Valley Stream Central is headed to the Nassau County football playoffs for the first time in 20 years after beating Uniondale, 35-21, last Saturday at Firemen’s Field in the regular-season finale to clinch the No. 8 seed in Conference I.
The Eagles, who scored at least one touchdown in every quarter and forced three turnovers, doused head coach Frank Chimienti with a cooler full of water as the final seconds ticked off the clock. The win leapfrogged them over Plainview in the race for the conference’s last playoff berth.
“It’s been a long time since we made the playoffs and it feels really good,” said senior Boljan Castillo, who scored four of Central’s five touchdowns and had nine tackles on defense. “We work hard and play hard,” he added. “Uniondale kept coming, but we never lost focus.”
The Eagles (3-5) will travel to face top-seeded Farmingdale (8-0) in the opening round of the playoffs this Friday at 6:30 p.m.
“I’m so thrilled for the kids,” said Chimienti, who is assisted by Frank Alesia, Andrew Kroell and Joe Delgais. “Twenty years is a long time,” he continued. “I’ve been here for the last five, and we’ve had our struggles in Conference I going up against Farmingdale, Freeport, Massapequa, East Meadow, and everyone else. They’re all tremendous programs, and it’s nice to say we’re in the playoffs with them.”
After stopping the Knights short of a first down on a fourth-and-4 attempt from inside its own 10-yard line with five minutes to go, Central, leading 28-21, drove 92 yards on six plays and sealed the deal with Castillo’s 1-yard touchdown plunge with 2:38 remaining. Castillo, who carried 19 times on the day for 191 yards, broke a 49-yard run on the previous play. “It’s all about teamwork,” he said. “The line did a great job blocking.”
A pair of Uniondale gaffes in the first quarter helped the Eagles build a two-touchdown lead in less than six minutes. Senior Dayne Merdis pounced on a botched snap at the 14, his first of two fumble recoveries, to set up junior quarterback Vito Friscia’s 2-yard touchdown run that opened the scoring. Senior Chris Robert (10 tackles) blocked a punt on the Knights’ ensuing possession and Castillo, who recovered the ball at the 15, scored three plays later to make it 14-0.
Castillo capped a 53-yard scoring drive early in the second quarter with a 1-yard touchdown run, which answered a 4-yard touchdown reception by Uniondale’s Malik Howard, and Central led 21-7 at halftime. Junior Carlos Jackson picked off a pass in the end zone in the closing seconds of the half, but Knights quarterback Adrian Berry rebounded with a strong third quarter. “Uniondale made us earn it,” Chimienti said.
Berry sandwiched 79- and 17-yard touchdown passes to William Jacobs around a 46-yard score by Castillo, bringing the visitors within a touchdown heading into the fourth. But Uniondale had only two possessions in the final quarter, the first concluding with Roberts stopping Howard at the 8 on fourth down, and the last ending with an interception by junior Michael LaBarbera.