North Babylon halfback David Estrella said looking across the field at the Centereach football team was like looking into a mirror.
“They’re us and we’re them,” Estrella said. “They grind and we grind. We’re physical teams and mirror images of one another.”
Estrella’s 23rd rushing touchdown of the season, a third quarter 11-yard burst, proved to be the difference in North Babylon’s 14-7 win over Centereach Saturday in a Suffolk II semifinal playoff game. Estrella, the Bulldogs workhorse, finished with 174 yards on 39 carries.
North Babylon (9-1) will meet West Islip (8-2) for the Suffolk II championship at 7 p.m. on Friday at Stony Brook University. West Islip is making its 19th championship game appearance and second in a row. The Lions haven’t won a Suffolk title since 1994. North Babylon last won the Suffolk crown in 2009.
Estrella and North Babylon will see more of the same physicality again next week against a rugged West Islip, which beat the Bulldogs, 14-6, at the midway point of the season.
The winning score came when Centereach fumbled the third-quarter kickoff at its own 39. Four plays later, Estrella went over tackle for the score and the lead. Daniel Mistretta added the kick with 10:09 left in the third quarter.
Estrella understands the simplicity of the North Babylon offense. “There’s no surprises,” Estrella said. “We just come straight at you. Our coaches said it’ll be our front seven against theirs and our top back against theirs. I followed my line right into the end zone on that touchdown — one guy got a piece of me.”
North Babylon opened the scoring in typical Bulldogs fashion, a 15-play grind-it-out, 70-yard drive, capped by a Ross Tallarico 1-yard quarterback sneak for the touchdown. The march, keyed by a third down and five conversion from the Centereach 17, lasted 7:15. Halfback Anthony Sobotker rushed 6 yards on a counter, behind a big block from senior guard Joe Kolk to the 11.
“When we execute and move people out of the way good things happen,” North Babylon coach Terry Manning said. “I thought our line won the battle up front and we were going 3, 4 and 5 yards at a clip. That’s what we do.”
Centereach (8-2), which had its best season in school history, used a big play to tie it midway through the second quarter. Halfback Devin Demetres went on a sweep right and cut back for a 65-yard touchdown run. Matt Robbert kicked the extra point to tie it at 7 with 5:34 left in the half.
The Cougars would not see the red zone again. North Babylon’s Brendon Didier intercepted at the Bulldogs 37 to end Centereach’s final drive with 1:26 left. In all, the Bulldogs forced four turnovers and held Centereach to 64 second-half yards.