Patchogue-Medford senior TJ Mikolich only started playing high school football this year. But it looks like he's been playing football his entire life.
The defensive back was all over the field in Friday night's come-from-behind win over Lindenhurst. Mikolich had two fumble recoveries, two interceptions and made two touchdown-saving tackles as Patchogue-Medford scored 14 fourth-quarter points in a 24-17 road win in Suffolk I.
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"The coaches saw me play lacrosse last spring and asked me if I'd be interested in playing football," said the speedy Mikolich, who committed to play lacrosse at the University of Tampa. "I figured why not, let's do it."
Do it he did. He made big play after big play. The biggest one came when Lindenhurst had a third-and-1 from Patchogue-Medford's 43-yard line with 7:44 left. Trailing by seven, the Raiders needed a defensive stop. Lindenhurst quarterback Gino Bonagura burst up the middle on a sneak and raced ahead of the defense toward the goal line.
Mikolich caught Bonagura at the 1-yard line, preventing Lindy from gaining a two-touchdown lead. Two plays later, Patchogue linebacker Tyler Conlon stripped a runner at the goal line and Mikolich recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
"I ran him down and stopped him from scoring," Mikolich said. "And then our defense made the big stop and gave us a chance to win."
Patchogue-Medford (4-1) went on a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive capped by Anthony Lee's 1-yard touchdown run. Spencer Greenberg's kick tied it at 17 with 5:08 left.
"TJ was such a huge addition to the team," said Patchogue's Connor Coughlin, who had eight receptions for 77 yards. "This was a character check for us to be able to come back and win tonight."
On Lindenhurst's next possession, Mikolich jumped an out route on a third-down throw to make his second interception of the game. He returned the ball to the Bulldogs' 4-yard line, where Dom Cassella barreled in for the winning touchdown with 3:35 left.
"This was a very emotional and very physical game," Coughlin said. "And coach told us a win here would guarantee us a playoff spot. We played without several starters and guys stepped in and played great."
It was another brutal loss for Lindenhurst (1-4). The Bulldogs played an excellent first half and opened a 17-10 lead. Lindenhurst senior Peter Mangione ran back the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown for the third straight home game.
Mangione jumped to corral the kick at the goal line and raced up the middle of the field for the score. Andrew Leddy added the kick for the 7-0 lead just 17 seconds into the game.
Lindenhurst added to its lead after methodically moving the ball from its 7-yard line to the Raiders' 18 in 11 plays to set up Leddy's 35-yard field with 9:53 left in the half for a 10-0 lead.
Patchogue responded on its next possession. Quarterback Anthony Lee threw a swing pass to the speedy Cassella, who bolted down the visiting sideline for 38 yards and a touchdown. Greenberg added the kick to make it 10-7 with 8:10 left.
The Raiders tied it after Lee found Mikolich for 34 yards and James Conklin for 9 yards to set up Greenberg's 28-yard field goal to tie the score at 10 with 3:38 left.
Lindy punched in another score before the half when quarterback Ryan Hofmann hit Nick Soriano with a 19-yard fade in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown with 56 seconds left.
"It's been the story of our season," Lindenhhurst coach Nick Lombardo said. "We make big plays and then we don't. We haven't put together two solid halves."