made by a sliding James Murray along the left sideline, setting the table for a seven-play, 71-yard drive highlighted by a 27-yard run by Llamas and Ausiello’s 14-yard run up the middle for a touchdown that stretched the Westlake cushion to 34-0 less than five minutes into the second half.
Red Hook finally got on the board with 4:39 left in the third quarter when Hayden Campolong rumbled 25 yards to cap a four-play, 61-yard drive. But just over two minutes later, the Wildcats struck again as Ausiello dashed left 25 yards for another touchdown. The point-after by Bailey Rodgers increased the Westlake margin to 41-7.
The fourth quarter brought a sudden and heavy downpour, along with a too-little and too-late touchdown pass by Bayliss, who was limited to 111 yards in the air after his huge first game at Burke.
Castellano conceded afterwards that he may have overwhelmed his young team with too much to think about before they opened the season with the 7-0 setback at Pearl River.
“Last week, 10 of 11 kids on offense were playing their first varsity game, and it showed,” he said. “You could see it in their eyes, you could see it in the way we approached offense. This week, we simplified things offensively. We got back to basic stuff. We went on the practice field and said, ‘Hey, listen, we’ve got enough talent here, we’ve got enough athletes that can make things happen, let’s not try to confuse ourselves. Let’s just do what we do best.’”
Andy is a sports editor at Examiner Media, covering seven high schools in the mid-Westchester region with a notebook and camera. He began there in the fall of 2007 following 15 years as a candid photographer for the largest school picture company in the tri-state area.