Clippers defeat T-Birds in wild semifinals finish

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Saturday, Nov. 13 was shaping up to be an eventful day of football. Starting at 1 p.m., the Half Hollow Hills East T-Birds would take on the red-hot Bellport Clippers in the second round of the Suffolk County Division II playoffs. In their last regular-season meeting, the Clippers walked away victorious by a score of 24-16. Prior to that, just eight months ago, both teams met in the same position that they are in now, where the Clippers beat the T-Birds to advance to the S.C.C. Will it be third time’s the charm for this revamped Hills East team, or will the Clippers settle their unfinished business of being a county champion?

The T-Birds kicked off to the Clippers to break the anticipation in the air and bring the game underway. The Clippers, used to scoring early, were surprised as they were denied by the T-Birds’ persistent defense. Only completing one first down on the drive before being forced to punt, the Clippers were on defense before they knew it. Unlike the Clippers, the T-Birds made their presence felt on offense. Standout running back for Hills East Dakim Griffin found open space early, effortlessly putting the T-Birds on Bellport’s side of the field. Quarterback Jacob Robinson then found wide receiver Louis Mathurin for the touchdown with 7:55 left in the first quarter. Brandon Peskin made the extra point, 7-0 Hills East. 

Bellport’s offense, not able to break out yet, could have taken some notes from the T-Birds when Griffin broke free for a 40-plus-yard rushing touchdown to open the second quarter, making it 14-0 T-Birds. 

Down 14 early, the Clippers needed to pump the breaks immediately. This is when the season-long Halpin-Phillips chemistry reignited. Halpin’s offense charged down the field to put the Clippers inside the red zone. Halpin then handed it off to Phillips, who rushed for a touchdown with 6:23 left in the second quarter. Following Bellport’s timely big effort from the defense to keep Hills East off the scoreboard, the Clippers got the ball back with 56 seconds left when Halpin, Pedatella, and Phillips worked magic on offense to score. The hook-and-ladder play performed by the trio left Hills East in shock, shifting the momentum to the Clippers side, going into halftime tied up, 14-14. 

The second half was nothing short of thunderous. It was a series of back-and-forth scoring that made for an exhilarating finish. For every Hills East touchdown, the Clippers answered back. After a big touchdown by Donte Phillips with 30 seconds left in the third quarter, a Hills East outside linebacker blocked Riley Murphy’s extra point, keeping their lead, 21-20 Hills East. The T-Birds managed to open the fourth quarter with another touchdown, putting Bellport in a pinch, down 28-20. The Clippers would have to muster another late-quarter comeback; certainly, Bellport’s relentless offense was up for the task. 

With five minutes to go, Donte Phillips, making the red zone his domain, fought tooth and nail with Hills East defenders at his arms and ankles as he dove into the end zone, sending the Bellport crowd berserk. As Jack Halpin rolled out of the pocket going for the 2-point conversion, the holes filled like a child’s sandcastle during high tide. Halpin was brought down at the 3-yardline, Clippers still trailing by 2. 

Then the unthinkable happened. With 4:55 left in the fourth quarter, the game was called due to a tornado warning and dangerous weather conditions. What does that mean for the Clippers? It means they have to figure out a way to shut down the run-heavy T-Birds. As for Hills East, they must devise a plan to score early and keep Halpin’s forceful offense off the scoreboard. 

Both respective game plans went into effect at 10 a.m. the following morning when a winner would finally be decided. The Clippers tried to surprise Hills East with an onside kick, but were unsuccessful. This presented the T-Birds with optimal field position. As both teams lined up, the Clippers stared down the player that could most likely end their season in one play: Dakim Griffin. Griffin finished the regular season with 29 touchdowns and over 2,000 rushing yards. Now, about 40 yards stood between his team and a county championship appearance. 

Give Griffin credit—his speed and shiftiness is that of a cheetah. But with a three-and-out appearance from Hills East, Bellport’s defense proved to be the king of the jungle. 

With 4:35 left in the fourth quarter, Halpin and his offense got the ball and functioned instinctually.  After pacing downfield for a couple of first downs, with 2:00 left, Halpin was presented with a do-or-die fourth-and-two situation outside of field goal range. Remaining cool in the pocket, Halpin delivered a strike up the middle to wide receiver Rahiem McKenzie. McKenzie, with his team’s future spiraling towards his hands, hauled in the pigskin for the first down, keeping Bellport’s season alive.

Soon thereafter, Hills East kept Bellport to third-and-long two consecutive times. However, Halpin’s veteran leadership prevailed yet again. Halpin, in the clutch, found Justin Miles for a 21-yard gain, then Donte Phillips for a 9-yard gain for two separate first downs. This collective effort put Bellport on the 2-yardline, where Halpin handed it off to senior captain Marc Promutico, who emphatically punched it home for the Clippers, thanks to two big blocks from McKenzie and Phillips. Bellport went for the 2-point conversion and was successful, putting the Clippers up 34-28 with less than 30 seconds left. The Clipper’s defense then held off some deep throws by Robinson in a last-ditch effort to tie the game, forcing a turnover on downs with two seconds left.

All it took was Halpin to take one knee and the Clippers officially punched their ticket to the DII Suffolk County Championship, where they will take on the Lindenhurst Lions at Stony Brook University on Nov. 20 at 7 p.m.

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