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Lindenhurst Bulldogs

By Steven Zaitz

Almost exactly one year ago, the Northport Football Tigers held a two-touchdown lead against perennial power Lindenhurst and were six minutes away from playing for a Suffolk County title. 

But a missed extra point, a ton of costly penalties and two late scores by the Bulldogs were all part of a disastrous 4th quarter sequence that ended the Tigers’ season on that cold, wet and dreadful night on the Great South Bay. Northport would need to wait fifty-one weeks for a chance at retribution. They would have it.

In a stirring performance, led by backup quarterback Macklin O’Brien’s three touchdown tosses and a relentless pass rush that registered nine sacks, the Tigers crushed Lindenhurst this past Saturday, 21-7 in Northport, to advance to the Suffolk Conference II Final against the Bellport Clippers. This high-stakes game will be played at Stony Brook University on Friday, November 18.

O’Brien, filling in for Tiger star QB Owen Johansen, who broke his ankle against Bellport and was lost for the season four weeks ago, had his best day throwing the ball. He completed 7 of 9 passes for 149 and three scores and did not turn the ball over — a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3.

Despite the pressure growing with each passing round of the playoffs, O’Brien has remained cool and collected on the field and off. “I just try to stay focused and keep improving,” said the lanky senior. “When I first stepped in for Owen, I had some pretty big shoes to fill but with each week, I’ve gotten more comfortable.”

The Tigers lost that game against Bellport, when O’Brien was thrust into the spotlight midway through the first quarter.  Since then, The Tigers are 4-0 in games he has started.

“Macklin works hard, and he’s always worked hard, that’s just the way he is,” said Tiger Head Coach Pat Campbell. “He’s a really good athlete and I know some people felt the sky was falling when Owen got hurt, but nobody in our room felt that way. Good teams pick each other up and rely on the guy next to them and I think having that mentality from everyone —players and coaches — has fostered success for the whole team and for Mack.”

The opening drive of the game was a symbol of this success for O’Brien as well as their All-Suffolk tight end Andrew Miller. Miller took a short rollout pass from O’Brien and rambled 56 yards down the far sideline on the very first play from scrimmage. Miller would score three plays later beating double coverage in the back-right corner of the end zone and the Tigers led 7-0 barely two minutes into the game.

Despite this explosive start, the rest of the first half was kind of a snooze-fest, as the teams traded fruitless drives in and around the middle of the field for the better part of two quarters.

However, with less than a minute to go in the half, Lindenhurst quarterback Christian Capogna scrambled for 20 yards to the Northport 12-yard line. On the next play, Bulldog superstar Chris Carson, who is a finalist for the Hansen award that is given to the Most Valuable Player in Suffolk County, caught a touchdown pass at the pylon with six seconds remaining in the half. This tied the score at 7-7 and took a lot of the air out of the blue and gold balloon going into halftime. 

But it would get refilled in short order.

After stopping Lindenhurst three and out to start the second half, the combination of O’Brien to Miller would do damage again as they connected on a 38-yard TD strike down the middle of the field. Miller beat his man, safety Dominick Artale, on a simple post pattern and O’Brien lofted a perfect rainbow to Miller just as he crossed the goal line.

Miller had his second touchdown catch of the day and the Tigers took the lead back with just three minutes gone in the 3rd quarter.

“Macklin has adjusted great, and he’s been very focused since he took over the offense,” said Miller. “On the second touchdown, I made a move to get the defender to flip his hips and Mack threw a great ball that led me right into the end zone.”

Miller had 4 receptions for 117 yards and 2 touchdowns on the day.  He also had a big third down run with a 12 yard rush up the middle, keeping a drive alive in the third quarter. This led to a 31-yard TD dart from O’Brien to wide receiver Nick Valenti, giving the Tigers a 21-7 lead. It was quite a day for Miller, but his offensive output is only half the story.

The senior is also a big part of the Tiger defense that took up residence in the Bulldog backfield all day. In addition to the nine sacks, one of which was by Miller, Northport limited Lindenhurst to a puny 110 yards of total offense and there would be no blown leads for the Tigers this time around.

Defensive linemen Matt Diaz and Nick Tzimas each had three sacks and All County linebacker Tim Cleary had one. Safety Michael Campoli had nine total tackles, and linemen Thomas Kraus and Matt Lugo had seven each in what was a master class in defensive football. Campbell has pushed all the right buttons this year in increasing reps for guys who had reduced roles before Johansen’s injury. Tzimas, who just started playing organized football this year, is one of those guys.

“It’s been a bit of a learning curve, especially in the beginning,” said Tzimas, who is also a star lacrosse defenseman for the Tigers. “It’s very cool to be able to make an impact and it seemed like every play at least one or two of us was chasing down their quarterback.”

Lindenhurst switched up their offensive alignment on the fly, trying in desperation to find anything to generate sustained drives. Nothing worked. 

Carson, who can do anything asked of him on a football field, is primarily a wide receiver. But Lindenhurst Head Coach Nick Lombardo had him running a wildcat-type offense at quarterback for a good chunk of the second half. He was bottled up for much of what must have been a frustrating day, his last in a Lindenhurst uniform.

“We didn’t play Lindy-tough football today,” said Carson. “There is nobody to really point the finger at. It was all of us and there really is no excuse for it.”

The Tigers manhandled the Bulldogs in the regular season meeting, beating them 19-0 in early October. Dominating a team of this caliber by a composite 40-7 is no small feat and thus they are rewarded with their first trip to a final such as this since they won the Large School Championship in 1991. They beat Bellport 28-9 that day and the rematch comes 31 years later with the stakes just as high.

 “We’ve had a nice year and a lot of success so far,” Campbell said. “The way the chips have fallen this year, we’ve had to overcome a lot of adversity. The kids are the ones that make it all happen and I’m just interested to see where it all ends up.”

As the Tigers face the team that dealt them their last loss, knocked out their star player and in many ways, set them on their current trajectory, the entire Suffolk County High School Football universe will be watching with interest as well.

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It was Tommy Engel who had the hot hand for the Patriots and scored seemingly from anywhere on the floor as the senior forward banked a team high 27 points for Ward Melville in a 71-28 victory over Lindenhurst. Engel drained seven three-pointers and netted three field goals to lead his team in the League II home game Dec 17.

Senior Frank Carroll banked five from the floor and one from the line for 11 points, and Lorenzo Beaton scored seven. The win lifts the Patriots to 2-0 in league, 6-0 overall. 

The Patriots are back in action with a road game against Commack Dec 22. Tip-off is at 6:45 p.m. 

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With 11 seconds left in regulation, the Northport Tigers boys basketball team clung to a 1-point lead hoping to run out the clock on the road against Bay Shore Feb. 16. But the 1-point victory was not to be, when Bay Shore grabbed an offensive rebound, passed to Jamari Smith-Elie who drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to snatch a 46-44 win.

Northport tasted its first defeat of the season having handily defeating Lindenhurst 80-31 in their season opener and besting Central Islip 55-40 Feb. 15.

Northport senior Patrick Healy scored 3 from the floor, a triple and 3 from the stripe to lead the Tigers with 12 points. Jason Ahlstrand followed with 11 and teammates Nicholas Watts and Jake Santamaria banked 8 points apiece.

In this COVID-19 abbreviated season, the Tigers have five games left in the next eight days as the regular season wraps up Feb. 25, before post season play begins.

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By Steven Zaitz

The Power Triangle may be gone, but success roars on for the Lady Tigers.

The Northport girls basketball team picked up right where they left off pre-pandemic, as they opened the short season last Friday with an 80-32 dismantling of the Lindenhurst Bulldogs.

Daniella Pavinelli, Kelly McLaughlin and Kerry Dennin, highly decorated players that led the Lady Tigers to the Suffolk County championship in 2020, are now freshmen
in college.

However, Coach Richard Castellano has seen this movie. He has been putting together championship caliber teams for four decades and is fully aware that each player’s tenure with the team, no matter how talented they are, is so very finite.

“Yeah, we lost a few players,” said the affable Castellano in a fit of understatement. “But every team does. We try to put five girls on the floor who can score and five girls who can play defense. If we share the wealth and share the basketball, we are successful. And today we were.”

The players have obviously bought in to this style of ball as ten different Tigers registered points in this opening day rout that took place at Lindenhurst.

Juniors Sophia Bica and Sophia Yearwood led the way, combining for 40 points and 15 rebounds. As the first half lead ballooned to 20, it was Sophia and Sophia slicing and dicing through Lindenhurst’s defense, which seemed to be in no mood to guard anyone. Bica had 21 points to lead Northport with Yearwood booking 19. They both rested the entire 4th quarter.

Junior forward Allison Soule was a terror around the rim with 10 rebounds and 4 blocks, and team captain Emma Blanco had 10 points. Natalia Donofrio and Rachel Mincone added a thick layer of icing on the cake combining for 12 points in the 4th quarter, with Donofrio canning two 3-pointers, and Mincone injecting her signature brand of energy despite the lopsided score.

Lindenhurst forward Kelly Griffin, who led all scorers with 23, scored 18 of those in the first half, as the Tiger defense clamped down on her as the game wore on. The rest of Griffin’s teammates combined for only 9 points for the entire game and the Bulldogs failed to score even a single point in the 4th quarter.

“She (Griffin) was second in Suffolk County in 3-point goals last year, and we knew we had to key on her,” Castellano said. “We didn’t defend as well as I know we can in the first half.”

That might seem a little bit of a harsh critique for a team that pitched a shutout for an entire quarter of basketball, but Castellano has built both a reputation and a program that constantly strives for excellence. He and his Lady Tigers are never satisfied.

“I’m blessed to have girls who buy into the design of sharing the ball and finding the open person,” he said. “It’s something that we as a program always take pride in.”

To punctuate this resounding victory, the next day, Bica and Yearwood were listed in Newsday’s Top 100 girls basketball players on Long Island for 2021. Lindenhurst’s Griffin is also on the list.

“It is an honor to be mentioned along with these talented female athletes,” Bica said. “It is very encouraging to see that with hard work and dedication, you can achieve anything you put your mind to. I have been fortunate enough to work with great coaches and trainers who helped me develop into the player I am today.”

As has been the protocol, there were no fans in the stands as Section XI is doing everything in its power to allow high school athletics to continue uninterrupted. They have provided livestreams to many high school events that can be found on the Section XI website, www.sectionxi.org.

The Lady Tigers have a grueling schedule in the next 10 days, playing seven games.

“It doesn’t make for a lot of practice time,” Castellano said. “But these are crazy times for everyone, and we have to make the best of it.”

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Junior forward Summer Agostino broke the ice for the Ward Melville Patriots girls soccer team 21 minutes in, off an assist from Kate Ancona for a 1-0 lead against visiting Lindenhurst Oct. 10. Midway through the second half Jessica Tampori fed the ball to Katie Cosenza whose shot found its mark for the insurance goal as the Patriots blanked the Bulldogs, 2-0. Freshman goalie Elyse Munoz had three saves in net.

The Oct. 10 win lifted the Patriots to 7-3 in Division I. Ward Melville took to the field again when they hit the road Oct. 16 to take on Centereach. Results were not available at press time.

Pictured clockwise from above, Ward Melville co-captain Katie Cosenza settles the ball; co-captain Kiley Hamou dribbles around two Lindenhurst defenders; sophomore forward Ancona pushes upfield; Ward Melville senior Eileen Whelan pushes the ball upfield; and Cosenza cuts inside.

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The Centereach Cougars varsity football team traveled to Lindenhurst Middle School to take on the Bulldogs on Nov. 10. The Cougars fell to Lindenhurst 14 -7 in the Division II county semifinal.