Bellport and Lindenhurst waged the kind of defensive battle rarely seen in the era of the spread offense. Two behemoth defensive units smacked it out through a scoreless first half and until the final minute of the third quarter.
Lindenhurst quarterback David Varela dropped back to pass and looked left. He never saw the crushing blindside hit that would ultimately change the direction of this championship game. Varela’s pass was redirected and landed in the hands of linebacker Calvin Pedatella at the Bulldogs 24. He returned the interception to the 17 to set up the first score of the game.
Three plays later, Bellport quarterback Jack Halpin scored on a 2-yard run with 28 seconds left in the third quarter that propelled the Clippers to a 13-0 shutout of Lindenhurst in the Suffolk Division II championship game before a crowd of more than 4,000 Saturday night at Stony Brook University.
It was the sixth time that Bellport (10-1) earned a shutout in the Suffolk title game and the 11th county championship overall. The Clippers last won the Suffolk crown in 2010. They will meet undefeated and top-ranked Garden City (11-0) for the Long Island Class II title at Stony Brook University on Saturday at 4 p.m.
The Bellport defense recorded four sacks and completely shut down the Lindenhurst offense forcing five turnovers, including four interceptions. Defensive back Donte Phillips secured three of those interceptions, including one at the Clippers five-yard line with 40 seconds left in the first half.
"The receiver got a little behind me, but I followed the ball well," said Phillips, who also had 86 yards rushing. "We knew they’d try and throw the ball and we worked on coverages all week. This was an unbelievable defensive effort by both teams."
The first half was all about bruising open field hits and little to no offense. Lindenhurst ran 26 plays for 60 yards and Bellport had 22 plays for 61 yards.
"I wasn’t surprised the defenses took over," said Bellport coach Jamie Fabian. "We had field position all game and our offense couldn’t punch it in. Give Lindy credit for their resilience. They have great coaches and very tough kids."
Bellport opened the second half with a 12-play, 42-yard drive to the Bulldogs 29. On third down and six, Halpin was flushed from the pocket and intercepted by a diving Brenden O’Connor at the 24.
"Our defense was awesome," said Lindenhurst coach Nick Lombardo. "We went toe-to-toe with a very physical team. We just made too many mistakes on offense."
Lindenhurst (9-2) answered Bellport’s touchdown with its finest drive of the game. The Bulldogs marched from their own 34 to the Clippers 4-yard line in 15 plays and faced a fourth down and two with 5:48 left in the game.
"We were going in for the tie," Lombardo said. "And they made a big stop." The Bulldogs went full house right and came up a yard shy of the first down at the Bellport three.
Two plays later, Halpin fired downfield to a streaking Justin Miles, who caught the ball in stride and ran 95 yards for the touchdown to seal the win.
"The corner had outside shade when I came up to the line and I noticed there was no safety," Miles said. "I just beat him with my speed over the top and Jack made a beautiful throw. Then I needed to outrun the defense to the end zone."
Miles scored with 4:55 left for the 13-0 lead. The distance covered on the touchdown tied a school record of 95 yards set by Halpin last year when he connected with a pass to Ka’Shaun Parrish for a long score.
"I made the pass call because they were dropping the safety down," Fabian said. "It left the middle of the field wide open, so we took a chance."