Embraced by his Freeport teammates. Celebrated by the Red Devils’ fans. Standing victorious at the end of the season’s last football game.
This was the ending Makhai Jinks deserved, and he got it on Friday night at the conclusion of Freeport’s 42-14 victory over Floyd in the Long Island Class I championship game at Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium.
For two seasons, Jinks' dream of being a featured running back for the Red Devils was deferred. The team needed him to play tackle — and that's what he did, pulling and blocking while others basked in the spotlight.
This season he finally was given the position he always had longed to play, and in his team's biggest game of the year, he captured the spotlight by rushing for five touchdowns and making a team-high 10 tackles.
“He's always been that good. He just didn't have the opportunities early on,” Freeport coach Russ Cellan said. “In all honesty, he has been what he was tonight, all this year. That’s who Makhai Jinks is. You have a need — he steps up.”
“It was my last year and I wanted an experience like this, but it’s humbling,” Jinks said. “You can be patient and have it pay off.”
Freeport (12-0) is a Long Island champion for the seventh time and the third time in four years. The victory over the Colonials (11-1) was the Red Devils’ 24th in a row, extending Long Island’s longest active winning streak. It also made Freeport 6-for-6 against Floyd in the Long Island Championships.
To halt the Freeport juggernaut, Floyd was going to need two critical things: an exceptional game plan to keep the high-scoring Freeport offense off the field and perfect execution of that plan.
It went beautifully in the first half. The Colonials closed the second quarter with a masterful 25-play, 78-yard drive that devoured 11:20 and was capped by Tommy Verga’s naked bootleg for a 2-yard touchdown. Holder Devin Brown then passed to Andrew Minelli for the two-point conversion and a 14-13 lead. Freeport had scored on both of its possessions — but it had gotten only two possessions.
“We wanted to run the ball, grind the clock and keep their explosive offense off the field,” Floyd coach Paul Longo said. “We did it well for the first half. Unfortunately, in the second half, we turned the ball over [three times]. You can’t do that against a team like them.”
The second half was all Freeport. The Red Devils had four takeaways (two interceptions and two fumbles) and turned two into touchdowns. Floyd also had a 10-yard punt that the Red Devils converted into a score.
“We always play hard, but at halftime we saw we had to play harder,” said Jayvian Allen, who scored the other Freeport touchdown and also had a fumble recovery and an interception. “It’s what we’ve been dedicated to doing all season. Whatever is needed to win the last game of the season.”
Freeport was dealt what looked like a sizable setback on the fourth play of the game when dynamic quarterback Terrance Edmond suffered an ankle injury that robbed him of his athleticism. Cellan never veered from having him out there, though, even though he couldn’t turn loose his explosive running game or even throw a block.
“He’s the leader and that’s it,” Cellan said. “As long as he could take a snap and hand the ball off, he had to be out there. Our guys needed to see him behind center. It tells them, ‘We’re going to be OK.’ ”
Appropriately, when the Devils had a need, Jinks stepped up. He rushed 15 times for 87 yards and the five touchdowns on runs of 8, 1, 5, 4 and 2 yards. After Allen ripped the ball away and took it to the Colonials' 19, Jinks’ 5-yard run put Freeport in front for good.
“Jinks picked us up,” said Myles Norris, who had seven tackles and teamed with Jaiden Jackson on the left side to pave the way for five Devils touchdowns. “He’s been doing it for years.”
“On any day, any one of us can be the guy who picks the team up and carries it,” Edmond said. “I knew we would do this from the start of the season. Today [Jinks] helped get us there.”