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South Side handles hype, Lawrence in opener

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It’s only one game, but South Side’s performance in last Friday night’s Nassau Conference III football opener against perennial power Lawrence showed the Cyclones may have what it takes to live up to all the hype.

Senior Nick LiCalzi rushed for 230 yards and one touchdown and added a pair of scoring receptions, while South Side’s defense forced three turnovers to lead a convincing 35-7 victory in front of a spirited home crowd. Juniors Maurice Reid and Matt Melkonian added touchdown runs for the Cyclones, the No. 2 seed after reaching the semifinals last season.

“We like the added pressure,” South Side head coach Phil Onesto said of the high expectations. “These kids can handle it. We have a lot of versatility and tonight was a total team effort.”

Lawrence, which suffered a first-round playoff upset a year ago, scored on its first offensive snap of 2019 to answer LiCalzi’s early 10-yard touchdown run but was unable to sustain any long drives in its first game under new head coach Jason Supple.

“I thought we did some good things, but we shot ourselves in the foot so many times offensively and LiCalzi is a load to take down,” Supple said. “Probably about three or four times we had him wrapped up in the backfield and he broke loose for a big gain. Any other kid those are all negative yardage.”

LiCalzi totaled 89 yards from scrimmage in the first quarter alone as the teams traded scores. He caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback JJ Considine on South Side’s second drive, which answered Golden Tornadoes’ junior Aquan Walker’s 80-yard touchdown reception on a perfect toss from senior Jack Abecassis.

“If we get one-on-one there, we’re taking a shot down the field with our best player,” Supple said. “Jack made a good read at the line and put a nice touch on the ball.”

Abecassis threw for 195 yards without an interception. Walker finished with seven catches for 165 yards. “Aquan’s a heck of athlete who did a lot for us tonight,” Supple said. “He has breakaway speed and great hands. He’s just not comfortable in the backfield yet.”

Lawrence drove into enemy territory on its next possession but its first of three fumbles was recovered by South Side sophomore Brady West at the 45-yard line. Sophomore TJ Maher and junior Matt Funez also had fumble recoveries for the Cyclones, who led 28-7 at halftime.

LiCalzi, a lacrosse standout headed to the U.S. Naval Academy, caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Considine on the opening possession of the second quarter. LiCalzi’s longest run of the night came on the following drive and covered 64 yards but didn’t lead to points. Reid scored on an 11-yard run with 2:01 remaining in the half.

Senior kicker TJ McNicholas went 5-for-5 on extra-point attempts and also boomed four kickoffs into the end zone. Senior Josiah Reed had two sacks for Lawrence, which travels to face rival Hewlett this Saturday at 2 p.m. South Side visits Roosevelt (also 2 p.m.) in a rematch of last year’s playoff opener won by the Cyclones in overtime, 20-14.