It is time to recognize Lindenhurst as one of Long Island’s elite football programs. Three straight appearances in the Long Island championships absolutely earns the distinction.
The Bulldogs claimed the school’s second Long Island crown in the past three years with a stunning 14-13 come-from-behind win over Garden City, the three-time defending champions, at Hofstra University on Nov. 30. The win helped Lindenhurst secure its first Long Island Class II title. The Bulldogs captured the Class I crown with a win over Oceanside in 2017.
“I’d say we’ve earned the respect of our peers with our consistency,” Lindenhurst coach Nick Lombardo said. “I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished over the past six years. Winning breeds more winning.”
The Bulldogs made the school’s first appearance in the Long Island Class I final in 2014. And now they’ve qualified for the big game in four of the past six years, winning two Long Island titles.
This year’s squad had redemption as a key motivator to the undefeated championship march.
“Garden City beat us pretty good in 2018 and we wanted another shot at them,” Lindenhurst captain Will Ruckert said. “They shut us out 19-0 and we knew we were better than that. We had something to prove and wanted to play them again in the worst way.”
Senior halfback Jaden Barber scored two second-half touchdowns to key the comeback win before more than 2,500 at Shuart Stadium. His 55-yard gallop around the left end came after a crushing block from fullback Jack Winey to tie the score at 13. Nick Antos added the game-winning extra-point kick.
“We became a complete team as the season wore on,” Lombardo said. “Our offense was efficient and took care of the ball. Our defense was our strength and dictated field position and momentum. And our special teams came up with so many big plays – we had 11 blocked kicks. We just kept getting better all season.”
It was a blocked extra point by defensive end Sunkonmi Agunloye that turned out to be the difference maker. And then linebacker Jack Hogan’s block of a pooched punt set up Barber’s run for glory. The win halted Garden City’s shot at being the first program to win four straight Long Island championships.
“Garden City is just a great program,” said Winey, who was named Newsday’s Rob Burnett Award winner, given to Suffolk’s top defensive player. “They come to play and bring it on every play. And we’ve climbed to the same level of winning.”
Ruckert raised the Rutgers Trophy overhead after the announcement at the Suffolk County Football Coaches Awards banquet at the Hyatt Regency in Hauppauge on Dec. 1.
“Our coaches made it possible to win this award,” he said. “They came up with the game plans. And we dedicated the time in the off season to get stronger and return to the LIC.”
Lindenhurst had all of the ingredients of a championship-caliber team. Quarterback Jack Randazzo made the big throws when needed. Winey and Hogan converted the tough short yardage first downs. Barber was the electric halfback and playmaker behind a cohesive offensive line led by Ruckert, Nick Passamonte and Jeff Perez.
The defense was the least scored upon unit on Long Island, allowing seven points per game. The hard-hitting Winey, who had 152 tackles, got run support from Hogan and freshman linebacker Chris Carson. The defensive backs Matt Josefson, Matt Newman, Warren Dixon and Barber were a constant in run support.
“We won as a team, not individuals,” Winey said. “Everyone played a key role in our season.”
The final defensive stop came in the way of a Newman interception with 1:43 left to seal the Class II title. “The defense was unbelievable,” Lombardo said. “We could always rely on them.”
BULLDOGS' ROAD TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Suffolk Division II playoffs
Half Hollow Hills East, 42-6
West Islip, 27-7
Long Island championship
Garden City, 14-13