By Joe Galotti
Newfield has not faced much adversity this fall. The team entered this year’s Long Island Class II football championship game with an 11-0 record, and had yet to be truly challenged on their quest for a perfect season.
On Friday night at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium, the Wolverines were finally tested.
After holding a 20-point advantage over MacArthur at halftime, Newfield quickly saw its lead evaporate to just a single point before the end of the third quarter. But Wolverines senior wideout Elijah Riley refused to let his team lose on this night, running for two touchdowns in the contest’s final quarter to power his team to a 41-33 victory.
“Eli’s been our lightning guy all year,” Wolverines head coach Joe Piccininni said. “He just comes out and makes things happen for us when you least expect it.”
Thanks to Riley’s heroics, Newfield earned its first Long Island Championship since 2011. Senior quarterback Ryan Klemm was excited that the team was able to not only bring the title back to their school, but also record the program’s first ever perfect season.
“It’s awesome,” Klemm said. “They always refer to the 2011 team, and we wanted to do something better — something that they didn’t do. So 12-0 was definitely the goal.”
The Wolverines got off to a quiet on the gridiron, as MacArthur held Newfield’s explosive offense scoreless in the game’s opening 12 minutes. Senior halfback Vin Martino gave the Generals an early 7-0 lead, with a nine-yard touchdown run.
In the second quarter, the Wolverines began to take over.
First, Riley got his team on the board with a six-yard touchdown run. Then Klemm left his mark on the championship game, connecting on touchdown passes with senior wide receiver Jelani Greene, senior running back Denzel Williams and senior tight end Austin Gubelman before halftime.
Up 27-7 entering the third, Newfield seemed to have their Class II title wrapped up. But, the Generals were prepared to go down fighting, beginning the second half by recovering an onside kick. Shortly after, Martino found the end zone to make it a 13-point game. MacArthur attempted another onside kick, and once again gained possession. Martino followed that up with his second touchdown in a span of just 34 seconds.
Later in the quarter, MacArthur senior quarterback Jimmy Kelleher threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Jared Wolfe. The ensuing extra-point attempt was missed, but the Wolverines’ lead fell to just 27-26.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Klemm said. “They’re a great team, and we knew we’d have to face adversity eventually, and it came tonight.”
Riley added, “Nobody gets flustered. Everyone knows they have another chance to get the job done and do what they have to do to finish their assignment.”
In the fourth quarter, Riley was able to right the ship for his team. He first provided an eight-yard touchdown run. Then, with 2:49 remaining in regulation, scored on a 30-yard rush, to extend Newfield’s lead to 15 points.
MacArthur added a late touchdown, but failed to pull any closer, as Riley recovered the Generals final onside kick attempt and took a knee just shy of another touchdown, despite any player being within 15 yards of the senior.
“MacArthur did an outstanding job of preparing for us and playing against us,” Piccininni said, “They left their hearts out on the field. They really pushed us to our limits today, but our kids overcame it.”
Also leaving his heart out on the field after the game was Wolverines assistant coach Nick Adler. He proposed to his girlfriend after the team was presented with their championship trophy. And when she said yes, the Wolverines were left with a storybook ending to their perfect season.