Santiago leads Newfield over West Babylon
Julian Santiago was blown away by the moment. Newfield's senior halfback stood in the west end zone at West Babylon as his teammates celebrated around him.
Santiago had played a game for the ages against arguably the most electric team ever fielded at West Babylon. The Eagles just didn't have enough juice to take out Newfield for a second time this season.
Santiago rushed 18 times for 201 yards and three touchdowns as Newfield upset top-seeded West Babylon, 29-14, Saturday in the semifinal round of the Suffolk Division II playoffs before a crowd of more than 1,600. Newfield (7-3) will make its first appearance in the county championship game in 33 years.
The Wolverines, who have won four straight, including three in a row on the road, will meet East Islip (8-2) at LaValle Stadium at Stony Brook University for the Suffolk Division II title Friday at 7 p.m.
"I'm taking this all in," Santiago said. "It's a team effort. We went through a difficult time and came together as one to make this all possible -- this is great. Our goals are right in front of us."
It was only a month ago that Santiago felt his senior year slipping away. Newfield was mired in a three-game losing streak and the postseason was not a guarantee.
"We had a sense of urgency," Santiago said. "We put in a new system on offense and we knew what was at stake. we've turned it completely around."
West Babylon (8-2) opened the scoring on a Reggie Robinson 28-yard touchdown run with 4:01 left in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead. But Robinson found no room to run the rest of the game as the Wolverines held him to 47 yards on 10 carries.
"We stuck him and swarmed his every move," said Newfield linebacker Ron Denig, who had 11 tackles. "You run it against us and you pay the price."
Newfield took the halftime lead when quarterback Mike Silva scored from a yard out. His two-point conversion run made it 8-7.
"This was our biggest win of the season," Silva said. "We played an all-around great game."
West Babylon quarterback Clifton Melhado completed only 2 of 14 passes for 33 yards. His favorite target, Michael Richardson, had trouble getting off the press and was held to one reception.
While the Newfield defense shut down a West Babylon offense that averaged 371 yards and 32 points per game, the Wolverines' offense was pounding away at the Eagles' defense.
Santiago capped a five-play, 60-yard drive with a 6-yard TD run with 10:20 left in the third quarter for a 15-7 lead. A third-down sack by James Manginelli set up Newfield's next score, a 22-yard touchdown run by Santiago to make it 22-7.
Manginelli then stripped Robinson in the fourth quarter and recovered at the Wolverines 37. Two plays later, Santiago raced 44 yards for this third TD.
The potent offense has Newfield thinking about the school's first championship.
"We're feeding off each other and playing with a ton of intensity," Newfield coach Joe Piccininni said. "They realize what they are capable of doing."
Exactly why Santiago needed a moment after the game.