Bellport RB Donte Phillips takes the handoff 27 yards for...

Bellport RB Donte Phillips takes the handoff 27 yards for the touchdown against Northport in the Suffolk Division II finals, Friday, November 18, 2022 at LaValle Stadium. Credit: George A Faella

This was no way to start a championship game. Just 3:45 into the game, the Bellport football team already trailed by two touchdowns.

Northport’s Christian Raio returned the opening kickoff 78 yards for a TD and the Tigers capitalized on Nick Valente’s interception for another quick score.

Despite being down 14 points, there was no sign of panic on the Clippers’ sideline. The coaching staff could be seen managing the shocking start to the Suffolk Division II championship game Friday night.

“Unfortunately, we are slow starters,” Bellport coach Jamie Fabian said. “We’ve trailed and battled all season in a very balanced division. We manage the situation and finish strong.”

Donte Phillips and Jason Hunt scored two TDs each as the Clippers scored 35 unanswered points and beat Northport, 35-14, to claim the school’s second straight Suffolk II title before a crowd of 3,500 at Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium.

Bellport (10-1) will play Garden City (11-0) for the Long Island Class II championship on Friday at 4:30 p.m. at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium.

The Bellport defense set the tone for the comeback win, but not before Northport tight end Andrew Miller switched to quarterback in the Wildcat formation and took the direct snap. He went over right tackle for a 2-yard TD run and Billy Griffiths kicked the extra point for a 14-0 Northport lead. It would be the last time the Tigers found the end zone.

The Clippers’ hard-hitting unit took over the rest of the game. They blocked a punt, recovered two fumbles and shut down the talented Northport offense.

“We really needed a big defensive play to get us going,” Hunt said. “We started flying downhill and making hard hits.”

Bellport erased its 14-point first- quarter deficit with three big defensive plays.

Hunt came off the edge and blocked a punt inside the Northport 6 to set up the first score. He scored on a 2-yard run to move Bellport within 14-6 with 2:06 left in the first quarter.

Two second-quarter fumble recoveries set up the next two scores.

Chris Rivera recovered a Northport fumble at the Clippers’ 45 to set up a six-play, 55-yard TD march. On a key third-and-7 play, Justin Miles found Michael Frankie on a slant for 19 yards to the Northport 21. On the next play, Phillips burst around the left end for a 21-yard touchdown run to make it 14-12 with 2:03 left in the half.

“The momentum had swung in our direction,” said Phillips, who rushed for 129 yards on 22 carries and added a 26-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. “I could feel it.”

On Northport’s very next play, Alex Brigadir recovered another fumble at the Tigers’ 26.

“We worked as a unit and rallied to the ball,” said linebacker Caleb Smith, who had eight tackles and forced a fumble. “We’re a very physical defense and made Northport earn every yard.”

The Bellport defense allowed only 103 total yards on 49 plays.

Said Fabian, “We responded like a championship team.”

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