Lindenhurst senior Matt Josefson stood ready to receive the second half kickoff. And in his first year of returning kicks his best effort was a 35-yard return.
West Islip and host Lindenhurst were locked in a scoreless tie after one half of play. Neither team could muster any offense. West Islip was held to 56 yards and didn’t gain a first down until 3:07 was left in the half. Lindenhurst, despite fantastic field position on four drives that began in Lions territory, couldn’t produce a point.
Enter Josefson, the Bulldogs senior return man, to open the second half. He corralled the long kickoff at the Lindenhurst 7 and broke upfield. He sprinted up behind the wedge of blockers and broke the run outside toward the visitor’s sideline. He eluded two tacklers and cutback across the field at the 45-yard line for a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
“I followed the wedge, picked up two blocks from Jack Winey and Jack Hogan, saw an alley, and just flew through it,” Josefson said. “I hit that lane doing a hundred. And then I made the cutback on the kicker. It was the greatest moment of my life.”
The stunning touchdown propelled Lindenhurst to a 14-0 win over West Islip in a showdown of unbeatens before a Homecoming Day crowd of more than 1,700 in a Suffolk Division II football game. The game carried added significance as homefield advantage in the divisional playoffs was at stake.
Lindenhurst moved to 6-0 and West Islip fell to 5-1. If both teams win out over the final two weeks of the regular season, Lindenhurst would secure the top seed. The Suffolk Division II championship game is currently scheduled at the higher seed and not at Stony Brook University for the first time since 2002.
“Matt has the ability to make guys miss and he’s perfect for kick return,” said Lindenhurst coach Nick Lombardo. “He’s one of, if not, the fastest player on the team. We thought this game would come down to a big special-teams play and a break here or there.”
Lindenhurst sealed the win with less than a minute to play. On fourth-and-inches at the West Islip 31, Winey barreled into the line over left tackle, kept his legs moving, and bounced outside for a scoring run with 53 seconds left.
“I was not going down,” Winey said. “I hit a wall of West Islip guys but kept it moving.”
It was that kind of dogged determination that keyed the Bulldogs win.
“Our defense swarmed the ball and we followed our reads and gang tackled,” said Lindenhurst linebacker Will Ruckert. “My heart is still pounding. Our coaches had us well prepared through hours of film study and we shut them down.”
The Lindenhurst defense dictated field position all game. How incredible was it that the West Islip starting field position in the first half was at their own 7, 20, 8, 3 and 20-yard lines?
“We were flying around,” said Lindenhurst’s Jaden Barber, who had seven tackles, including two for a loss and a leaping interception. “We were too quick to get blocked.”
West Islip only reached the red zone once. The Lions deepest penetration came when Ryan Behrens returned a punt 43 yards to the Bulldogs 22 with 7:40 left in the third quarter. Trailing 7-0, the Lions moved as close as the 18-yard line before a 43-yard field goal attempt was blocked by defensive back Warren Dixon.
The West Islip defense led by Donnie Ryan and Kyle Haff were equal to the task. They were resilient despite Lindenhurst’s favorable field position. The Lions recorded four sacks and held Lindenhurst to 81 first-half yards.
Lindenhurst stopped the Lions on two fourth down conversion tries in the fourth quarter. On a fourth and five, Jack Hogan nailed quarterback Tim Weber for a loss of one at the Lions 40 to turn the ball over on downs with 9:11 left.
On the Lions next possession, Barber slipped through a horde of blockers on a sweep left on fourth and 1 and tackled Weber for a yard loss at the 41. Lindy’s Matt Newman sealed the win with an interception as time expired.
“It was a great game,” Lombardo said. “An intense defensive battle.”