The penultimate hurdle for Tyler Rigo and East Islip en route to Stony Brook for a third straight county final laid near the 30-yard line.
Rigo took a quick peek downward before deftly clearing the fallen North Babylon defender and racing for a 36-yard touchdown, his third of the game. Pete Hanabergh's point after provided the final margin in No. 2 East Islip's 20-3 win at home over No. 3 North Babylon in the Division II semifinals yesterday. "I felt that I had to hop, and it worked," Rigo said of the run. "I hit the hole, looked on the ground and didn't think I could get over him unless I jumped."
The Redmen (8-2) have won eight straight and will play No. 5 Newfield, who they beat 21-14 in Week 6, at 7 p.m. on Friday at Stony Brook in the county final. It will be East Islip's fifth title-game appearance in six years.
Rigo's final touchdown came on the first drive of the second half, just 1:32 into the third quarter. He carried the ball on every play -- a 37-yard kick return, two 5-yard runs and, finally, the TD. "I get tired, but that's what we prepare for," said Rigo, who ran for 92 yards on 19 carries. "Once we scored that last one, I knew we were in control."
East Islip, which is allowing 10.9 points per game, was placed in that enviable position by a defense that forced three first-half turnovers (two leading to Rigo touchdowns).
North Babylon (7-3) had the early momentum after Ryan Slane capped the opening drive with a 32-yard field goal and the Bulldogs defense forced a three-and-out on East Islip's opening possession. But Rob Sconone recovered a fumble on the North Babylon 30 with 58 seconds left in the first quarter. Five plays later, including Hanabergh's 22-yard pass to Kyle Moller, Rigo was in the end zone.
The Bulldogs fumbled again on their ensuing possession, on fourth-and-1 from the 42, when Slane (87 yards on 12 carries) tried to extend the ball for extra yardage and the omnipresent Hanabergh recovered. Hanabergh's day job is at quarterback, where he was 5 of 7 for 59 yards and rushed for 18 yards, but also moonlights as a defensive back and a kicker (he hit both his extra points).
After his recovery, Rigo capped a nine-play, 44-yard drive by again punching it in from a yard out to make it 13-3 with 2:49 left in the second quarter. "He's been our horse all year," East Islip coach Sal Ciampi said. "It's always ugly when you play [North Babylon], but at this time of year a win is all that counts."
Sconone forced his second turnover when he intercepted Slane's pass on second-and-3 from the 43. "We do every one of their plays about 400 times in practice, so it's easy for us to make plays," the captain said. "When they turned the ball over, it sucked the life out of them."
So, too, did Rigo's second-half score, his 20th rushing TD of the season. North Babylon got into East Islip territory on all three of its second-half possessions, but couldn't score. The Bulldogs' final stand was a 15-play drive to the East Islip 10, but the last play of the game, fourth-and-goal from the 10, was stuffed.
One last hurdle for the Redmen to clear.