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Steven Zaitz

By Steven Zaitz

The Greenlawn Fire Department’s Fair, held every Labor Day weekend, is New York state’s longest-running fireman’s fair. It has run since the very early part of the 20th century.

The 2023 Greenlawn Fireman’s Fair grand marshal for the parade was coach George Kouroutis, who saved the life of a youth soccer player this past August. Kouroutis used an automated external defibrillator, restoring the young man’s heart rhythm and saving his life.

The fair ran for four days from Aug. 31 to Sept. 3 and featured raffles, face-painting, a giant slide and food and drink for both young and old alike.

Prizes that raffled off included a big screen television set, a gas grill, sided of high-quality beef. The grand prize, which was awarded on Sunday evening, was $10,000 in cash.

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Northport celebrates winning its season opener against Comsewogue. All photos by Steven Zaitz

By Steven Zaitz

Students across Long Island squeezed one last day out of summer vacation Tuesday, Sept. 5, but the Northport Tiger boys volleyball team was certainly open for business.

The Tigers traveled to Port Jefferson Station and vanquished the Comsewogue Warriors in three straight games, barely breaking a sweat. The scores were 25-17, 25-17 and a final dominating game of 25-8 to close out the match.

It marked the debut of new head coach, Liz Capra — Northport Class of 2000, former lady Tiger volleyball star and University of Delaware graduate. She was the girls junior varsity coach last year and has now taken over from the departed Amanda DiPietro, who had piloted the team since 2008.

The Tigers dominated the match from wire to wire as senior middle hitters Brendan Fenlon and Peter Kucza imposed their size over the smaller front line of Comsewogue. Fenlon had eight kills and Kucza had six to go along with his seven blocks at the net. Setter Dylan Sofarelli had an eye-popping 23 assists as well as 6 digs.

“It felt like nobody could stop us out there tonight,” said Sofarelli. “There is no better feeling than that, and it was awesome.”

Capra was pleased about the way  the way the Tigers played as a team, considering that the season is in its infancy.

“It was a total team effort tonight,” Capra said. “We served very well, got the ball deep, and that kept them from easily setting up their offense.”

The Tigers took advantage by taking shallow returns and bombing away from every angle, spiking the ball almost at will against the outgunned Warriors.

Above, middle hitter Peter Kucza with one of his six kills. Photo by Steven Zaitz

“It’s a great way to kick off the year,” Kucza said. “Coach Capra had us prepared, she’s very knowledgeable about the game. We really had a good plan and once we started to get warmed up, we played really well.”

Getting warmed up was not exactly difficult for either team on this day, as it was 90 degrees outside at the start of the match and probably an extra 10 degrees inside the Comsewogue gym. In fact, the volleyball itself had to be switched out several times due to moisture accumulation and the floor had to be mopped frequently between points. None of these factors slowed down Northport.

“Coach DiPietro did such an amazing job of building a strong foundation for this program,” said Capra, who as a middle hitter won two Long Island championships and three league championships as a Lady Tiger. “It’s a privilege to get the opportunity to carry on the excellence of Northport volleyball as a former player to now, 23 years later, as a coach. It feels great to start off with this win.”

If Tuesday’s match result is any indication, it will be the first of many for Capra. When asked if she’s ready for perhaps a 15-year run of her own as coach, she displayed that she has already mastered yet another aspect of coaching — handling the media.

“We got to take them one match at a time,” she said.

That next match will be at West Babylon Sept. 7. Capra will make her home debut as coach against Patchogue-Medford on Sept. 13.

By Steven Zaitz

Country came to Commack.

Nathan Dean & The Damn Band moseyed onto the Hoyt Farm concert stage Saturday night, Aug. 26, and thrilled the crowd of about 300.

Playing mostly original material as well as crowd-pleasing covers from Shania Twain and Tracy Chapman, the foursome headed by Dean on lead vocals/guitar had the crowd, young and old, up on their feet and dancing in front of the stage for much of the evening.

Founded in Arizona in 2005, Dean’s group plays well over 200 shows a year and tours across the country. The quartet has shared the stage with artists such Dylan Scott, LOCASH, Big & Rich, Cody Johnson, Randy Rogers Band, Diamond Rio and Eric Church. The Dean band was recently nominated for three Josie awards for entertainer, artist and group of the year. The Josie Music Awards honors excellence and outstanding talents and creativity across the independent music industry.

In the month of August alone, the band has graced stages in places like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Chicago, and Grand Junction, Colorado. The group features Dean, Jason Judd (lead guitar and backup vocals), Bill Bogan (drums and backup vocals) and Chris Duke (bass guitar).

The concert was the finale of the Hoyt Farm summer concert series for 2023.

 

By Steven Zaitz

Music lovers packed the area behind Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices on Main Street this past Friday, Aug. 11, for the latest installment of the Musical Moments in Kings Park concert series.

Coinciding with sunset, the crowd of about 700 enjoyed “Tequila Sunrise” and other past hits from California soft-rock legends, the Eagles, performed by the local six-piece tribute outfit known as the Eagle River Band.

There was barely an inch of space for one more lawn chair in and around Russ Savatt Park in Village Plaza, as band leaders Paul Graf and Kevin Byrne both ably impersonated Eagle front men Don Henley and Glenn Frey all evening long.

The band played all the hits of the 1970s and ’80s such as “Take It To The Limit,” “Life In The Fast Lane,” and “Desperado,” and formed a warm rapport with the audience as they made light-hearted, self-deprecating cracks at one another throughout the show.

The amiable Graf, who also uses the stage name Paul Henry, was the principal at Smithtown Elementary School from 1988-2012 and has great experience entertaining the masses. One of his annual thrills while serving at Smithtown Elementary was dressing up as Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat with full face paint as well as performing for the students whenever the opportunity presented itself.

“I’ve been playing and singing in front of my parents’ fireplace since I was kid,” said Graf, from Mount Sinai. “It’s an honor to be back in Kings Park and playing here again because the people here are always responsive, and they are a great audience.”

Graf was one of the first musicians ever to play at Musical Moments, which is supported by the Kings Park Civic Association. In 2008, the inaugural year of the series, he played as a duet with his friend Jeff Laino on bass guitar in front of a much smaller audience.

“I remember it was pouring raining and there were a few hardy souls in the crowd that night,” said Graf. “But we did our best.”

Fast forward 15 years and the delightful summer breeze, a crowd that was almost backed up onto the train platform and Graf and his five bandmates made for a perfect musical weekend kickoff.

Formed in 2017, Eagle River Band has seen lineup changes on occasion, but now features Jim Cairo (bass guitar and vocals), Mike Draddy (keyboards, guitars and vocals), Steve Lobmeier (drums) and Joe Savio (guitars and vocals) in addition to Graf (guitar, mandolin and harmonica) and Byrne (guitars and vocals). Savio was responsible for many of the famous guitar solos of legendary guitarist Joe Walsh.

The band played for about two hours and the crowd size and enthusiasm grew to a crescendo together with the music, as the band encored and closed with the Eagles’ most-beloved smash, “Hotel California” — and indeed for everyone at Russ Savatt Park in the center of Kings Park, it was “such a lovely place.”

The Kings Park Civic Association is a community group consisting of local residents who volunteer their time and energy to help maintain the highest standards of quality of life in Kings Park. Founded in 1970, KPCA has a long history of acting as a community advocate. 

Carol Kelly is a member of the association and she spearheaded and currently organizes the Musical Moments program. Local sponsors and raffle drawings fuel the project, and the Eagle River Band was the fourth act out of five for this year’s summer program. The country band Urban Rodeo will play the finale Friday, Aug. 25, at 7:30 p.m.

Winning pitcher Alex Peña celebrates St. James-Smithtown Little League’s 14U championship with coach Rich Conner. Peña had two hits on the day and pitched the final 3 2/3 innings for the win. Photo by Steven Zaitz

By Steven Zaitz

In the world of Little League baseball, when players reach their 13th birthday, they are forced into retirement – barely teenagers yet too old to play. 

Those days are over. 

In just their second year of existence, the St. James-Smithtown Bulls won the 14U Half Hollow Hills Summer Little League Championship on Saturday, Aug. 5, at Otsego Park in Dix Hills. In dramatic fashion, the Bulls scored two runs in their final turn at bat to triumph with a 3-2 victory over Bay Shore.  

This team of grizzled “veterans” now join in on the summer-long celebration of softball and baseball excellence in Smithtown.

Smithtown 14U shortstop Brandon Castoro strokes a two-run double to give the Bulls a 3-2 lead over Bay Shore in the Half Hollow Hills Junior C championship game. Photo by Steven Zaitz

The improbable win capped off a 10-6 season following their inaugural season in 2022 when they stumbled to a 5-16 record. Head coach, Rich Conner, assembled this team and applied for admittance to Half Hollow Hills Junior C League because he wanted to prolong the baseball life expectancy for kids who “age out” of traditional Little Leagues when they become teenagers. 

His son Dylan, who plays second base for the 14U Bulls, wanted to keep playing without the joining the grueling and ultra-competitive travel leagues. It was out of Dylan and his friends’ desire to continue that motivated his dad to launch the team.

“Initially, we sent an email to everyone our league, I think we got three or four kids,” said the elder Conner, who played at SUNY Albany and has coached at St. Joseph’s and Hofstra universities. “Dylan reached out to some of the kids he knew and from there, with some word of mouth, we were able to put a product on the field. The first season we did this, we were a younger team and we struggled but nobody wanted to quit. One year later, look at what happened. We won the championship.”

To win it, the Bulls had to go through Bay Shore, who won 11 out of 16 in the regular season, including five in a row to end their year. The South Shore team trotted out their ace right-hander Tyler Drago to try and secure a ring. Drago was untouchable over the first four innings, striking out eight and allowing only two baserunners.

Smithtown starter Nathan LoRe, despite loads of heavy traffic, managed to keep Bay Shore off the board for three innings. He allowed the first two runners to reach and was relieved by Alex Peña, who allowed his inherited runners to score but nothing more. The only ball that was well struck in the inning was by cleanup hitter Christopher DiGiovanni, who Peña dueled for nine pitches until Giovanni knocked in the first run of the game with a single up the middle.    

“Alex plays at a very high level, and he’s a perfectionist,” Conner said. “That inning could have gotten out of hand, and Alex did a fantastic job of limiting the damage and keeping us in the game.” 

“I wasn’t happy giving up that hit,” said Peña, who missed a chunk of games in the middle of the year with an ankle injury. “We battled hard against each other, and [DiGiovanni] won that battle.”

The way Drago was throwing, it looked like Bay Shore was also going to win the war. 

“He threw pretty hard,” Peña said of Drago. “But not only that, he was locating his pitches where he wanted to, so he gave us a hard time.”

Niko Kostas steals second base for the Bulls. Photo by Steven Zaitz

But after 106 pitches, Drago was out of the game after six innings. Clinging to a 2-1 lead, Bay Shore summoned righty reliever Jake LaGrange. The Bulls got to work on him immediately. 

Left fielder D.J. Savage, who saved three runs in early in the game with a nifty, two-out, bases-loaded catch, led off the seventh with a single to left. He was sacrificed to second by Jake Scandaliato.  

Peña drove a hard single to center and Conner, who is the third base coach, elected to hold Savage at third and not risk running the Bulls out of a very promising inning. After Peña stole second, Smithtown had the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position for power-hitting shortstop Brandon Castoro. 

Castoro drove LaGrange’s  second offering deep into the left-center field gap and all the way to the wall – a two RBI double that turned a 2-1 Smithtown deficit into a 3-2 lead. 

Castoro pumped his fist proudly as he stood on second base. His teammates in the dugout and Bulls fans on the first base side screamed in delight. 

“I took the first pitch for a strike so Alex could steal second,” said Castoro. “After that, I was looking for something in the middle, and I put a good swing on it.”

The shortstop and his family were not even supposed to be at the game, as they had tickets to a Metallica concert in New Jersey. But after the team won their semifinal game against West Babylon three days earlier, the Castoros altered their travel arrangements. 

“I’m extremely glad I was able to play in this game,” said Castoro. “It feels great and refreshing to see all the work that we put in paying off with this championship.” 

Despite the sudden good fortune on the Smithtown side, it may have been lost on some folks that there was the matter of the bottom of the seventh. This was still a one-run game.

“I knew that there was still work to do,” Peña said. 

Named the game’s MVP for his work at the plate, on the bases and on the mound, Peña, who pitched a scoreless 3 2/3 innings to earn the win,  calmly struck out the first two batters on six pitches and got the last out on a harmless fly ball to Savage.

The game was over, and for Smithtown the rest of the day at Otsego Park was filled with bear hugs, Gatorade showers, smiling parents and photo ops with the championship trophy. 

“Over the two years that we’ve done this, the players and parents have become like a family,” Conner said. “Hopefully this will result in interest from the community and let people know that baseball is not over for a large portion of Smithtown kids at ages 13 and 14, if they don’t want it to be. Just look at what can happen.”

A championship happened — pretty good for a team that is competing in only its second year with most of its members playing at the ripe old age of 14

St. James-Smithtown Little League 2023 Accomplishments:

14U
Baseball:
Half Hollow Hills Junior C Champions 12U
Baseball:
District 35 champs, Section 4E finalists

10U
Baseball:
District 35 and Section 4E champs, New York State “Elite Eight”

12U
Softball:
District 35 and Section 4E champs, New York State “Final Four”

11U
Softball:
District 35 Champs, Section 4E finalists

Host Location for 2023 New York State Softball Championship Tournament for 10U, 11U, and 12U

 

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Eric Dubin, left, of The Whiskey Crows rocks Lake Avenue Sunday night, Aug. 6, during the Celebrate St. James concert series. Photo by Steven Zaitz

By Steven Zaitz

If you were strolling down Lake Avenue in St. James this past Sunday evening, Aug. 6, you might have been compelled to check the map on your phone to see if you were magically transported to Asbury Park, New Jersey.

Springsteen’s “Rosalita” rang out from Celebrate Park in the latest of the 2023 Summer Concert Series and this time it was The Whiskey Crows who got the people on their feet. The dynamic eight-piece band is an upbeat rock ‘n’ roll, twang and soul revue in the Jersey Shore bar band tradition. The band included a three-piece horn section.

Energetic front man Eric Dubin bounced around the stage and, thanks to the technology of wireless amplifiers, was able to sing and play while mixing with the crowd.

With a mix of Elvis, Dobie Gray, Mitch Ryder, St. James-resident Dubin and the boys played for two hours and had the crowd dancing with them in front of the canopied stage.

In addition to Dubin, the band features Mike Breier (bass and vocals), Rich Dashnaw (guitar and vocals), Andrew Rubenstein (drums), Joe Ferrante (keyboards and vocals), Mike Baratelli (saxophone), Josh Seifert (trombone) and Joe Boardman (trumpet).

As part of the Celebrate St. James Summer, a lucky raffle winner won the tidy sum of $318. Second place was slightly less lucky with the prize being a Whiskey Crows T-shirt.

Celebrate St. James Past-Present-Future is a nonprofit cultural arts organization. Housed in the historic St. James Calderone Theatre and built in the early 1900s, its mission is to preserve and celebrate St. James’ rich history and inspire an appreciation and knowledge of the arts in the community. 

Founded in 2017, Celebrate St. James was born as a nonprofit cultural arts organization by Jack Ader, Arline Goldstein and Natalie Weinstein to assist in the revitalization of the Lake Avenue district.

In November 2020, Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and the Town Board joined Celebrate St. James in a groundbreaking ceremony commemorating the construction of Celebrate Park.

Blu Bayou, featuring the music of Linda Ronstadt, will play on Aug. 13 and the final concert will be Aug. 20 with SouthBound, which is heavily influenced by the music of the Allman Brothers.  

On a picture-perfect evening, the Sound Symphony Orchestra took to the Village Green of the Caroline Episcopal Church in historic Setauket and filled the Three Village air with music from its diverse songbook.

The 300 Lights Pops concert was free and part of the church’s 300-year anniversary celebration, which coincided with the arrival of a welcomed autumnal chill that replaced a sticky heat wave that had been in place on Long Island for more than a week. 

Under the direction of maestro Dorothy Savitch, the 60-piece orchestra, many of whom are former Comsewogue High School musicians, delighted the crowd with tunes from the likes of Mozart, Cyndi Lauper, Puccini and George Gershwin – just to name a few.

One of the highlights of the evening was the appearance of world-renown soprano Stefanie Izzo, who belted out arias from “Così fan tutte” and “La bohème” that drew warm and sustained applause from the crowd of about 300 that filled the great lawn. 

Overlooking the Setauket Village Green, the Caroline Episcopal Church of Setauket’s congregation started in 1723 and the church building was erected in 1729. It is listed on the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places, and in addition to this free concert, it has marked its tricentennial with plaque unveilings, historical lectures and special sermons and services.

On Sunday, hundreds of white lanterns lit the perimeter of the grounds and as the late summer afternoon turned to dusk, they shone more conspicuously around the venue. The music started with a medley of hits from the musical “Grease,” which of course included the smash hit “Summer Lovin’”. Soon after, Izzo took to the stage.

In addition to her singing, Izzo cheerfully explained the settings, characters and context of the arias for the benefit of the opera-uninitiated. 

The soprano has studied languages and performed recitals in Italy, Germany and Austria, and was chosen as the first-ever recipient of the National Italian American Foundation’s Andrea Bocelli Music Scholarship. Along with her solo work, Izzo is a co-founder of the Queens-based chamber group The Astoria Music Project, which has been hailed by critics as possessing a “flawless soprano” and a “gorgeously rich and full sound” for her work in opera and musical theatre. She was nothing short of that on this Sunday in Setauket, with her rendering of the works of Verdi, Puccini, Mozart and Gershwin.

The orchestra was also pitch-perfect, led by Savitch, who also serves as the director of the Brooklyn Conservatory’s Music Partner’s Program, which provides hands-on musical training to nearly 5,000 New York City schoolchildren. She has been the musical director of SSO since 1997, and during that 26-year period, the orchestra has grown into one the finest community ensembles in the New York metropolitan area, receiving high praise for their vibrant performances and expansive repertoire.

This night certainly could be counted on that list. Another major highlight was the “Armed Forces Salute Medley.” Savitch encouraged the military veterans to stand up when they heard the song of their branch of service. She led the band in “Anchors Aweigh,” “The U.S. Air Force,” “The Marines’ Hymn” and “The Army Goes Rolling Along.”

The crowd gave each person who stood up during the 7-minute medley a round of applause in gratitude for their service to the nation.

Saints Philip and James R.C. Church hosted its annual Family Festival from June 15 to 18. Despite some small periods of rain, the event drew thousands to St. James looking for exciting carnival rides by Newton Shows, treats, games and more. 

All photos by Steven Zaitz/TBR News Media

Photographer Steven Zaitz won second place in the Best Picture Story category for his coverage of the Town of Smithtown’s Memorial Day Parade.

By Heidi Sutton

From news articles and feature stories to photography, special supplements, ad projects and classifieds, TBR News Media  took home 11 awards from the New York Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest this year. The winners were announced during NYPA’s annual Spring Conference and Trade Show in Albany on March 31 and April 1.

Over 150 newspapers in New York State took part in the annual event celebrating newspaper excellence with 2,657 entries competing for 380 awards in 73 categories covering the editorial, advertising and circulation efforts of the state’s dailies and weeklies. Members of the Colorado Press Association were tasked with judging this year’s contest.

“Newspapers create a brand-new product on a daily or weekly basis, 52 weeks a year,” said New York Press Association Executive Director Michelle Rea in a press release. “They work on tight deadlines with small staffs, covering local government, breaking news, sports, business, entertainment, and more. Receiving recognition from their peers in another state is affirming and energizing. We salute them for the top quality, important work they do.”

TBR News Media’s weekly opinion piece, D. None of the Above by Daniel Dunaief, captured first place for Best Column. In reviewing the three submissions — “The complexities of plural nouns and words for animal groups,” “From Suffolk, UK, to Suffolk, NY, a family reflects on the late queen,” and “Seeing teachers through the eyes of an appreciative child” — the judge wrote, “Imaginative and compelling. Fun storytelling that makes for an easy read.”

Editor Raymond Janis won second place in the Coverage of Local Government category. Regarding his submissions of the articles “Uptown Port Jeff undergoes transformation” and “On the edge: Port Jeff Village weighs the fate of its country club,” the judge commented, “This reporter delves deep into a complicated story about a town landmark and development pressures and how a community can approach preserving a delicate area in the face of continued deterioration. Nicely written, well-sourced and clearly a story that is of deep interest to this community. This kind of coverage is the hallmark of strong local reporting.”

Janis also received an Honorable Mention in the Best News or Feature Series category for covering the Town of Brookhaven’s redistricting process.

TBR News Media was honored with second place in the Best Local Business Support Campaign category for its annual People of the Year feature which honors community members who have shared their time and talents to enhance the place they live for the benefit of all. “Nice program,” wrote the judge. “Shows involvement in the community. And involves the community.”

Managing editor Rita J. Egan received an Honorable Mention in the Best Feature Story category for her article titled “Town to move Roe Tavern back to North Country Road in East Setauket.” The judge wrote, “I like the way this combined current and historic information.”

Cartoon by Kyle Horne

The paper’s resident cartoonist Kyle Horne also received an Honorable Mention in the Best Editorial Cartoon category for an illustration related to the Town of Brookhaven’s redistricting process with the judge commenting, “I like the local angle this takes, even though it could be a cartoon drawn for any place in the country, following redistricting.”

Photographer Steven Zaitz won second place in the Best Picture Story category for his coverage of the Town of Smithtown’s Memorial Day Parade. “Good variety of parade photos. Clear photos, good composition and lots of expression!” wrote the judge.

TBR News Media’s annual supplement Harvest Times by editor Heidi Sutton received two third place awards — one for Best Special Section Cover and another for Best Special Sections/Niche Publications in Newsprint — with the judge commenting, “Love the entire fall theme, from festivals, farms to seasonal soup and pie recipes. Creative use of color. Layout is very readable.”

Art/Production Director Beth Heller Mason received an Honorable Mention for Best Small Space Ad for the design of the Pazzo Ristorante and Wood Fired Pizza ad in TBR’s Arts & Eats supplement. “The flames and brick in the background tell you that this is brick oven pizza without ever saying it in words. The ad tells me this is no ordinary pizza!” wrote the judge.

Rounding out the awards, Classifieds Director Sheila Murray won second place in the Classified Advertising category. “I like the way the designer used different line weights to separate sections. Also, the use of white space above and below the line ads makes the pages not feel so cluttered and makes it easier to read the ads. Sometimes designing in black and white can be challenging, but this layout is an example of how to do it right. This was very close between first and second places,” wrote the judge.

“I’m tremendously proud of our staff and grateful for their commitment to excellent journalism. I’m delighted that the awards represent the breadth of our talent, from writing to advertising to art,” said TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief. “In addition to it being our job, it is our pleasure to serve our communities.” For a full list of winners, visit nynewspapers.com/nypa.

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.