South Side used a 13-play, 94-yard drive to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in last Friday's Nassau Conference III football semifinal at Hofstra.
Trailing No. 3 Wantagh by a point late in the fourth quarter and pinned inside its own 10, senior quarterback William Pickett directed a game-winning, two-minute drill, capped by his 5-yard touchdown run with 21 seconds remaining and the Cyclones celebrated a thrilling 28-21 win. They scored 21 unanswered points to reach the county championship stage for the first time since winning the Conference II crown in 2001 when current head coach Phil Onesto was on the roster.
"We were just thinking 10 yards at a time," Pickett said of the final possession, which included big completions to seniors Richie Petrone, Ezavier Brewster and Nick LiCalzi. “We weren’t looking to see how far we had to go,” he added. “We just kept our composure.”
South Side will meet defending champion and top-seeded Plainedge (10-0), which rolled past No. 4 North Shore in the other semifinal, for the title this Friday at 7 p.m. at Hofstra. The Red Devils downed the Cyclones 61-13 in a Week 7 matchup that garnered local and national attention due to Nassau’s lopsided score rule.
The Warriors (7-3), who played Plainedge tougher than any opponent this season with an 18-point losing margin, led South Side 21-7 entering the fourth quarter but couldn’t close the book. Wantagh had a chance to seal the outcome with 2:25 left but a downfield pass was broken up by Cyclones senior cornerback T.J. McNicholas and forced a punt from midfield.
“It looked grim there for a while but our guys just never gave up,” Onesto said. “I’ve said it all season long, we have some great captains but we also have other leaders all over the field. We’re on cloud nine right now.”
On the winning drive, Pickett (176 yards passing, 132 yards rushing) kept the season alive with a fourth-and-1 conversion from the 46 with just over a minute remaining. Two plays later, he hit LiCalzi over the middle for a 30-yard gain to the Wantagh 5 on a play call Onesto credited to his friend Andrew Kell, a 2005 South Side grad who coaches at a city school. “We just put the play into motion at yesterday’s practice,” Onesto said. “Pickett had multiple options. He found Nick and that play basically won the game for us.”
One final push from Luca Mormando, Michael Gibney, Michael Murray, Connor Dotzler and Andrew Fingleton up front helped Pickett into the end zone for the biggest touchdown the program has seen in almost 20 years.
LiCalzi had a pair of touchdown runs (24 and 4 yards), and sophomore TJ Maher a 67-yard touchdown reception for South Side (9-1), which defeated Wantagh 27-24 in the closing seconds last month and also avenged a loss to the Warriors in last year's semis.
Wantagh got a pair of touchdown runs from senior Nick Teresky, who had 168 of its 335 yards from scrimmage and added six tackles and a fumble recovery on defense. Maher and junior Jack Temple had 6.5 stops to lead the Cyclones’ defensive effort.
“It was a tough way to end the season for such a great group of seniors and teammates who always made me proud on and off the field,” Wantagh head coach Keith Sachs said.