It was the perfect start. Two plays, two touchdowns.
On Lindenhurst’s first play from scrimmage, halfback Jaden Barber took the handoff, darted inside the guard and tackle and ran 65 yards untouched for a touchdown.
On the Bulldogs’ second offensive play, Barber did it again. This time he followed a crushing block by Anthony Ciminera and went untouched through the heart of the Centereach defense for 69 yards and another score.
The two plays set the tone in host Lindenhurst’s 23-0 win before a crowd of more than 1,100 in a Suffolk Division II semifinal football game Friday night.
“We saw something we could take advantage of in our film study and the boys executed it perfectly,” Lindenhurst coach Nick Lombardo said. “It set us up nicely against a very good team. We got off on the right foot and a big early lead.”
Barber finished with 179 yards on 10 carries for Lindenhurst (10-0).
The Bulldogs added to the lead early in the second quarter. Nick Antos boomed a 45-yard punt that was mishandled at the Cougars’ 20-yard line and recovered by Matt Josefson. Lindenhurst didn’t go anywhere, but Antos drilled the first of his three field goals, this one from 36 yards for a 17-0 lead.
“He’s really starting to figure it out with the kicking,” Lombardo said. “His punts are off the charts and continually flips the field for us in key situations.”
Antos’ three first-half punts traveled 49, 45 and 59 yards, keeping the Centereach offense deep in its own end.
Antos added a 30-yard field goal with 11 seconds left in the half for a 20-0 lead.
“Centereach is a very physical team and they’re very good,” said Lindenhurst two-way captain Will Ruckert, who had 11 tackles and a fumble recovery. “We hate giving up points and our coaches had an excellent game plan. Championship-caliber teams don’t allow points and we take a lot of pride in playing team defense.”
Centereach (6-4) didn’t move inside the red zone until late. The Cougars’ Matt Robbert caught a 47-yard pass and was forced out of bounds at the Bulldogs’ 1 with 4:46 left.
“Right there, the big lead doesn’t matter. It’s all about pride and keeping them out of the end zone for the shutout,” Lindenhurst middle linebacker Jack Winey said. “We had a bunch of guys make big plays.”
Robbert found the Bulldogs’ defense to be a wall. He was stopped for no gain three plays in a row, setting up fourth-and-goal.
Quarterback Justin Robbert attempted a play-action pass but fumbled after a hit, and Ruckert recovered at Lindenhurst’s 20.
Justin Robbert was injured on the play and taken by ambulance to Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip.
“You never want to see that in a game,” Ruckert said. “We’re all pulling for him that he’s OK.”
There was a 25-minute stoppage as players knelt on their respective sidelines and medical personnel took care of Robbert before carting him off the field.
“He was moving all of his extremities and we pray that he’s all right,” Lombardo said. “We take no chances with that kind of injury. We take every precaution for the player’s health.”