Babylon’s defense has been a primary force all season, but not the secondary. “In past games, we’ve been the weakness of the defense,” Zach Amelia said with refreshing candor.
Not anymore. Friday night Babylon won the pick-four football lottery with a 14-0 victory over Glenn that allowed the Panthers to clinch the No. 1 playoff seed in Suffolk IV.
Amelia made two interceptions and fellow defensive backs Frank Vano and Joe Rende had one apiece. They were part of a swarming, gang-tackling unit that held the visiting Knights to 168 yards from scrimmage.
“Our entire defense was truly a team effort. All 11 guys working their butts off,” Amelia said after Babylon improved to 7-0 and dropped Glenn to 5-2. “We watched a lot of film. We knew it would be a low-scoring game and the secondary stepped up. It really shows that you have to work hard for something meaningful.”
The most meaningful defense play came early in the second quarter with Glenn taking a rare trip to the red zone. But on second-and-4 from Babylon’s 17-yard line, Vano stepped in front of the receiver to make a critical, drive-killing pick. It was the closest either team came to scoring in the first half.
The Panthers finally broke through early in the third quarter with a 58-yard scoring drive that concluded with Scott Sasso, under pressure from a heavy blitz, lofting a pass to Kenny Rohl in the end zone from 13 yards out. Sasso’s kick made it 7-0. “They blitzed, but I saw Kenny and he made the play. It was meant for him all along,” Sasso said.
Amelia made his first interception at a key moment later in the third quarter. The Knights had just recovered a fumbled punt on a return at Glenn’s 33, but before they fully could savor the moment, quarterback Kyle Tiernan tried to hit a slant over the middle but the ball was snared by Amelia.
Babylon put the game out of reach with a nine-play, 79-yard drive in the fourth quarter, a march of more than five minutes that ended with Sasso finding Jason Carlock with a 14-yard touchdown pass into a tight window.
“It was a post-corner rout and Jason made an inside move then cut outside,” Sasso said. “He did a great tightrope act to keep his feet in bounds.”
Sasso performed his own high-wire act, bouncing back from a first half in which he was 0-for-9 passing with an interception. In the second half, he completed 4 of 6 for 46 yards and the two scores. Plus, he carried six straight times for 60 yards on the game-clinching drive, including dashes up the middle of 14 and 26 yards on consecutive plays. He finished with 110 yards on 20 carries.
“Short memory,” he said, smiling. “I like running up the middle. I like breaking kids’ ankles with my cuts.”
There weren’t many such plays in a game dominated by the two defenses, a scenario Babylon coach Rick Punzone envisioned. “Anytime we play Glenn, it’s a tight game that can go either way,” he said. “Both defenses played well. They were aggressive and ran to the ball.”
For Babylon, that was especially true when the football was in the air.