By STEVE SINISKI
Baldwin senior running backs Jovaun Tomlinson and Trayvon Mask were nearly unstoppable when the Bruins squared off with Oceanside during the regular season, combining for 310 yards rushing and three touchdowns in a seven-point win. In the Nov. 15 rematch in the Nassau Conference I football semifinals at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium, Baldwin senior receiver Travais Hylton became a key component of the offense, and the defense flexed even more muscle than the first time around, leading to a record-setting performance in a 67-27 win.
The teams traded big-play scoring punches for most of a first half that featured 540 total yards and eight touchdowns, including five covering at least 31 yards, but the third-seeded Bruins (8-2) started to tilt the field in their favor when Hylton ripped off the last of his three touchdowns of at least 38 yards — an 89-yard kickoff return — in the second quarter. The scoring run seemed to give Baldwin a boost, as its defense allowed just one more touchdown over the final 32 minutes.
“Our defense played their game and did what it had to do,” Baldwin head coach Steve Carroll said of a second-half effort that limited the No. 2 Sailors (8-2) to just 146 yards and six points and forced three turnovers. “They are a good football team. You can’t stop Oceanside, you just have to outscore Oceanside,” he added.
Baldwin, which set a county record for points in a playoff game and also scored eight of the game’s final nine touchdowns, advanced to the Conference I title game for the first time since 2007 and will battle top-seeded Farmingdale at Hofstra this Friday at Noon. The Dalers won their last championship battle, 21-14, and also won the regular season matchup on Sept. 14, 21-6.
Hylton provided instant spark against the Sailors with his three long touchdowns, the first a 55-yard catch from senior running back Johnathon Robinson on a reverse halfback pass, and the second on a short screen pass that he took 38 yards to the end zone. “That’s the hardest catch to make,” Hylton said of the pass from Robinson, with no defender within 10 yards of him. “You’ve just got to see the ball coming [into your hands].”
After the defense held Oceanside on the possession after Hylton’s kick-return score, Carroll slowed down the tempo and drained almost all of the remaining six minutes in the half with a 12-play drive that featured 10 run calls and ended with a Tomlinson’s 15-yard touchdown run. Tomlinson finished with 160 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries, while Mask added 99 yards with two touchdowns on 19 attempts. “We had a good week of [practice],” Tomlinson said. “We figured once we got up, we could run the ball.”
It was more of the same in the second half, only now Baldwin, holding a 13-point lead, was able to turn its defense loose and allow its playmakers to make plays. The Sailors first two possessions of the third quarter ended in interceptions with senior Michael Abrahams grabbing one off a tipped pass, and Robinson taking a throw by Oceanside quarterback Tom Capone 44 yards to the end zone to open up a 26-point edge on the scoreboard. Two plays before Robinson’s interception, sophomore Paul Nosworthy batted down a ball at the line of scrimmage. “Once they started throwing, we figured we could cover the pass more than the run,” Carroll said of turning up the pressure.
During the regular season, the Bruins sacked Capone five times but failed to force a turnover. This time around, they dropped him once — senior linebacker Lucas Krucher got to Capone in the early in the third quarter — but had three interceptions. Senior linebacker Ryan Mahoney also added an interception midway through the fourth quarter.