By Bill Landon
Elijah Riley stole the show Saturday.
The Newfield football team continued its winning ways when the Wolverines defeated North Babylon, 32-6, in the semifinal round of the Division II playoffs Saturday.
And the Wolverines wasted no time hitting the scoreboard.
Riley, a senior wide receiver, scored his first of three touchdowns on the afternoon on a hand-off, where he broke to the right sideline and took off for the end zone, covering 60 yards along the way. Through swirling wind, senior kicker Jacob VanEssendelft split the uprights and Newfield took an early 7-0 lead.
North Babylon was unable to answer, and the team’s defense couldn’t stop senior quarterback Ryan Klemm next, who went to the air, finding senior tight end Austin Gubelman over the middle. On a second effort, Gubelman found the end zone for the score, and with the extra-point attempt wide left, helped put his team out in front 13-0 with 6:20 left in the opening quarter.
“We expected a very tough opponent — our defensive line started off with a big push on every play, it’s all on the defensive line,” Gubelman said. “[But] we didn’t play up to our best ability. Wer’e going to have to step it up with a good week of practice and we’re going to have to focus to get ready for Friday.”
The scoreboard went quiet until the opening play from scrimmage in the second half, where Riley struck again when he took off down the left sideline, outrunning any defender as he covered 63 yards for the score. With a failed two-point conversion attempt, the Wolverines settled for a 19-0 advantage.
Riley said North Babylon was a more potent opponent this week than they were when the Wolverines faced the Bulldogs earlier in the regular season, because the team had fewer injured players.
“They were a better team this week with their three returning starters — we had to prepare like we did last time, but just harder,” said Riley, who finished the game with 210 yards on 10 carries. “Our defense and our offense finished it out and our special teams did a great job.”
On their ensuing possession, North Babylon mounted its first sustained offensive drive. On a third-and-8 from Newfield’s 40-yard line, North Babylon’s ball carrier, Nick Grassa, took a hit from Gubelman that knocked the ball loose. Newfield junior Justin Ottenwalder recovered it at the 33-yard line with 8:38 left in the third quarter, arresting the scoring threat.
“We knew it was going to be a hard game and we prepared for them,” said Ottenwalder, who rushed for 49 yards on two carries. “But I knew it was going to be a tough game because they’re a good team.”
Newfield wasted no time cashing in on the Bulldogs’ mistake, and Klemm, despite the gusty wind, went to the air again. The quarterback found Riley in stride on a post-pattern play, and the wide receiver rushed across the field 39 yards for his final touchdown of the game. The stirring wind pushed the extra-point attempt wide left, and Newfield surged ahead 25-0 in the closing minutes of the third quarter.
The Wolverines weren’t done yet though, and on the second play from scrimmage to open the final stanza, Ottenwalder got the call. On a hand-off up the middle, the junior made something out of nothing when he broke to the outside, eluding two would-be tacklers for a 36-yard touchdown run. With VanEssendelft’s kick, the two helped the team to a 32-0 lead.
The Bulldogs would not go down without a fight, and with just over four minutes remaining Jajuan Winters, on a handoff from quarterback Jared Ziegler, punched his way into the end zone from eight yards out to put North Babylon on the scoreboard. The point-after attempt failed.
Newfield senior Steven Hoynacky took over under center the rest of the way as head coach Joe Piccininni flushed his bench — ensuring everyone saw playoff action.
“North Babylon’s a great football team — they’re a ground and pound attack and they come at you and if you make a mistake against them, they’ll make you pay for it,” Piccininni said. “I’m so proud of our kids stepping up today. They maintained their composure and they just got it done.”
With the win, Newfield advances to the Suffolk County championship at Stony Brook University’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium, where the Wolverines will take on Half Hollow Hills West Friday at 7 p.m.
“We’ll take it one day at a time — prepare each day,” Piccininni said. “But our preparation will be the same.”