It was a long time coming. Four and a half years to be exact.
The East Hampton-Pierson football team defeated Hampton Bays, 30-0, at home on Saturday afternoon, picking up its first victory since October, 29, 2016, when it defeated Bayport-Blue Point, 36-21.
Following that victory, East Hampton spent the next few years trying to figure out how it was going to build a program, eventually rejoining the junior varsity ranks before finally getting back out on the varsity gridiron last month. The program has had to rebuild itself literally from the bottom up, and East Hampton head coach Joe McKee has been at the center of it all, from when the program folded and now to its latest victory on Saturday.
“We talked about it all week long, just to carry this over to next year,” he said, following the victory. “I mean, we were building, we seemed to get better every game, and then we just said if we could get a win on this last one I just think it would catapult to next season. A lot of positiveness, good energy, getting people here in the offseason working out, so it’s just what we wanted.”
The Bonackers (1-4 in League VIII) got themselves on the scoreboard following a key defensive stop on Saturday. Hampton Bays, facing a 4th and 1 on its own 23-yard line, decided to go for it but Bonackers Sebastian Sanchez and Nick Lombardo stuffed the Baymen and forced a turnover on downs, giving their offense a short field to work with.
After a strong run by sophomore Finn Byrnes, senior Kevin Bunce punched the ball in from three yards out, and following a successful two-point conversion pass play between senior quarterback Topher Cullen and senior receiver Bryan Pannasch, East Hampton led 8-0.
Later in the first half Cullen and Pannasch struck again. Pannasch caught what was about a 10-yard slant pass over the middle, then turned it upfield, avoiding would-be tacklers and then outrunning the rest of the Hampton Bays defense for what ended up being a 68-yard scoring play to make it 14-0, which was the score at halftime.
With just over four minutes remaining in the third quarter, an errant snap went over the leaping arms of Hampton Bays junior quarterback Stephen Sutton. The ball went bouncing into the end zone, and with no other recourse, Sutton tried to toss the ball back on to the field of play, resulting in a safety to increase East Hampton’s lead to 16-0.
East Hampton appeared to score on one of the first plays of the fourth quarter when Cullen found senior receiver Drew Salamy wide open in the middle of the end zone, but the play was called back on a holding penalty. On the very next play, Cullen hooked up with Pannasch once again from about 25 yards out, and after a successful point-after kick by Pierson senior Hudson Brindle, the Bonackers led, 23-0.
Not even two minutes later, Brindle intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown. He then kicked the extra point to make up the final score, 30-0.
Brindle has been a jack-of-all-trades for East Hampton all season, playing on both sides of the ball on top of being a key special teams player. But when Bunce went down with an injury midway through the game, Brindle took over as the team’s kicker and punter on top of his usual duties and really got to show off his array of talents.
“It’s awesome. I’m able to play wherever I want — running back, tight end,” he said. “I think it’s all really fun, just being able to help my team out whatever way I can.
“It means so much, even for the people going forward,” Brindle added about the team’s victory. “Next year we’re going to come back even stronger, and hopefully this is the start of Bonac football as we know it. Just bringing it back.”
Pannasch and Cullen seemed to have found a groove over Bonac’s last three games, hooking up for five touchdowns in that span. They had two against Center Moriches, one in a 25-14 loss at Port Jefferson on April 3, then another two on Saturday.
Even though he grew up and has resided in Montauk his entire life, Pannasch played his first season in East Hampton this year after having attended private school Canterbury the past few years.
“I played good today, but nothing could have happened without the team and all these guys,” he said. “They took me in like brothers and I couldn’t thank anyone more for that. It was just like I was back home in middle school, just like family. I loved it.”
The victory meant a lot for the seniors, who may have played their final game on Saturday, but it was equally important for the underclassmen, who will be tasked to keep things going next fall.
Brynes, a sophomore, said he didn’t sleep Friday night because he was so excited and anxious about Saturday’s game.
“We’ve been through a lot so it meant a lot to get this game. It just pushes everything forward for next year,” he said. “It’s like a motivational thing. All of the JV guys, they see it, it means a lot to them, a lot to the whole program for all they’ve done. You can only get better from here.”
While Saturday’s game was the last on the schedule for both East Hampton and Hampton Bays, the season may not be over just quite yet. Section XI, the governing body of Suffolk County high school athletics, is expected to get two more games for all non-playoff teams in the coming weeks with crossover contests.
The way McKee explained it, the sixth-place team in League VII would play the sixth-place team in League VIII one week, then something similar the following week. But as of Saturday, McKee hadn’t heard when or exactly if those games would actually take place.
“With COVID going on, with some of the other teams struggling towards the end of the season as far as numbers wise, it’s up in the air right now,” he said. “I haven’t been told anything, I’m just trying to use my own deductive reasoning. I didn’t tell the kids to hand in the uniforms. We have a meeting on Monday and we’ll see what happens over the weekend.”