With a bag of ice in his right hand and a sports drink in his left, senior Michael Djalo was the last to leave Elmont’s locker room last Saturday and walked gingerly to the sideline with a dinged knee as the Spartans prepared for the second-half kickoff holding a seven-point lead against visiting Mepham.
The Pirates, who entered the game as one of four undefeated teams in Nassau County, drove for the tying touchdown on the opening possession of the third quarter but couldn’t overcome five turnovers or Djalo’s big plays on both sides of the ball.
Djalo scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter and had a fumble recovery, an interception, and a game-sealing 91-yard touchdown run in the fourth to lead Elmont to a 48-28 victory. He also had a 43-yard score in the first quarter and finished with 185 yards on 15 carries.
“I want to do whatever I can to help us win,” Djalo said. “We lost to MacArthur on a last-second field goal last week and I took it hard because I thought I had a chance to block it. I’m just glad we bounced back.”
Senior quarterback Brian Jean Baptiste added two touchdown passes for the Spartans, who improved to 4-3. Mepham (6-1) got passing and rushing touchdowns and 255 yards through the air from senior quarterback Mike Proios.
“We didn’t protect the ball, we didn’t tackle well defensively and we gave them too many short fields,” Mepham head coach Anthony Cracco said. “It was uncharacteristic of us. We had some big plays on offense, but you can’t turn the ball over five times.”
Three of Elmont’s takeaways came in a three-minute span in the second quarter, including a strip and recovery by senior Chester Anderson at the Spartans’ 5 and a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown by senior Kaurice Jones that made it 21-7.
“Usually we’re on the wrong side of the turnover margin,” said Elmont head coach Jay Hegi, whose son Matt is a sophomore linebacker for Mepham and made 10 tackles. “We made some really big defensive plays,” he added.
A Proios pass was tipped and clanged off a helmet high into the air before Jones made a basket catch and saw nothing but daylight between him and the end zone. “I saw there was nobody in front of me and I knew I had a good chance to score,” Jones said.
Anderson’s 20-yard touchdown reception answered a diving 20-yard scoring grab from Mepham senior Jack Gibbons and Elmont led 28-13 with 2:50 left in the first half. The Pirates responded with senior Michael Estevez’s 1-yard touchdown run just before halftime and a 1-yard touchdown run by senior Nah’jel Sands early in the third quarter to pull even at 28.
However, the next quarter-and-a-half belonged to Djalo. His 3-yard touchdown run broke the tie with 4:30 remaining in the third and he ruined Mepham’s first two possessions of the fourth with a fumble recovery at the Elmont 37 and an interception inside the 10. One snap after the pick, he took a handoff from Jean Baptiste and busted Elmont’s longest play of the year.