The momentum generated from the near-epic upset in last year’s playoffs has so far carried over into this season for the Baldwin football team.
The Bruins are 2-1 following last Saturday’s 33-8 win over Hicksville and are already just one win shy of last season’s total. After slumping for most of 2017, Baldwin beat Westbury in the regular-season finale and led 7-0 entering the fourth quarter against top-seeded Oceanside before yielding two touchdowns in the final eight minutes in the playoff opener.
That experience gave the Bruins confidence and are now starting to thrive in the ultra-competitive Conference I.
“We do talk about it,” Baldwin head coach Steve Carroll said of the playoff game. “I said to them, ‘If you would have pulled that one off, you’ve would have been on the cover in every newspaper in the state of New York. There’s not many kids left from that team, but there’s enough that understood what went on.”
Last year’s accomplishments can only go so far as the following season’s opener, and Carroll pointed to the Bruins’ win over East Meadow on Sept. 8 as a key to his team’s early success. Baldwin shut down the powerful Jets offense for three quarters en route to a 29-14 victory.
“The luxury of playing someone first is that you have three weeks to prepare for them,” Carroll said. “The tough part is East Meadow has that option offense that is miserable to defend. Our defense played to their ability and when they’re on, we’re very good.”
Baldwin fell to undefeated Freeport 35-14 the following week, but recovered with a 26-point outburst in the second quarter against Hicksville following a sluggish start.
“At one point, we had like six penalties in a row, and they were all legit calls,” Carroll said. “There’s no reason for this, and then we scored our first touchdown late in the first quarter and then the kids realized that if we do what we’re supposed to do, [we’ll win].”
The defense is led by middle linebacker Eric Manigault, whose first of two interceptions this season was a pick-six against the Jets, and fellow senior Liam Melvin, who recovered a fumble in the end zone against Hicksville. Another senior, Zyaire Whitfield, has been a pleasant surprise at nose tackle in addition to his repsonsibilties at right guard.
Manigault has also led a strong rushing attack by rushing for 256 yards and three touchdowns on 37 carries, an average of 6.9 a game. Sophomore Trey Parkin has provided strong support in the backfield with 135 yards on 18 rushes with three scores.
Baldwin is one of seven 2-1 teams in Conference I and play four of them over the final five games, including improved Port Washington’s high-octane offense this Saturday. Carroll welcomes the challenge.
“I personally love it that way,” he said. “A team like Port, they won two nice games and have a really good quarterback that runs and passes very well. [Our team] will work harder.”