Flag football is growing in popularity in high schools, and Connetquot and Harborfields, two of the 24 new programs on Long Island this season, played their first game on Wednesday. NewsdayTV's Carissa Kellman reports. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The girls flag football season opened for two brand new high school programs in Greenlawn on Wednesday afternoon.

The opener came down to the final 33 seconds for visiting Connetquot and Harborfields in blustery, overcast conditions. And in those final ticks of the clock both teams came up with huge defensive plays to finish in a 12-12 tie in Suffolk flag football.

Connetquot used a Madison Caputo 23-yard run to drive to the Harborfields 12-yard line before a fourth down pass was intercepted by Julie Ilovic with 15 seconds left to halt the march. And despite being deep in their own end of the field the Harborfields coaching staff wasn’t going to settle for the tie.

On first down, Tornadoes quarterback Bridget Carlson rolled right and connected on a 43-yard pass to a leaping Aliyah Steinberg to the Thunderbirds 25 with three seconds left.

“We were going for it,” Carlson said. “We didn’t really pass much because of the wind. But it was a great catch.”

Steinberg was flagged before she could pull away for the winning score.

“I had to adjust to my right to make the catch,” she said. “The pass shifted in the wind and I had to slow up and block out the defender. I was like ‘this is my ball.’”

On the ensuing play, the Tornadoes sent the crowd into a roar when they appeared to score on a 25-yard run to win the game. The score was negated by an illegal block. The teams played an untimed down and Connetquot’s Rachel Brunette knocked down the final pass.

“We’re very pleased with how much improvement we’ve made in eight days of practice,” said Harborfields coach Scott Wallace. “We’re really picking things up quickly and we’re proud of them.”

Harborfields opened a 12-0 first half lead. Carlson scored on a 9-yard run for the first score with 16:13 left in the half and Ilovic raced 29 yards for the second TD with 7:43 left.

Ilovic’s run was electric as she eluded three defenders in the open field.

“We have to do a better job on the flag pulling,” said Connetquot coach Gregg Murphy. “But overall, I was pleased at our play. We’ve had a week to get ready and we battled back.”

Caputo went around right end for a 48-yard touchdown to make it 12-6 with 5:41 left.

“It was a lot of fun and I’m proud of my teammates,” said Caputo, who had 189 total yards. “We have to be better on defense to get our first win.”

Caputo took a screen pass from quarterback Kellyanne Moran and sprinted 56 yards for the tying touchdown with 6:12 left in the game.

“She’s got that extra gear, that explosiveness,” Murphy said.

Wallace agreed.

"She [Caputo] beat us to the edge and down the sideline,” he said. “We have to get to the edge and stop that play.”      

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