North Babylon quarterback Ross Tallarico ran out of room. And the Bulldogs were ultimately out of time.
A swarming West Islip defense sacked Tallarico on fourth down at the Lions 5-yard line with 49 seconds left to preserve a 14-6 win over North Babylon Thursday in a battle of unbeaten in a Suffolk II football game.
A 16-yard run by halfback Anthony Sobotker had put the Bulldogs at the West Islip 8. But the Lions defense would yield only 3 yards in three plays setting up the final defensive stop.
“He rolled away from the pocket and toward the sideline as I chased him,” said West Islip nose tackle Guy Tasso, who gave up soccer in his senior year to join the football team. “I had great penetration into the backfield and gave chase.”
Tasso forced Tallarico, who looked into the end zone for an open receiver, into defensive end Anthony Giardina and linebacker Matt Calhoun.
“He tried to turn it inside and we buried him on the sideline,” said Giardina, who smothered Tallarico at the same time as Tasso and Calhoun. “Our defense stood up in some really big moments against a great offensive team.”
It was like that all game for the North Babylon offense. Only once did the Bulldogs, who were averaging 36 points per game, find pay dirt against the swarming Lions defense.
“We followed the defensive scheme and shut down a very tough team,” West Islip coach Steve Mileti said. “Our guys are making the key plays every week and we’re winning with a lot of heart and team chemistry. Nothing has been easy but guys are making plays.”
Mileti pointed to West Islip quarterback Mike LaDonna, who had another big game for the Lions. LaDonna fired a strike to tackle eligible Tim Mullane down the middle of the field for a 12-yard touchdown to open the scoring. Junior Bobby DiCapua, who had the winning field goal in last week’s victory over Huntington, added the extra-point kick to make it 7-0 with 8:17 left in the first quarter.
“He was wide open in the end zone,” LaDonna said. “He just went uncovered on the play.”
North Babylon’s workhorse, David Estrella, who had 144 yards on 24 carries, helped the Bulldogs get within 7-6. He went over left tackle and raced 31 yards for a touchdown with 6:11 left in the third quarter. The two-point conversion run was stopped.
“Estrella is a great player on both sides of the ball,” North Babylon coach Terry Manning said. “He’s our guy.”
West Islip would respond with the drive of the game, keyed by two first-down runs on third down and a fourth down conversion deep in North Babylon territory.
The anatomy of the 95-yard, 13-play march was quite impressive. On a third and one play, Mullane, the converted tackle to halfback, rumbled 47 yards to the North Babylon 39. And on a third-and-eight play, LaDonna juked his way through the secondary for a key 16-yard gain to the Bulldogs 21.
On a fourth-and-17 attempt, LaDonna hit Max Albanese for 16 yards but a 5-yard facemask was tacked on for the first down at the Bulldogs 6. Mullane bulled over left tackle and DiCapua added the kick to make it 14-6 with 11:53 left.
“Our ‘D’ shut them down and our offensive line opened some big holes,” said LaDonna, who had 68 yards on 18 carries. “Mullane’s big run was crazy. And Albanese came underneath the safety for a huge catch.”
LaDonna, like a true leader, spread the wealth and the credit.