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Meet the Long Island Champion Thunderbirds

Posted Thursday, December 04, 2008 by Michael Konsevitch


T-Birds learn from loss, roll to title

Perhaps the realization that this season was going to be very special came on Oct. 25, when Connetquot led Floyd 3-0 at halftime. It was the first time the Colonials, who had won the three previous Long Island championships and were unbeaten in 39 straight games to that point, had trailed at the half in nearly two years.

"We had a lot of confidence against Floyd," Thunderbirds coach Mike Hansen said of a game his team eventually lost, 27-9. "But we knew after that game we could play with them."

Floyd was the Division I measuring stick then. Now, it's the T-Birds who know they can play with anyone - in Suffolk or Nassau. Connetquot (10-2) did not lose another game after Floyd, finishing off the magical 2008 season with a 21-13 victory over Freeport at Hofstra to win the Class I Long Island Championship for the first time since 1992.

"Every week, it kept getting better and better," Hansen said. There was a lot of history rewritten this year. In Weeks 4 and 5, the T-Birds beat No. 4 seed Brentwood and No. 2 seed Sachem North. 

Those wins were important steps for a No. 6 seed that was still searching for its identity. Stars Jeremy Leggiero (fullback/linebacker) and Jon Sternbach (wide receiver/returner/defensive back) were givens, and they produced even more than expected. Four linemen from a superb 2007 JV team became starters who contributed heavily to the team's title run.

Running back Joe Zuco was injured early and began the season getting limited playing time as the short-yardage back. His first start came against Floyd but by the LIC, Zuco was an every-down runner who carried 33 times for 148 yards and two touchdowns against Freeport. "The best feeling I've ever had," he said.

That feeling is being shared by many in T-Bird Nation.

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