It was Thanksgiving morning. Most high school football players were getting ready for a family gathering or playing some form of traditional football pickup game in the neighborhood.
The lucky ones were preparing to play on the big stage in the Long Island Championships.
For the players at Bayport-Blue Point, no one seemed to mind a three-hour practice early Thanksgiving morning to prepare for the school’s first appearance in the LIC. The turkey could wait.
“It’s ultimately what everyone dreams about, winning the LIC,” Bayport-Blue Point quarterback Brady Clark said. “There’s no place any of us would rather be than with each other and on the field practicing one more time to go out and win our school's first championship.”
Clark threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more as Bayport-Blue Point beat the defending Long Island champion from North Shore, 35-7, to capture the Class IV crown before an electric crowd in Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium in Uniondale on Nov. 25.
The team celebrated the historic win at the field and the dominant capper to an 11-0 record, the first undefeated season in school history. The Phantoms got on the buses and enjoyed the long ride east complete with a police/fire escort home to an enormous welcome party in Bayport.
“The community support has been incredible,” Bayport-Blue Point coach Mike Zafonte said. “They had a parade for us with the fire trucks and the works. It seemed like the whole community was there for us. It was overwhelming.”
Bayport-Blue Point was a juggernaut on offense, averaging 38 points per game. Clark completed 91 of 122 passes for 1,585 yards and threw for 27 touchdowns, including 17 to wide receiver JJ Aiello.
“Brady is a magician with the football and makes great decisions,” Zafonte said. “It all started with him.”
Halfback Dan Aiello, who had a 41-yard touchdown run in the Long Island title game, rushed for 1,184 yards and 13 touchdowns. Wide receiver Mike Luce and halfback Maclin Keyser were key contributors on both sides of the ball.
The offensive line of Rob Galian, Ryan Bachmore, Jerry Lee, Dylan Spano, Jesse Munno and tight end Derek Varley were phenomenal in pass protection and run blocking.
“This is one of the smartest offensive lines I have ever coached,” Zafonte said. “They would come off the field and tell us exactly what the defense was doing and what adjustments we needed to make.”
In four playoff wins, Bayport outscored opponents, 154-20.
The Phantoms' defensive line also played an aggressive style of football.
“We had guys like Eric Grahn that played unselfish football,” Zafonte said. “He knew his role which allowed others like our lights-out middle linebacker Sean Druckenmiller to make more than 100 tackles.”
There is something truly remarkable about redemption. Bayport had the chance to redeem itself and seized the opportunity.
“I can’t stress how amazing this season truly was coming off the devastating loss in last year’s Suffolk final,” said an emotional Zafonte. “This team used that loss to fuel everything that we did this year. This championship is not just for us but for all the coaches and players that came before us in this journey. I am forever grateful and thankful for the support from our athletic director Tim Mullins, the parents, administration and fans which helped facilitate this title run.”
Zafonte, in his seventh year as head coach, said he struggled mightily with last year’s loss. He said he tapped others in the coaching fraternity for support.
“It was the worst feeling I ever had in my life,” he said. “I’d be in the shower and screaming. I asked [Sayville coach] Reade [Sands] when does it get better? To almost reach the top of the mountain and fall off like we did makes it so hard to pick up the pieces and do it all over again. But that’s what you must do. And we did it.”
Road to the Long Island Championship
Suffolk IV quarterfinal - Beat Port Jefferson, 49-0
Suffolk IV semifinal - Beat Miller Place, 35-7
Suffolk IV final - Beat Glenn, 35-6
Long Island final - Beat North Shore, 35-7