Maneuvering through the Covid-19 minefield and the first games of their unprecedented 2021 season has been a challenge so far for the Lynbrook Owls football team, but a return to health and a competitive spirit could result in a late playoff push.
The Owls (0-2 in Conference III) were already facing an uphill battle when senior Ethan Hoyte, who ran for over 800 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019, elected to opt out of his final season when eight more players, including six starters, were sidelined due to Covid and contact tracing protocols. It didn’t help that the season opener was scheduled against defending county champion Plainedge and the result was a 49-7 defeat on March 13.
The top three quarterbacks on Lynbrook’s depth chart all had to miss the opener and the shorthanded squad fell behind 28-0 in the first quarter. The Owls fumbled the opening kickoff, setting up the first Plainedge touchdown, and coughed up the ball again deep in Red Devil territory which was returned for another score that made it 14-0 early in the contest.
“When you fumble four times out of the gate, that’s just being young,” Lynbrook head coach Steve LoCicero said. “With a young team with not a lot of a preseason, it’s difficult for you to mentally handle that. I thought [my team] did a good job and they hung in there and they played tough the rest of the way.”
That toughness carried over into last Saturday’s heartbreaking 28-22 defeat against Roosevelt. Lynbrook went ahead 8-0 in the first quarter, but yielded 28 straight points before a fourth-quarter rally fell short. LoCicero thought that the Roughriders’ lopsided advantage in time of possession was the difference.
“They held the ball for 8 1/2 minutes in the third quarter and running the football,” he said. “They’re very big and we were just trying to get them to punt and we weren’t able to do that.”
Quarterback Dante Quilca saw his first action of the season and ignited the comeback by connecting with fellow senior Jake Barroso on 57 and 22-yard touchdown strikes in the fourth quarter. Barrosso had no high school football experience prior to this season and has been one of the bigger surprises.
Sophomore Michael Fagen has rushing scores in each of the first two games, including a 50-yard TD scamper as the emergency quarterback that gave the Owls their only points against Plainedge. The sophomore has embraced his new role as the feature back and helped ease the loss of Hoyte.
“He’s a very talented athlete,” LoCicero said. “He’s a positive anywhere we place him. He’s got to mature quickly and he’s doing a good job.”
This season features a six-game schedule with only four teams in each of Nassau’s four conferences making the playoffs, down from the usual eight. Road games against Floral Park and Bethpage the next two weeks will likely decide Lynbrook’s postseason fate, but LoCicero is looking beyond the standings.
“We don’t really care about our record, as long as we make the playoffs,” he said. “We’re hoping to sneak into that third or fourth spot.”