Over the past few years, the Hampton Bays football team has proven it can go toe-to-toe with Mount Sinai, one of the elite squads in Division IV.
Unfortunately for the Baymen, they have not proven that they can beat the Mustangs.
In a game where a win would have secured a spot in the Division IV playoffs, the Baymen came up short, losing 35-26 at Mount Sinai on Friday night. Hampton Bays, which has one of the toughest schedules in the division, fell to 2-5 on the season, while Mount Sinai improved to 5-2.
When the standings were updated on Monday, the Mustangs sat in second place in the division with 127.340 power points, behind undefeated Babylon (7-0, 145.910). Hampton Bays fell to ninth with 97.140, just fractions behind East Hampton (3-4, 97.340). The top eight teams in the division advance to the playoffs.
Hampton Bays head coach Mike Oestreicher said on Sunday afternoon that if his team beats sixth-place Greenport/Southold (5-2, 115.720) on the road this Saturday, it will definitely make the playoffs. A loss wouldn’t necessarily eliminate the Baymen, Oestreicher said, but its playoff fate would rely on results from other games across the division.
On Friday night, it looked at times like the Baymen would decide their own fate before the final week of the regular season. With his team trailing 21-20 in the third quarter, standout running back Taylor Catz gave the Baymen solid field position with a long kickoff return to midfield. Then, on second and nine around the Mount Sinai 35-yard line, Baymen quarterback Ryan Palazzolo flipped the ball to Joe Tuttle, who tossed a pass to Catz, who then ran it in for a touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt failed and the Baymen led, 26-21.
But as quickly as the Baymen had gained back momentum, they lost it again.
On the ensuing kickoff, Mustang Zach Wolfe returned the ball 85 yards for a touchdown, giving his team a lead it would never lose again, 29-26, after a two-point conversion. Hampton Bays did get good field position after that score, starting off around midfield after Mount Sinai kicked the ball out of bounds three consecutive times on the kickoff. But the Mount Sinai defense dropped Hampton Bays for a big loss on three straight plays, forcing the Baymen to punt.
Despite the three-and-out, the Baymen were still well within striking distance, and with more than five minutes left to play, the defense put Mount Sinai in a fourth-and-four situation in Baymen territory. But the Mustangs not only converted the fourth down, but had room to spare, setting up a five-yard touchdown run by Wolfe with 5:08 remaining in the game. After the extra point attempt went wide, the Mustangs led, 35-26. The Baymen had another offensive series but couldn’t score.
Oestreicher had mixed feelings about the loss. He called it one of his team’s best efforts of the season, but also said it was another example of its inability to finish games, citing earlier losses to Bayport and Elwood/John Glenn as other examples. In one breath, he bemoaned his team’s inability to make a defensive stop against Mount Sinai, which never punted the ball on Friday night, but in another, he said his team didn’t exactly fail to execute the defensive game plan either.
“I was frustrated that we were unable to make a defensive stop, but on the other hand, we executed the game plan,” he explained. “We slowed them down and stretched the game out, and made them earn their scores. We just didn’t get the stop when we needed to.
“We didn’t finish in the Mount Sinai game,” he continued, “which was really frustrating. But we’re playing better; we’re playing the way we were supposed to be playing in the first few weeks.”
Catz was a bright spot for the Baymen in the loss, carrying the ball 18 times for 131 yards and two touchdowns. On two other occasions, Catz ripped off big plays and was brought down just short of a touchdown, effectively setting the table for another teammate. Fullback Cody Nolan had 15 carries for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Mount Sinai had a similar two-man scoring attack, with Zach Wolfe and Mike Cortese accounting for all five of its scores.
As a team, the Baymen had 15 first downs on the day and rushed the ball 40 times for 211 yards. The Baymen defense gave up 327 total yards on 51 plays, allowing Mount Sinai 17 first downs. Nolan led the Baymen defensively, causing a fumble that he also recovered and making eight tackles, one for a loss, while also batting down a pass.
On Saturday, the Baymen will face a Greenport/Southold team that got off to a great start but has lost two straight games. The Porters’ five wins came against teams that are a combined 9-26 this year. Hampton Bays, by comparison, has lost to teams that have a combined 27-8 record.
Saturday’s game will begin at 2 p.m. at Greenport High School.