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Connetquot High School

When a guy makes a costly error on the baseball diamond and comes up to bat in the ninth inning and gets a big hit to win the game, the broadcaster will invariably say that baseball is a game of redeeming features.

We don’t hear that phrase used in football very much.

Northport senior defensive back Nick Valenti found out on Saturday that the gridiron also can be a place for redemption.

With a minute left in the third quarter of the Tigers opening round playoff game against Connetquot, Valenti was burned in man-to-man coverage for an 80-yard touchdown by Thunderbird wide receiver Tommy Malvagno. It cut the Tiger lead to 28-21 and sent an inconsolable Valenti to his bench to stew.

“I was pretty upset about giving up that TD,” said Valenti, who the week before, returned an interception for a touchdown in the regular season finale against West Babylon. “We just made a huge play to go up by 14, and I gave it right back to them.”

That huge play was an 84-interception yard return for touchdown by Tiger linebacker Matthew Lugo who plucked a pass out of the air that was deflected by teammate Andrew Miller. The momentum was with the Tigers and their roaring fans. After Malvagno’s explosive play, that momentum flipped right back to the Silver and Red, down by only one score heading to the fourth quarter. 

“Nick was being aggressive there and jumped in,” said Northport head coach Pat Campbell. “He (Malvagno) gave him a little juke, got past him and they made a play. But Nick makes plays for us too.”

Valenti has made plays all year. He has 13 catches for 185 yards as a receiver, has been very stingy in coverage and also had that game-changing pick against the Eagles on the road in North Babylon. Would he get another opportunity to help his team advance? 

Connetquot would tie the score midway through the fourth by the end of regulation, both teams had overcome 14-point deficits. The game would need to go to overtime; the winner advancing to the semi-final round of the Suffolk II playoffs. The loser’s season would die on the Tiger Stadium turf. 

Overtime rules dictate that the teams trade possessions until one team outscores the other in the exchange. Each possession starts 20 yards from the end zone.

Northport got the ball first and mustered only a Billy Griffiths’ field goal to take a rickety 31-28 lead. The Thunderbirds could now win the game with a touchdown. 

“I wasn’t exactly comfortable with only getting three points there,” Campbell said. 

With the way Connetquot moved the ball, the coach’s concern was justified. The T-birds had 366 yards of total offense on the day and only needed another 20.

Pepitone started his counterattack by pitching the ball left to running back Michael Buttino. Buttino was hit immediately by Tiger safety Christian Raio, and Valenti looped around Buttino’s back and batted the ball out of his hand. Northport linebacker Thomas Kraus fell on the ball and the game was over. 

But the celebration had just begun. 

Led by Valenti and Kraus, the entire Tiger team stormed down the field towards the scoreboard, in a wild, jubilant display — a massive and jumping sea of blue and white. Legendary Lacrosse Coach Carol Rainson-Rose, who also serves as occasional public address announcer, was gleefully saying something over the microphone but was being drowned out by the raucous crowd and blaring marching band.

Valenti was redeemed.

“I really did some thinking on the sidelines and my teammates told me to keep my head straight and make the next play,” said the relieved Valenti. “So, it felt great to force that fumble and send them home.”

One of those teammates was running back Michael Campoli who broke off another huge run — a 54 yard touchdown late in the first half to get Northport on the board. The Tigers trailed in this game 14-0, the second week in a row they were in such an early hole.

“I gave him (Valenti) a little tough love,” said Campoli, who finished with 112 yards on the ground. “I told him to not let that play define who he is and that he is still a great player.”

With Connetquot still leading 14-7 late in the second quarter after Campoli’s TD burst, T-bird quarterback Nick Pepitone, who threw for 331 yards and two touchdowns, floated a long pass against a heavy wind into a crowd of blue shirts. Tiger DB Evan Gaumont picked it off and returned it to midfield. RB Andrew DeMarco scored moments later, tying the game at the half. Miller had a big 30-yard catch and run to set up the score.

“Andrew Miller was flat out dominant on both sides of the ball,” Campbell said. “He was the best player on the field today and I would say it was the best game of his career. He’s just a great, great player and one of the best kids I’ve ever had the pleasure to coach.”

Miller had 103 yards receiving, including a touchdown, sprung Campoli with a kick-out block on his touchdown run, led the way on Lugo’s pick-six, and terrorized Pepitone all day long from his defensive end spot.

“I think this game was one of my personal bests,” said team captain Miller, who will attend West Point Military Academy in September of 2023. “It fills me with joy to continue playing with this group of guys and we have a lot more to give. We have a great opportunity this week against Lindenhurst.”

Ah, yes, Lindenhurst. One of Northport’s oldest and most heated rivalries, this will be a case where both teams will have revenge on their mind. Last year, on a cold, misty night in Lindenhurst, the Bulldogs scored two touchdowns in the last five minutes of the game to stun Northport and deprive the Tigers of a chance to play for the county championships. The Tigers are still bitter about this loss.

This bitterness sweetened somewhat six weeks ago when Northport blanked the Dogs, and their all-purpose superstar Chris Carson, 19-0, at Northport.

“Lindenhurst is a very tough team, they are well-coached, and Chris Carson is one of the best players in our league,” Campbell said. “I’ve heard all the talk about how they want payback on us because we shut them out, but we haven’t forgotten what happened in the playoffs last year either. I’m not going to say anything more about that. We’ll let what happens on the field decide it.”

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Ward Melville boys volleyball started strong with Sachem East winning the opening set but fell behind in the second clawing their way back to win it by two points.

East had no intention of going quietly when they nipped the Patriots in the third match winning it 25-22 to force a game four. Ward Melville rallied back to take the fourth set to win the match 3-1 at home March 15.

Senior co-captain Bryan McCaffery led the way for the Patriots with 15 kills followed by Christopher Sohl who had five kills and five blocks, along with teammate Charlie Fernandes who served up four aces. Ward Melville took it in four sets 25-16, 26-24, 22-25 and 25-15 in the Division I matchup to lift the Patriots to 2-2 in this COVID-abbreviated season.

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By Steven Zaitz

They waited almost 500 days to play a football game. They are now going to wait longer than expected to play the next one.

The Northport Tigers opened their spring season this past Saturday by blanking the Connetquot
Thunderbirds, 26-0. However, two Tiger players tested positive for the coronavirus following the
game and the entire team will be quarantined until at least March 24, postponing this week’s
matchup against rivals Half Hollow Hills East.

The Tigers are trying to stay positive, enjoy the win and hope for the best during the 10 day in-
person shutdown of the program.

“It was a great win,” said an emotionally mixed Head Coach Pat Campbell. “I told the guys that
we have to celebrate this win and appreciate it because nobody knows what the future holds.”

Yes, the immediate future of the team has a large font-sized question mark above its collective
head, but the present says they have a record of 1-0 after their thumping of the Thunderbirds.
The Tigers are looking at this early season pause philosophically.

“I talked to the kids and the message is not to lose your faith, look out for each other and we’ll
get back out there in short order,” Campbell said. “We’re going to meet virtually, and I have a lot
of trust in this team. We’re going to stay ‘together’ apart.”

On this autumnal day in March, they did more than stay together. They obliterated Connetquot
starting right from the opening whistle. The Tigers played a stifling brand of defense, allowing
the T-Birds 84 total yards and zero trips into the red zone. Northport linebacker Anthony
Canales was a human game plan wrecker as he had 13 tackles and a quarterback sack.

“That was the first real sack of my career,” Canales said. “It felt great.”

The senior and future Alfred University Saxon, who also had a forced fumble and three tackles for
loss, admits he might have had an extra bit of motivation on this day. Newsday’s list of Top 100
High School Football Players on Long Island was published the day before the game and
Connetquot’s Will Immel and Vncent Canatia were both on the list. There were no Tigers on it.

“I guess they forgot us this year,” said the jovial Canales. “I feel like we have a few players on
this team who could have made that list, but it’s only a list. At the end of the day, who really
cares. It’s cool to prove people wrong.”

Coach Campbell joked that he’s going to start calling his players 101, 102, 103 and 104.

On offense, the Tigers used an inside-outside running game and racked up an eye-popping 377
yards rushing. Rafe Carner led the way with 102 on the ground, and Andrew Argyris had three
blunt force touchdowns from in close. Jack Sandrib steamrolled his way to 95 yards on only six
carries, and Rocco Stola had 94 yards on seven carries. Stola, who plays defense and special teams as
well (i.e., he never comes off the field) was able to use his speed to out-flank the T-Bird defense
on sweeps.

“I’ve got to give credit to the blocking upfront,” said the modest Stola. “We have been working
really hard, in drills and in meetings, even from last year when a lot of things didn’t go our way.
But today, our offensive line was great. Our defense was amazing. I think all phases today
showed that Northport is ready to make a difference after all this time away from football.”

In 2019, the Tigers were ravaged by injuries, had a 2-6 season and missed the playoffs for the
first time in a decade.

“Last year [2019] we had a different kind of epidemic and it was injuries,” lamented Campbell.
“We had 22 separate injuries, many of which were season ending. We went through five
quarterbacks and by the time we got to the last game of the year, we were on our sixth.”

This year’s signal caller, senior Conner Gallagher, had a quiet game, completing half of his eight
pass attempts for 40 yards, but Campbell felt he did a fine job leading the offense.

“Conner looked good on the tape I saw,” Campbell said. “He’s going to be called upon to make
some big throws for us this year. But today, we were able to run it effectively.”

Looking at tape and holding virtual meetings are what the team is relegated to for the next week
and a half, but the coach is already planning on how to make best use of that time as they still
plan to play Huntington on March 27.

“It’s going to be hard, but I think it’s important to keep the routine and schedule and devote the
time to football that we planned on,” Campbell said. “As far as staying in shape physically, that’s
up to each kid being accountable for himself. The kids are in charge of the culture on this team,
and we have many great leaders. I have confidence in our leaders to be able to rally them up and
we’ll step up to this challenge as a team.”

Just another 10-day challenge; for Northport football, they can add that to the five hundred that
came before.

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The Ward Melville girls volleyball team traveled to Connetquot High School Oct. 29 for the opening round of the volleyball playoffs. The Patriots lost 3-0.