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Locust Valley rallies to beat East Rockaway

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The football rivalry between East Rockaway and Locust Valley is a unique one. The two schools are about as far apart as any in Nassau; the Rocks a little jaunt from the Atlantic, and the Falcons a short distance from the Sound. But, the teams have had some classic regular season contests and a few memorable playoff meetings.

In 1985 and 1986, Locust Valley knocked off the Rocks to capture Conference IV titles, and in 2011, it was East Rockaway beating a strong Falcons team twice in less than two weeks on its way to the conference championship game.

Add last Saturday’s quarterfinal playoff matchup between the two evenly matched teams to the annals. Carlo Paz rushed for 180 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 5:35 to play to lead No. 4 Locust Valley to a 29-22 victory over the visiting Rocks. The Falcons had trailed 22-0 early in the second quarter. Ben Ferrara added 120 yards and a touchdown.

With his team trailing 22-21 earlier in the fourth quarter, Ferrara picked off a pass and returned it to his own 45-yard line. The Falcons went 55 yards in eight plays with Paz calling his own number and taking it in from 15 yards out. He added the two-point conversion to cap off the scoring.

Locust Valley head coach Casey Neilly made a key adjustment after falling behind. “We wanted to test them with our tight end formation and under center stuff, but you just can’t run against ten in the box,” Neilly said. “We went to our option package a little earlier than we wanted, but when we spread them out, things opened up. They couldn’t stop our best player.”

After falling behind for the first time in the game, No. 5 East Rockaway drove to the Locust Valley 33, but the Falcons came up big on defense and stopped the Rocks on fourth-and-two.

“They executed well, but we made mistakes,” East Rockaway head coach Russ Pajer said. “Everyone has a job to do against the option, but we weren’t disciplined and got over anxious.”

The Rocks looked unstoppable early on. A 44-yard run by Caleb Alvarez set up Julian Palma’s one-yard touchdown run, and after a sack caused a fumble, East Rockaway (5-4) made it 14-0 when Alvarez capped off a nine-play drive from two yards out with :37 remaining in the opening quarter.

Moments later, after stopping the Falcons on fourth down, the Rocks were back in business. A 23-yard scamper by Ezequiel Espinal put the orange-and-black up 22-0 with 9:42 left in the half.

Back came Locust Valley. Following the blocks of Matthew Jones, Peter Panacciulli, and Patrick Fallon, Paz took over, scoring a pair of touchdowns before the half to get the Falcons within 22-14. Linebacker Luke Paniagua led the Locust Valley defense with 19 tackles. Sean Murphy recovered a pair of second-half fumbles.

The Falcons will take on No. 1 Seaford this Saturday in the semifinals at Hofstra at 5 p.m.