The East Hampton football team knew what it was up against when it took the field in the first round of the Division IV playoffs on Friday night.
Its opponent, top-seeded Babylon, is one of the most storied programs on Long Island, with five Long Island Championships, 10 Suffolk County Championships and one Rutgers Trophy (2012), which is awarded annually to the best football team in Suffolk County. And, once again, the Panthers are having a banner year in 2013: Babylon, the top seed, came into the game against eighth seed East Hampton not only undefeated but riding a 20-game win streak dating back two seasons. The Panthers have also broken numerous schools records this year, both as a team and for certain individuals.
And they wasted no time in snuffing out any hope that the Bonackers might give them a run for their money. Just seven seconds into the game, Babylon got on the board after the Bonackers turned the ball over on their very first play from scrimmage, and Eric Schweitzer scooped it up and ran in 16 yards for a touchdown. By the end of the first quarter, Babylon was up 33-0, and by the second quarter, many of Babylon’s starters were on the bench.
East Hampton didn’t stop the bleeding until the fourth quarter, when a 62-yard run by Cortland Heneveld made it 53-8, providing the final margin.
Babylon moved on to the next round, where it will host fourth seed Shoreham/Wading River at home on Friday night. East Hampton finishes the season with a 3-6 record, which included a 49-7 home loss to Babylon in the last game of the regular season.
East Hampton head coach Steve Redlus said his approach to the Babylon game was simple. “My speech to the guys was to just play the best they could for 48 minutes,” he said. “Especially the seniors. I told them to just relish the fact that you’re in the playoffs and not worry about the scoreboard and just play ball.”
Redlus said that while he was proud of his team for making the playoffs, particularly after starting the season 0-4, the accomplishment was a little bittersweet, since he knew his squad would have to face the Panthers juggernaut. The playoff format changed in 2008, expanding to include the top eight teams in the division rather than the customary four. While the format change allows more teams to experience the postseason, the first-round matches are not typically very competitive, especially between the number-one and number-eight seeds.
“You make the playoffs, but you kind of know what your fate’s going to be before playing the game,” Redlus said. When asked how he feels about the format, he continued: “I think it goes both ways. It’s great we made the playoffs the last two years, but if you look at our combined record, it’s 6-12. By no means are we satisfied with 3-6 seasons back to back. I want to be over .500. I understand both sides of it, and it’s certainly not a decision we had a say in, so we’ll take what we can get.”
Redlus said he was still proud of his team’s approach to the game. “I thought the kids went in with a positive attitude,” he said. “We had an upbeat week of practice. We also felt lucky to be one of 32 teams still playing football.”
When asked what has made Babylon, a school with an enrollment of around 400 students, such a dominant program—by comparison, East Hampton’s enrollment is more than 650—Redlus said the team has built a winning mentality that expands to all facets of the game.
“The first thing I noticed on Friday night was that none of their kids was wearing sleeves, and it was a cold night,” he said. “They have an expectation to win and compete at a high level. They are well-coached, and it’s ingrained in their culture. Kids grow up wanting to be a Babylon Panther football player.”
Looking back on his own team’s season, Redlus said his squad was competitive, even in the first four games, losses to four playoff-bound teams. East Hampton had a lead at some point in all four games but couldn’t get a win. The Bonackers rebounded by going on a three-game win streak against teams that did not make the playoffs, before losing to Babylon in the regular season finale. Another season like that, however, won’t be good enough for East Hampton if it wants to take the next step.
“We’ve got to start beating teams at or above our level,” Redlus said. “It’s easy to be happy about beating the teams you’re supposed to beat.”
The Bonackers will have some big shoes to fill next year, as 12 seniors are graduating, including four three-year starters. Quarterback Cortland Heneveld, who made All-County for the second straight year, has started under center for the past three years, while wide receiver/defensive back Thomas Nelson, an All-Division player, was also a three-year starter. Running back/linebacker Brendan Hughes (All-Division), and lineman Bryan Gamble (All-Division) were also three-year starters for the Bonackers. R.J. Notel, a fullback/defensive back, was also a key player for the Bonackers this year, making All-Division. Redlus also mentioned that the program is still struggling with numbers. Despite that, he said his goals for next season will remain the same.
“The expectation is always to become better, work hard in the offseason and get more physical as players and as a team,” he said. “We’ll take it day by day.”