By Andrew Zucker
It was not the opening day either team was hoping for, but once the Newfield kicker’s cleat made contact with the ball, the spring 2021 season was officially on.
For both the North Babylon Bulldogs and the Newfield Wolverines, the game on Saturday, March 13, was the first time both teams faced outside competition in over 480 days, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, shutting down all high school sports last year.
The final score, a 26-20 North Babylon victory, is a tale of two halves, and then a little more.
For most of the first quarter, North Babylon controlled the game as they held the ball for over eight minutes, driving as far as the Wolverines 16-yard line. But the Bulldogs walked away from the opening drive empty-handed as quarterback Tyler Hovanec bobbled the snap on the field goal attempt and was forced to throw away the ball or risk being sacked.
Newfield scored its first points of the season on a 71-yard run by Joe Hackal with 1:05 remaining in the first quarter. The Wolverines had the extra point attempt blocked by North Babylon, putting them 6-0, a score that stood for another five minutes.
Malachi Hunter gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the day via a hard-fought 2-yard touchdown run less than four minutes into the second quarter.
“They [North Babylon] got down early, they stuck it out, they ground back,” North Babylon head coach Terry Manning said following the game. “That’s our offense. Grind and grind, ground and pound; that’s what our nickname is, and we just took the ball and kept doing that all day long.”
Just before the end of the first half, Newfield managed to grab hold of the lead, this time via a Matt Hirsh TD. Once again, they would miss the extra point.
Take Jackson looked to give North Babylon the lead on the ensuing kickoff, taking it over 50-yards to the end zone, but the TD was negated following a Bulldogs penalty. North Babylon would not capitalize on the field position, finding themselves down 12-7 at the half.
After halftime, everything changed — or so it seemed.
The Bulldogs scored the only points in the third quarter, a 15-yard TD by Hunter, and headed into the final frame up 14-12.
“I want my North Babylon kids to play, to be tough, to be aggressive, to never stop,” Manning said. “And to finish strong like that, which they did, so I was pretty proud of it.”
Hunter continued his impressive performance scoring a TD in the fourth quarter, his third of the game, putting the Bulldogs up 20-12. Newfield responded with a touchdown of their own with 3:25 remaining in the game and converted the two-point conversion, knotting it up at 20 apiece.
Starting with the ball on their 44-yard line and 3:19 remaining in the game, North Babylon found themselves in a position most kids dream about. Tie game, ball in your hands, final minutes of a back and forth contest. A game, within a game.
Hovanec led the Bulldogs down the field, making their way to the Newfield 7-yard-line, before spiking the ball to stop the clock with seven seconds remaining.
Jason Kolk missed the potential game-winning field goal with four seconds remaining, sending the game to overtime.
In overtime, North Babylon forced a turnover on downs before DaiVon Lofton broke through the Wolverines defense for a 20-yard touchdown run to end the game.
“Middle Country is very excited about the full return of sports,” said Middle Country Director of Physical Education, Joseph Mercado. “We feel that interscholastic sports is an integral part of a student’s education. We are working very diligently to ensure the safe return for all our students, staff and spectators. With the return of athletics, we hope all our student-athletes and spectators will have a positive and safe experience.”
Newfield (0-1) once again finds itself as the road team, when the Wolverines head to Smithtown West on Friday, March 19. Kickoff is set for 6:00 The Bulldogs (1-0) square off at Bellport on Saturday, March 20 at 2 p.m.