GARRET MEADE PHOTO
Tomas Filipkowski of Greenport/Southold/Mattituck/Shelter Island tried to evade Babylon tacklers during Saturday’s game at Greenport High School.
Babylon does it year in, year out. With astounding regularity, the Panthers produce and develop talented football players. At least in the case of Trevor Fudim, they stole one.
Well, at least that’s how Babylon Coach Rick Punzone put it when describing Fudim’s transformation from a soccer player to a football player two years ago.
“It was like a Brink’s robbery for us,” Punzone said. “It was a big steal for us.”
The soccer team’s loss has been the football team’s gain. A first team all-division selection last year, Fudim got his senior season off to a sensational start on Saturday. He scored a career-high four first-half touchdowns — two on runs and two on receptions — to lead second-seeded Babylon to a 43-7 rout of No. 8 Greenport/Southold/Mattituck/Shelter Island in a Suffolk County Division IV season opener at Dorrie Jackson Memorial Field in Greenport.
“He’s something special,” said Punzone.
Jack Martilotta, making his debut as Greenport/Southold/Mattituck/Shelter Island’s coach, watched from the sideline as Fudim made one big play after another for the Panthers. Fudim had a pair of six-yard touchdown runs. Then the tailback caught two touchdown passes from Sam Zanet in the final 1 minute 46 seconds of the first half. The first of those passes found Fudim wide open on the left side before he raced 43 yards to the end zone.
Fudim, who played outside linebacker on defense, finished with 112 receiving yards from four catches and another 80 yards from 17 carries — all in the first half.
The Porters could have been dreaming about an upset. They led by 7-6 after the first quarter — thanks to Mike Mangiamele’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Tremayne Hansen — and were within seven points of Babylon until the final 1:46 of the first half when two quick touchdowns sent the Panthers on their way to the expected result. Babylon, which saw its string of 13 consecutive trips to the county final snapped last year with a quarterfinal loss to Bayport-Blue Point, responded by putting up 37 unanswered points.
“For the first quarter and a half they did everything right,” Punzone said. “The only problem is you got to do that for four quarters and sometimes it’s very difficult to do that.”
Especially against a team of Babylon’s caliber.
Following a scoreless third quarter, Babylon tacked on a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. “I don’t know what happened,” Mangiamele said. “We just fell apart.”
Babylon’s backup quarterback, Zach Fredericks, kept the ball on an option play and darted 23 yards for a score. Later, Frank Mankiewicz zig-zagged his way into the end zone from 46 yards away.
“It kind of got away from us toward the end,” Martilotta said, “but at least until there were about two minutes left in the half we showed that we could really hang with them.”
The Porters, who were not whistled for a single penalty, lost their quarterback and cornerback, Mangiamele, for the rest of the game after his calves cramped up with 2:56 to go in the third quarter. About a half-hour after the game, Mangiamele was still in pain. “I’ve never experienced anything like that,” he said. “They’re still killing me right now.”
Babylon lost a player before the game’s first play. During pregame warmups, Connor Valvo, a first-string defensive end, injured a finger while catching a pass. He was taken by an ambulance to a hospital for treatment and later returned to cheer his team on from the sideline.
It has become a Babylon tradition of sorts to reach the county final. Last year’s disappointment did not sit well with the team.
“It was terrible seeing the seniors like that,” Fudim said. “For like months they were just traumatized. It left a bitter taste in our mouths, but I think it’s going to benefit us.”
Babylon appears to once again have an offensive machine. The Panthers, clad in all-black uniforms and helmets, put up 576 yards in total offense (327 on the ground), collected 22 first downs and converted 8 of 11 third-down plays.
One new wrinkle, however, is the passing game. Babylon threw the ball 17 times. Zanet completed 10 of 14 passes for 243 yards. Two of his passes were intercepted. Stephen Loudon caught four of those passes for 109 yards.
“We can definitely throw the ball more than we have in the past,” Punzone said. “I think we threw more today than we have in the last five games. We can do a lot. We have Stephen Loudon, we have Trevor Fudim. We have a lot of good, talented kids. We just have to find ways to get them the ball.”
Mangiamele (6 of 13, 105 yards) was harshly critical of himself for the three interceptions he threw, saying, “I really let everyone down.”
But Martilotta hasn’t lost faith in his team. Quite the contrary. “I think that we’re a good enough team that we can play with anybody in the [division],” he said. “I said that in the beginning, and I say that now.”
And what does Babylon say about making a run at the county final?
“It’s really [up to] the kids,” Punzone said. “Last year the streak got stopped after 13 years, so they know it’s on them. They know what has to be done. But we’re going to have to get better, there’s no doubt.”
“I told the guys, you don’t just show up and win because you’re Babylon,” he continued. “You have to play football.”