Gridiron Rivalry Is Revived On Mariners’ Field

McKee happy to have football back in East Hampton
Christian Johnson scored three of East Hampton’s six touchdowns, and would have had another had a holding call not annulled it. Craig Macnaughton

Friday’s under-the-lights junior varsity football game at Southampton High School provided all the excitement that has attended East Hampton-Southampton matchups since the early 1920s.

In the end, the Bonackers lost 41-40, but only after Kevin Bunce, who had run with intensity all evening, was stopped just short of the goal line on an extra-point play in the final minute by Southampton’s Justin Jayne. A 56-yard Topher Cullen-to-Christian Johnson touchdown pass play had prompted East Hampton’s coach, Joe McKee, to go for the win.

“You played a fabulous, fabulous game,” McKee told his disappointed charges, some of whom were tearing up, afterward. “That it hurts means you care. You have every reason to be proud, no reason to hang your heads.”

“You’ll come back even stronger,” added Lorenzo Rodriguez, who was McKee’s offensive coordinator and line coach this fall.

The Bonackers — well aware, McKee was to say during a conversation Monday, of the rivalry, one of Suffolk’s oldest — came out on fire. Starting from their 35, as is the custom in no-kickoff junior varsity games, it took them six plays to burst into the home team’s end zone, as the result of a 20-yard pass reception by John Berti. Alfredo Chavez tacked on the point-after kick for 7-0.

After forcing a Southampton punt, East Hampton, starting at its 40, scored again when Cullen drilled a pass up the middle that Santi Maya leapt for and hauled in on his way to a 38-yard TD. Chavez’s kick hit the right post, but no matter, it was 13-0 East Hampton.

Again, Bonac’s defense forced a punt, on fourth-and-long from the Mariner 45, and again East Hampton scored, this time as the result of an 81-yard catch and run by Maya, to which Chavez added another point for a stunning 20-0 lead. 

“The quarterback has a 100-yard game and it’s the first quarter still,” one of the chain-handlers was heard to say.

Southampton finally got on the scoreboard when, near the end of the first quarter, Richard Barranco, a Pierson High student, ran the ball in on first-and-goal from East Hampton’s five-yard line — a score that followed a long pass batted down by Mike Moret, into the hands, unfortunately, of a Southampton player. Barranco’s fellow Sag Harborite Hudson Brindle made good on the point-after kick.

Johnson, who was to finish the night with three touchdowns, ran 62 yards into Southampton’s end zone in the opening minutes of the second quarter, but a holding call on Maya annulled it.

“After that,” said McKee, “Southampton, which is a very good team, began to come on.”

East Hampton went into the halftime break leading 27-26, thanks largely to strong running by Barranco (one touchdown) and Dominick Williams (two). 

Play in that quarter was interrupted for 20 or so minutes because of a downed East Hampton lineman, John Albarracin, who had been felled in stopping Barranco at East Hampton’s 16-yard line following a six-yard gain on first down. 

“It was head-on-head contact,” Mc­Kee said Monday. “He went to the hospital’s emergency room, though I saw him afterward and he’s fine, looking forward to next year.”

The Mariners took their first lead of the game early in the third quarter, a drive during which McKee was heard to tell his players, “This is going to be a battle of will.”

The Bonackers replied with a touchdown of their own, on a 41-yard run by Johnson, who’d spun out of the grasp of would-be tacklers in the backfield, and a point-after kick by Chavez, wresting the lead back at 34-33.

Before the period was over Southampton tried to add a field goal to its total, but Brindle’s 22-yard try went awry.

With about four minutes left to play, Williams capped a 55-yard, seven-play Southampton drive with a five-yard burst into East Hampton’s end zone, and followed up with a 2-point carry that treated the Mariners to a 41-34 lead. 

Facing fourth-and-11 at East Hampton’s 44, and with little more than a minute left, Cullen went deep for Johnson, who gathered the ball in at about the Southampton 30 and ran untouched the rest of the way for his third touchdown of the night. And the rest you know.

The 41-40 win was Southampton’s seventh vis-à-vis one loss, to Hampton Bays.

East Hampton finished at 2-5, “but, aside from the loss to Mount Sinai, which went undefeated, all the games were close,” said McKee. “This is definitely a close-knit group of kids. I think they’ll stick with it. I’m expecting all 25 back next year, and I’d like to think that we’ll be able to move up to a varsity program in Division IV. . . . We had six juniors on the team this season, so we’ll have a solid group of seniors, and we had 11 sophomores, who will be juniors next year.”

While East Hampton’s spread offense had clicked and the offensive line had played solidly, its defenders had trouble keeping Mariner runners from turning the corners, McKee said, citing one phase of play that needed to be worked on.

Another bright spot, the coach added, was the prospect of eighth graders coming up from Dave Fioriello and Rob Rivera’s East Hampton Middle School team, which he said was doing well despite the numbers being a little low.

Getting back to the finale, McKee said, “You couldn’t have asked for a better night, a beautiful October night. It was a great, great way to end the season. . . . It’s really nice to get the program back. It’s nice to have football at East Hampton High School again.”

Kevin Bunce, who ran with intensity all night, was stopped just short of the goal line in the final minute as East Hampton went for the win. Craig Macnaughton