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Big plays lead V.S. Central over Long Beach

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Coming off an appearance in the Nassau Conference II football semifinals in 2019, Valley Stream Central is looking to continue its momentum and put together memorable back-to-back seasons.

Last Saturday afternoon at Long Beach, the Eagles were far from perfect but made some key defensive stops and used a pair of big passing plays to knock off the Marines in a hard-fought and long-anticipated opener, 12-8.

“We’re so young and it was the first varsity game for a lot of kids,” VSC head coach Mike Rubino said. “We didn’t execute as well as we wanted to, but we were able to make big plays in big spots. We escaped with an important win.”

In his first varsity start at quarterback, Central junior Quran Watkins threw two touchdown passes, including a 98-yarder to sophomore Dylan Braithwaite for the only score of the first half just one play after senior Dawin Fanor capped a goal-line stand for the defense by tackling Long Beach’s Jeff Conway short of the end zone early in the second quarter.

“It was a tough turning point early, but I have to say our kids responded well and played a pretty solid game,” Marines head coach Scott Martin said. “We didn’t make a lot of mistakes.”

Rubino said the deep ball resulting in the first score is something the Eagles practice every day. Watkins covered the first 50 yards in the air with a perfect spiral. Brathwaite caught it in stride at the Eagles’ 45 and did the rest. “It was a great throw and catch,” he said. “We felt we had a matchup advantage with Dylan one-on-one on the outside. He’s a special player and has chemistry with Quran going back a year-and-a-half ago on JV.”

Central led 6-0 at halftime but quickly fell behind early in the third quarter when Long Beach capitalized on the opening possession of the second half. Senior Ryan Buonocore returned the kickoff to the 40 and the offense, behind sophomore quarterback Hayden Sofield and senior Izzy Maldonado, the featured back, went to work.

Maldonado had four of the first five touches of the drive to move the ball deep into enemy territory, including a 19-yard catch. Junior Christian Tarsia ripped off a 12-yard run off a jet sweep to set up senior Jahmeke Primer’s game-tying 2-yard touchdown run. Primer added the 2-point conversion and the Marines led 8-6.

It stayed that way until the fourth when Watkins directed a 9-play scoring drive to put the Eagles ahead for good. Sophomore Mohammad Daffalla set up the series with an interception. Rubino made a gutsy call on fourth-and-6 from his own 36, but Braithwaite came through with a first-down reception. It was third-and-2 from the Long Beach 35 when Watkins connected with senior Josh Limage for the eventual game-winning score.

Central travels to four-time defending county champion Garden City this Saturday. The Marines hit the road to face Calhoun. Kickoff time for both games is 2 p.m.