Still smarting from a heartbreaking loss in the PSAL city championship game to Port Richmond, Fort Hamilton coaches and players met in its musty weight room.
“Stay on track,” two-way lineman Kreshnick Hakanjin said was the overall message.
There was plenty to talk about, but thre was one word that resonated: finish. As in finish weight-lifting sessions, finish offseason workouts, finish plays, finish games, and %u2013 most of all %u2013 finish the season.
It’s worth repeating since the Tigers completed the 2009 regular season as they had discussed, routing playoff-bound New Utrecht, 49-6, in Bay Ridge last Saturday afternoon to cap a second consecutive perfect campaign. The win, the Tigers’ 23rd consecutive regular-season victory, earned them the top seed in the upcoming citywide playoffs and an opening-round matchup with No. 16 Grand Street Campus.
“It’s hard to be undefeated in Tiddlywinks,” coach Frank Laino joked. “I’m really proud of the boys. %u2026 They’re on a mission this year.”
Fort Hamilton (9-0) started like a house on fire, racing out to a 21-0 lead halfway through the second quarter on three Brandon Reddish touchdowns %u2013 two through the air, one on the ground.
The Tigers also finished the first half in style, by keeping the Utes out of the end zone when linebacker Todd Lauchner drilled quarterback Jordan Paul at the 1-yard line. They finished the game the same way, backup running back Wesley Sumpter bursting up the middle from 9 yards out, running so hard he nearly darted into the goal post, and Hector Ramos taking a Paul fumble 12 yards back to seal it.
“We don’t stop until that clock hits 0:00,” Hakanjin said. “It’s all out.”
Can anyone stop the Tigers? They beat six playoff teams, including city title contender Curtis, six-win Lincoln, Brooklyn Tech and Sheepshead Bay. Laino was worried about the game, considering how talented New Utrecht (5-4) looked on film, on both sides of the ball, and the intense rivalry between the two schools.
“This is an unusual outcome with Fort Hamilton and New Utrecht,” Laino said.
The Utes, led by Paul, the big-armed junior quarterback, had scored 103 points in their previous three victories. But the Tigers defense allowed just one scoring drive and forced three turnovers. The offense had its way all afternoon, scoring on its first four drives before being pulled to start the fourth quarter. Quarterback Frank Laino, Vinny’s son, threw two touchdown passes to Reddish, but he hardly used his feet, which is his forte.
“They don’t have a weakness,” New Utrecht coach Alan Balkan said. “Zero weakness. They’re that good. They are by far the best team, they are probably one of the best in the Tri-State area.”
“They block perfectly, they execute all their plays to perfection, they’re probably the best-coached team in the city. They’re like a well-oiled machine.”
Of course, this is just a prelude to the second season, when the games’ importance is multiplied. Rasheem Stroud couldn’t stop repeating the word playoffs as he sat on the bench, surrounded by starters soaking in the sun as the reserves added onto the lead.
“We went there last year and didn’t get it,” Reddish said, referring to the city title game loss. “We got to win it now.”
Said Lauchner: “It’s a new start to the season. We have to turn it up a notch. We’re trying to get to the promised land.”