With their back feet touching the goal line or in the end zone, Babylon’s defensive players dug in. It was second-and-goal from the 1 and a once-comfortable lead was on the verge of shrinking.
“I told the team that if they score again, it’ll be a close game,” Babylon defensive end Taylor Tanner said.
Message received. Tanner, defensive tackle Saiquan Kneeland and a pack of Panthers rose up to stop Glenn for no gain on three consecutive running plays.
That gutsy goal-line stand late in the third quarter, which was followed by a clock-killing, clinching 99-yard scoring drive, sent Babylon to a 28-7 victory over Glenn on Friday night in a Suffolk IV game.
“It definitely gave us a big lift,” Babylon coach Rick Punzone said after his team improved to 5-0. The Knights dropped to 2-3. “It saved us after two special teams errors.”
Babylon, behind Joe Rende’s relentless running (36 carries, 162 yards, three touchdowns) and timely passing (7-for-12, 92 yards, one TD), built a 21-0 lead on Rende’s 36-yard keeper with 8:43 left in the third.
But Glenn’s Brett Ryan returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown and after the Knights forced a three-and-out, Jon Green blocked a punt that Mike Pennoyer recovered at the Babylon 5. Nathaniel Larkins carried 4 yards to the 1 on first down. A one-score game and definite emotional boost was only 3 feet away. Turned out, it was the longest yard.
On first down, Kneeland and Tanner helped stop Larkins for no gain. Defensive back Justin Vega sliced through to stop Ryan in his tracks on third down. Then Tanner, Kneeland and several others combined to keep Kyle Szokoli out of the end zone on a quarterback sneak.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Tanner said of the defensive stand. He was feeling pretty good all night after missing the last two games with mononucleosis.
“He’s our best player. He makes the whole defense better,” Punzone said of the 6-2, 200-pound senior who wore No. 88 in the first half, when he played wingback on offense and switched to No. 52 at halftime when he moved back to the offensive line. “I can’t say enough about our defense the whole game. We stop the run.”
Indeed, Babylon limited Glenn to 23 yards on the ground in 18 carries. “We’re good at stopping the run. We use a lot of slants and we fly to the ball,” Tanner said of the 3-4 alignment that featured plenty of gang-tackling. “After we stopped them, we just killed the clock and took control.”
The Panthers drove 99 yards in an exhaustive 20-play drive that took 11:01 off the clock. Rende, who also scored on a 25-yard run, scooted through a much smaller opening for a 2-yard TD that ended the scoring with 4:15 left.
“He wants the ball. He gets mad when I take him out,” Punzone said of Rende, who occasionally is replaced by Vega.
Punzone didn’t give Tanner much rest either, for good reason. “He’s a difference-maker,” Punzone said.