Northport clings to playoff hopes after shutout loss to Whitman in girls...

Northport clings to playoff hopes after shutout loss to Whitman in girls flag football

The Flag Football Force is strong in the reigning Long Island Champion Walt Whitman Wildcats. The Northport Lady Tigers found out the hard way.

On May the Fourth, Whitman blanked Northport 21-0, putting on a dazzling display of defensive dominance and offensive efficiency. The Lady Tigers, who have been beset by a rash of injuries, were on the business end of the Lady Cat light saber and dropped to 3-4-1 on the season and into seventh place in Suffolk Division I.  They will need to win their final two games against Amityville and North Babylon to qualify for the playoffs.

Whitman improved to 5-1 with the home win and are in the hunt for the division crown, which has developed into quite an interesting four-horse race. The Wildcats, along with Hauppauge, Half Hollow Hills and Sayville have a combined record of 24-4 at the start of this week and are fighting for first. The other seven teams in Division I are all below the .500 mark. This list now includes Northport. 

Tiger Head Coach Pat Campbell is not focused on the standings. He still has hope.

“This is our first year doing this thing, and I’m proud of way our girls have fought,” Campbell said. “That team [Whitman] won the Long Island Championship for a reason, and they have a really good defense that flies around the ball and gets to flags quickly. I thought we hung tough, but we made a few mistakes, and they took advantage.”

In what seems to be a trend across the flag football world, defensive touchdowns via interceptions are just as common as offensive touchdowns. That is exactly how the Lady Cats struck early in this game.

With Northport freshman quarterback Grace Gilmartin pinned against her own goal line, Lady Cat linebacker Brittny Cisneros Campos stepped in front of a short Gilmartin pass and waltzed in for a pick-six with 6:19 remaining in the first half. Just like that, the Empire had struck.

“Defense led the way for us today,” said Whitman Head Coach Ralph Milazzo. “Brittny is all over the place and has been the leader of our defense all year.”

Cisneros Campos, an 11th grader who wears number 11, led Whitman with nine flag pulls, four of which were behind the line of scrimmage, against Northport in addition to her interception and was part of a defense that swarmed around the ball from the opening whistle to the final gun. They had three interceptions on the day, four sacks and an incredible 12 total tackles for loss. Lady Cat DL Mary Pohalski had half a dozen of these TFLs.

“I never expected to have a defensive touchdown,” said the giddy Cisneros Campos. “It felt amazing to score one.”

Giving up a defensive touchdown and falling behind early is a pattern that is not unfamiliar to Lady Tiger fans, as this scenario has occurred in games against Half Hollow Hills and Hauppauge — both losses. 

Exacerbating matters, Northport is now on its sixth starting center — the position that is responsible for snapping the ball to and protecting quarterback Gilmartin from the defensive rush. Starting center Isabella Bica was lost to a wrist injury three weeks ago, and Sarah Power, Nina Corbett, Brooke Kershow and Nina Scala have all gone through what has become a revolving door for Campbell at this critical position. 

Stephanie Milonas, who is a quick scatback type of runner and pass-catcher, filled in dutifully on this day. She was fine snapping the ball, but the Wildcat defensive front was easily able to generate constant penetration and chaos in the freshman Gilmartin’s backfield.

“There are no excuses, and we always say, ‘next girl up,’ but we need to do a better job of blocking,” said Campbell, whose offense couldn’t generate much in the way of passing or rushing yards because of the relentless Whitman pressure.

The Wildcats would get another touchdown just before halftime that was set up by another interception, this time by Whitman cornerback Britany Delao Romero, who read a pass intended for WR Kenzie Bliven and returned it all the way to the Tiger 8-yard line. Two plays later, it was 14-0 in favor of Whitman.

As the defense grabbed many of the headlines for the Wildcats, senior quarterback Ava Seifert played an efficient game, completing 21 of 33 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns. She sprayed the ball around to five different receivers, including nine completions to Wildcat basketball superstar Iris Hoffman. Seifert is hungry for another long, successful playoff run.

“It would be a really cool way to end my senior year and athletic career at Walt Whitman High School,” said Seifert of the prospect of another Long Island Championship. “Our coaches have put a lot of effort into making us successful and preparing us for each game.”

Milazzo has been pleased by Seifert’s handling of the offense and its ability to play complimentary football with his ferocious defense.

“Ava has been great for us,” Milazzo said. “She’s been in our system for two years with a lot of pressure on her shoulders and she continues to step up and make great plays.”

In its final two games, it is Northport who will need to find a way to step up and make great plays if this young team, made up of mostly underclassmen, is to fulfill their playoff destiny — while they still have control of it.