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Interception

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Mustangs outscore Bayport-Blue Point 38-16 for homecoming victory

Losing senior halfback JoJo Pirreca to injury last week was a huge blow to Mount Sinai’s football team, but a junior fullback stepped up to fill the void.

Fullback and linebacker Mike Sabella scored four touchdowns, one coming on a 35-yard interception return, and added a fumble recovery to lead the Mustangs (4-2 in Division IV) to a 38-16 homecoming win over Bayport-Blue Point Oct. 14.

Mount Sinai’s Mike Sabella dashes into the end zone for a homecoming touchdown Oct. 14. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It’s a huge win for us after last week’s loss,” Sabella said. “We came together after losing at home and put up big numbers against a competitive team. We needed someone to step up when our halfback went down, and we had multiple players come ready to contribute.”

Sabella was quick to share credit despite totaling 191 yards rushing on 17 carries and returning a kickoff 80 yards for Mount Sinai’s first touchdown of the day.

“Obviously, nothing is more important than coming out and getting the win,” Sabella said. “The numbers I put up and the plays I make don’t matter unless the end result is a win. It was a bit sweeter knowing I played at a high level, but in the end winning the game is what really matters to the team and I.”

Although Bayport-Blue Point got on the board first, Sabella’s kickoff return to the house was a quick answer.

“Running down the field and beating 11 guys for an 80-yard touchdown, there’s not much you can do in a football game that is more exciting than that,” Sabella said. “Celebrating with my teammates in the end zone was an amazing feeling.”

Mount SInai’s Liam McGrath walks in a touchdown during the homecoming football game Oct. 14. Photo by Desirée Keegan

On his pick-six, which gave Mount Sinai the lead for good at 14-7, Sabella said he dropped back to watch for the slant route, which he said Mount Sinai’s coaches stressed in particular to watch for during practice.

“I saw the quarterback drop, got underneath the receiver’s slant route, and the football got thrown right into my hands,” he said. “Taking that interception to the end zone felt just like that kickoff return; it’s something teams just can’t account for. Those are plays that aren’t supposed to happen, and it felt great to make it happen and take that into the end zone.”

During its week of preparation Mount Sinai focused on Bayport-Blue Point’s potent passing attack. The Mustangs defense caused five turnovers, including additional fumble recoveries by Thomas Bokinz, Kevin Johnston and Antonio Palmiotto to go with Sabella’s two takeaways.

“My team executed the game plan the best we could today, and that result of that showed on the scoreboard at the end of the game,” Sabella said. “All week we focused on Bayport’s throwing game, and we caused a lot of struggles for their offense throughout the game, so credit to the coaching staff. On offense, we had a great performance from the linemen, which led to success in the running game. When we execute the game plan we set during the week, we are a very difficult team to deal with.”

Mount Sinai’s Thomas Bokinz holds back a tackler to protect his running back during the homecoming football game Oct. 14. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Mount Sinai junior running back Liam McGrath rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries to officially put the game out of reach. He said the continued support from the audience helped carry him into the end zone.

“It felt great to play in front of the town,” he said. “From the opening touchdown the crowd brought great energy to the team and it definitely set the tone for the rest of the game.”

Sabella said seeing his squad come away with the total team win is a big confidence booster for the important games ahead. Mount Sinai travels to Miller Place (5-1) Oct. 20 for a 6 p.m. game. The Panthers are fresh off a homecoming win of their own over previously undefeated Shoreham-Wading River. The Mustangs will head to Greenport (0-6) Oct. 27 for the final game of the season, currently scheduled for 6 p.m.

“Knowing we have two games left to play in this year’s regular season and we’ve already passed last years win total makes me feel great about our team going forward,” Sabella said. “We’re gaining momentum at the right time, and we’re going to continue to get better every week for playoffs. I believe if we continue on the path we’ve set ourselves on, we can really make some noise this postseason.”

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By Bill Landon

It wasn’t like the Newfield football team to trail in a game, but like the first and only other time they found themselves behind this season, it didn’t last.

Both times were against the Colts of Half Hollow Hills West. The first time was when the two teams faced off in September, when the Wolverines went on to outscore their opponent, 41-13. But this time, the teams were on a bigger stage — the Suffolk County Division II championship. Continuing its quest for a perfect season, Newfield propelled past a 20-18 deficit late in the second quarter to help the team claim its second county title since 2011, with a 58-34 victory at Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium Friday night.

“From the beginning of the season you work as hard as you can to get here,” Newfield senior Austin Gubelman said. “It’s a surreal feeling, it really is.”

Gubelman, a tight end, scored first on a short run, and after a failed two-point conversion attempt, Hills West cut the Wolverines’ lead in half with a field goal. Newfield senior Elijah Riley, a wide receiver who has been a one-man wrecking machine this postseason with eight touchdowns in the last three games, scored his first of four touchdowns off a handoff he took more than 50 yards for the 12-3 advantage, after another failed two-point conversion attempt, to end the scoring in the first.

The two teams totaled 952 yards, with 516 coming from Newfield. Riley alone finished the game with 146 yards on 11 carries.

With junior Justin Ottenwalder catching a pass up the middle and carrying it 71 yards for a touchdown run, the halfback, who caught three passes for 154 yards and gained 62 yards on eight carries, helped the Wolverines remain in front. But the Colts responded with another field goal and an interception on a screen pass that was returned for a touchdown. With the extra-point attempt successful, Newfield’s opponent took a 20-18 lead with 1:51 left in the half.

Just like in that September matchup, the Wolverines wouldn’t stay behind for long.

With 20 seconds on the clock, Riley took matters into his own hands. He took a handoff up the middle and found nothing. Bouncing off the wall of defenders, the senior looked for an open hole on his first, second and third attempts before cutting to the outside and finding the corner of the end zone from four yards out to put his team out in front, 24-10. From there, the Wolverines never looked back.

Hills West was on the move to start the second half, but a deep throw to a wide receiver was snatched by Newfield senior safety Denzel Williams. From the 18-yard line, Williams returned the interception up field to the 31-yard line. He finished with 108 yards on nine carries.

Newfield senior Ryan Klemm, the team’s quarterback, dumped a screen pass off to Ottenwalder, who jetted down the left sideline, covering 69 yards for the score. With the extra-point attempt by senior kicker Jacob VanEssendelft successful, the Wolverines extended their lead to 31-20 with 7:22 left in the third.

Klemm said he knew his team had the ability to bounce back, and the Wolverines refocused their efforts after a losing record at the end of last year.

“We knew we had a really talented team and we worked very hard in the offseason,” the quarterback said. “It’s surreal right now. It’s an awesome feeling, and it hasn’t quite sunk in yet.”

The Colts fumbled on the ensuing kickoff, and Newfield junior Jesse McKeever scooped it up and took off for the end zone. The cornerback was stopped just shy of the goal line, and the Wolverines offensive unit went back to work. Gubelman got the call and plowed his way up the middle for his second touchdown in the game. With a missed point-after attempt, the tight end put his team out front, 37-20.

With just over five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Half Hollow Hills West quarterback Anthony Lucarelli found the end zone on a keeper and, with the point after, the Colts closed the gap a bit.

On the ensuing play from scrimmage, Newfield called on Williams, the Middle Country sprinter, who dashed 64 yards across the field, leading blockers all the way to the end zone. With the kick from VanEssendelft good, Newfield jumped out to a 44-27 advantage.

And after a Hills West three-and-out, Newfield struck again.

With just over a minute left in the third quarter, Riley eluded three tacklers and covered 46 yards for six points. VanEssendelft’s kick split the uprights to blow the game open, 51-27.

Hills West went to the air the rest of the way, and tried to force long passes to make up for lost time. Lucarelli went deep to his wide receiver, who appeared to make the catch but bobbled the ball. Just as deadly defensively at cornerback as he is on offense as a wide receiver, Riley snatched the ball out of the Colts player’s hands for the interception with just over three minutes left in the contest.

The dominant and forceful senior finished the turnover he created with a short plunge into the end zone for his final touchdown of the game. Along with VanEssendelft’s kick, Riley’s score increased his team’s lead to 58-27.

Newfield head coach Joe Piccininni rested his starters on both sides of the ball the rest of the way, and Hills West made the most of the change by scoring one final touchdown.

“Our mistakes were hurting us and we faced a lot of adversity, but we were able to come back tonight,” Piccininni said. “We faced a great football team tonight — they didn’t fall back and they didn’t falter.”

With that, the team was crowned Suffolk County champions, and Newfield will take its undefeated season to the gridiron of Hofstra University on Friday, for a 4:30 p.m. kick off against MacArthur in the Long Island championship game. Although this year looked uncertain after the Wolverines’ 3-6 season last year, Gubelman said he thought his team could do it all along.

“I’ve known my teammates my whole life — we’ve been playing together since we were 5 years old,” he said. “We practice hard the same way we always do, come out with one vision: [to win the] Long Island Championship.”

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Panthers pick off passes, make big offensive moves to annihilate Eagles, 53-14

By Bill Landon

The Panthers pounced early, and often.

On Saturday afternoon, the Miller Place football team outscored Rocky Point 53-14 in their homecoming game. After the pregame parade of floats, the marching band, fire trucks, cheerleaders and the crowning of the king & queen, the Panthers went to work.

Miller Place moved the chains four minutes in and appeared to stall on a 4th-and-19, but a call from the playbook was to go for it, and they did. Miller Place senior quarterback Stephen Farrell faked a handoff and rolled to his right, he was able to see a clear path to senior wide receiver Thomas Bell, who found the end zone for the score.

“We practice that play a lot and it was too far for a field goal, so we might as well take a shot with a play that we practice all week,” Farrell said. “And when it’s run the right way, it looks good.”

With the point after good, the Panthers took an early lead, 7-0.

Rocky Point fumbled the ball on its next possession, and Miller Place sophomore running back Tyler Ammirato, on a long run, put the Panthers in scoring position. Two plays later, Ammirato finished what he started by powering into the end zone for the Panthers second score. With the extra-point kick successful, the team took a 14-0 lead with 4:23 left in the first quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, Rocky Point fielded the ball on the 1-yard line, and stepped back into its own end zone and took a knee, downing the ball in the Eagles’ own end zone and handing the Panthers two points on a safety.

With 1:36 left in the opening quarter, Miller Place senior running back Kemonte Mosely made something out of nothing when he stalled up the middle and bounced outside, running eight yards to the end zone. With junior Eric Romero-Cisneros’ kick good, the Panthers took a 23-0 advantage into the second quarter.

“Coaches told us to come out here and play our hearts out,” Mosely said. “It’s homecoming, and the last time for our seniors to come out here and make it big. Rocky Point’s our neighbor — we knew it was going to be a big game for us, so we came out here and played hard.”

The Eagles found the end zone on the opening play of the second quarter when senior quarterback Harrison Lynch found sophomore running back Alec Rinaldi for the touchdown. Junior Sean McGovern split the uprights, and his team trailed, 23-7.

From there, it went from bad to worse for the Eagles, as the Panthers continued to light up the scoreboard. First, senior running back Matthew Bell, on a hand off, stepped outside and strolled into the end zone untouched. Rock Point was desperate to stop the bleeding and threw a long ball down the right sideline only to have it picked off by Miller Place senior defensive back and co-captain Mike Bodnar, who ran it back to the 16-yard line. With 8:55 left in the half, Farrell found Matthew Bell, who caught the ball and ran 21 yards for the score and 37-7 lead.

“Words can’t describe how bad we wanted it — we had the heart and the hustle,” Bell said. “We wanted it more and that’s what happened.”

The Eagles couldn’t get any traction, as Lynch searched for an open receiver and threw the ball down the right sidelines, only to have it picked off again, this time, by senior defensive back Kevin Kelleher.

The Panthers took over on the 34-yard line, but were unable to move the chains. With a cold breeze sweeping through, Romero-Cisneros knocked the ball between the posts with 16 seconds left on the clock. His 37-yard field goal helped his team surge ahead 40-7.

On the subsequent kickoff, the Eagles had time for one or two more plays. Desperate to put points on the board before the halftime break, Rocky Point made another long attempt, but Kelleher again saw the pass and snatched the ball out of the air for his second interception on the day.

Thomas Bell opened the second half for Miller Place with an 85-yard kickoff return to put the Panthers deep into Eagles territory. Mosely got the call, again, and delivered. Two plays later, he pushed his way into the end zone, and just 15 seconds into the third quarter, Miller Place head coach Ron Petrie began rotating his bench players with the 47-7 advantage.

“Defensively, we set a tone early; they had a couple of quick three and outs,” Petrie said. “With what we do offensively, we knew we would be able to find some mismatches in the passing game, and I think that’s what opened it up for us.”

In the closing quarter, Ammirato struck again for the Panthers’ final score of the day.

“It was a great win and I’m happy we won for our seniors today,” Ammirato said.

With the missed extra point, the Panthers were out in front, 53-7.

Rocky Point wasn’t out of gas just yet, and the Eagles managed one more score with nine minutes left when senior running back Brandon Combs found the end zone to help bring the final score to 53-14.

Bell said the win was very satisfying.

“They fought hard, we fought hard; it’s all the preparation from our coaches that got us to where we are now,” he said.

Farrell wasn’t surprised by the win, and was proud of his team’s efforts as the Panthers improve to 4-2 in Division III, while Rocky Point dropped to 2-4.

“It just shows how hard we worked and how bad we wanted this win,” Farrell said. “We wanted it for all the fans, and we wanted it for all of us.”

Harborfields ties game to end 3rd quarter, Eagles score three touchdowns to pull away, 48-33

By Bill Landon

The Rocky Point football team pulled out a 48-33 victory in Saturday’s homecoming game, halting a late rally by visiting Harborfields, which tied the game at 27-27 after three quarters of play. The Eagles watched their first-half 27-12 advantage disappear in the third quarter, to make it a new game in the final 12 minutes of play. Rocky Point was able to outscore its opponent with three touchdowns in the final quarter in front of a capacity crowd, to move to 2-3 in Division III.

Rocky Point sophomore running back Peter LaSalla broke free from the line of scrimmage four minutes into the game and jetted down the left sideline for a 60-yard touchdown run and the first score of the game. Although the extra-point attempt failed, the team took an early 6-0 lead.

A minute later, the Tornadoes were unable to convert on downs, and punted the ball away to junior receiver Sean McGovern, who returned the punt 65 yards for the Eagles’ second touchdown of the game.

“We got a big play from Sean on that punt return,” Rocky Point senior quarterback Harrison Lynch said.

McGovern, also the kicker, finished what he started, and split the uprights to help his team break out to a 13-0 lead.

Harborfields answered back when quarterback Cody Cunningham, on a keeper, punched in for the score, but the Eagles blocked the extra-point kick attempt, to trail the Eagles, 13-6.

Lynch and sophomore Damian Rivera shared quarterback duties all afternoon, and Rivera, under center, passed the ball over to Lynch, who broke outside and went the distance for the touchdown. McGovern’s point-after was good, and the Eagles stretched their lead to 20-6.

Harborfields, on the longest sustained drive of the afternoon that consumed four minutes off the clock, ended its march across the field with a score, despite a penalty-plagued campaign that included a 15- yard unsportsmanlike conduct call. The extra-point kick attempt failed again, and the Tornadoes settled for a 20-12 deficit with just over two minutes left in the half.

Rocky Point looked to put the game away when Lynch, on a play-action pass, found LaSalla open down the right sideline. The running back gathered it in on a catch-and-run play, and recorded a 46-yard score. With the point after, the Eagles took a 27-12 advantage into the halftime break, but that lead didn’t last for long.

Harborfields moved the chains to open the second half only to cough the ball up four minutes in, as Rocky Point took possession on their own 25-yard line. Unable to capitalize, the Tornadoes were on the move again.

On a play-action pass, Harborfields quarterback Cody Cunningham found wide receiver Christian Mullings in the end zone for the score, and after a successful two-point conversion, made it a one-score game, 27-20.

On Rocky Points’ ensuing possession, the Eagles fumbled and Harborfields recovered the ball on the 34- yard line with less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter. On the second play from scrimmage, the Tornadoes cashed in and tied the game 27-27.

McGovern said he was surprised that Harborfields was able to even the score.

“It was a little bit of a shock, but we knew we could get back in it,” McGovern said. “Harry Lynch led us — he motivated. He sure can play; he’s a baller.”

Moving into the fourth quarter, the Eagles knew they had to finish the game the way they started.

“We just had to keep going, so we started the fourth like it was 0-0,” LaSalla said. “We put up the first two touchdowns [to start the game], so we knew we could do it again.”

The Eagles went to work in the final 12 minutes., and Lynch got the ball moving when he fired deep to the senior running back Paul Dominguez for a touchdown pass, as Rocky Point jumped back out in front, 34-27.

Cunningham looking to retie the game, and dropped back to pass, but had to check down, or look for his secondary receivers, and was blindsided just as he released the ball. Rocky Point junior tight end and defensive back Brendan Heggers found himself under the ill-fated pass, and grabbed possession for the interception.

“We came out a little flat after halftime,” Lynch said, “but we picked it up after that interception, and just got things rolling after that.”

The Eagles wasted no time in cashing in on Harborfield’s miscue, and sophomore running back Alec Rinaldi plowed his way up the middle to find the end zone. McGovern split the pipes once again, and the Eagles surged ahead 41-27 with seven minutes left to play.

Harborfields wouldn’t go quietly, and Cunningham bulled his way up the middle for six points, but the extra-point attempt missed. Rocky Point put the game away with just under two minutes remaining when Rinaldi struck again, and the successful point-after brought the final score to 48-33.

“Harborfields is a tough team,” Lynch said. Opening the fourth quarter, the quarterback said: “We gotta get it done. We’ve just gotta find a way to get it done; it’s as simple as that.”

And the Eagles did.

Rocky Point will hit the road Saturday as the team heads to Miller Place. Opening kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.