MacArthur senior quarterback Kyle Acquavella set a program record with five touchdown passes, but his counterpart in Saturday’s Nassau Conference II opener, Mepham senior Mike Proios, was equal to the task.
Proios orchestrated a game-winning drive covering 45 yards in just over two minutes, capped by a 4-yard touchdown pass to junior Gianni Macchio with :08 remaining, and was the holder on senior Kevin McCleneghan’s decisive extra point as the host Pirates pulled out a 35-34 thriller.
“We’ve been practicing the two-minute drill for weeks,” said Proios, who threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns and ran for two scores. “Everyone stayed focused and made plays,” he added. “Our linemen deserve a lot of credit. They’re a tough bunch of guys.”
The second half saw five lead changes. The Generals took a 34-28 advantage on the first snap of the fourth quarter on a leaping 9-yard touchdown grab by sophomore Hugh Kelleher, but the visitors managed just one first down over their final four possessions.
“We did a lot of nice things today and fought through some injuries, but we were unable to finish,” MacArthur head coach Bob Fehrenbach said. “It was a great game but we were on the wrong side of the scoreboard. We had a couple of quick possessions in the fourth quarter and our defense didn’t stop them in the end.”
In addition to Acquavella’s record-setting performance, his No. 1 target, senior Mike Manfredo, also had a day to remember despite leaving late in the third quarter and not returning until late in the fourth due to cramps. Manfredo set a school record with four touchdown receptions and had six catches overall for 88 yards. Junior Jake Sarni added 150 yards on two kick returns, including an 85-yard burst to the Mepham 3 to open the season.
The Pirates answered the first Acquavella-Manfredo hookup with a 6-yard touchdown run by Proios. A fumble recovery by sophomore Kenny Franquiz set up Mepham’s next score, a 30-yard pass from Proios to Macchio up the middle, and it took a 14-7 lead into the second quarter.
The Generals led 20-14 at intermission after Manfredo’s two second-quarter touchdown receptions in a span of just over two minutes. Mepham vaulted back in front early in the third — 21-20 — as senior Michael Estevez (75 yards rushing, 50 yards receiving) set up junior Anthony Novello’s 4-yard touchdown catch.
Manfredo’s 8-yard touchdown put MacArthur on top, 27-21, but the Generals fumbled away their next possession and a recovery by senior Kyle Bowers ultimately led to a 3-yard touchdown run by Proios and a 28-27 Mepham lead.
“It was back-and-forth all day,” Pirates head coach Anthony Cracco said. “Our defense made some key stops in the fourth quarter and gave us an opportunity to win.
“MacArthur’s such a strong, well-coached team,” he added. “We felt all week this was going to be a close game.”
It was Mepham’s third straight season-opening victory. McCleneghan starred in the air attack with 12 receptions for 180 yards. “He’s my next-door neighbor,” Proios said. “We have excellent chemistry.”