South Side football is stepping up to the challenge of a higher conference this season.
The Cyclones (2-3) enter the home stretch of the 2017 campaign tied for sixth in Conference II and in strong position to reach the playoffs for a second straight year after moving up to a larger school league due to increased enrollment. Seventh-year head coach Phil Onesto has been pleased how his team responded following a 38-7 loss to defending Conference II county champion Garden City in the opener to stay competitive in every game since.
“Any time you have to start the season with Garden City you know it’s going to be a rough game,” said Onesto of opening against a longtime Long Island power. “I like the way the team has bounced back.”
South Side went toe-to-toe with Elmont on Saturday before ultimately falling 31-18. The Cyclones led by five entering the fourth quarter after a Jack Orsini 12-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trent Davis.
In Week 2, South Side got off the mat after the Garden City defeat with a 34-13 win at Valley Stream Central and then took the 2015 county champions MacArthur down to the wire in a 20-14 loss. Two Nick Licalzi touchdown runs knotted the score at 14-14 before a late 20-yard score by MacArthur running back Benny Orlando was the difference. Despite not pulling out the win, Onesto said the MacArthur game sent a strong message that South Side is ready for Conference II football.
“We had our chances to win and just didn’t execute at the end,” said Onesto of the narrow loss to a strong MacArthur program. “It was a nice confidence booster.”
The Cyclones followed up the MacArthur heartbreaker with a convincing 37-7 win against previously unbeaten Manhasset. Davis had a breakout game completing 8-of-11 passes for 125 yards and three touchdowns to Alex Dikman, Licalzi and Pat Leach. A Matt Kuchar 8-yard touchdown run gave South Side a 37-0 lead at halftime.
“Each game were getting a little better,” Onesto said. “We’re hitting our stride.”
The South Side defense has answered the bell after the Garden City game with some dominating performances that included limiting Manhasset to less than 100 yards in the first half. The Cyclones are aided by a strong defensive front featuring Tygah Scott, D’Andre Satchell, Devron Stewart, Pete Gibney and Pete Pellegrini.
South Side, which entered the season seeded sixth, is positioned to receive one of the league’s eight playoff bids with success in its final three games. After a road tilt at Sewanhaka this Saturday at 2 p.m., the Cyclones will host Carey in a Friday night game on Oct. 20 starting at 6 p.m.
“I told the guys before the season that there are only eight games guaranteed and the ninth one has to be earned,” said Onesto, who was a wide receiver on South Side’s last county title team in 2001. “If we take care of business we will earn our spot.”