Down by 24 points to Roosevelt early in the second half of last Sunday’s Nassau Conference IV football championship game at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium, Valley Stream North rallied, but ultimately came up short, 26-21.
Senior running back Billy Patsos sparked the fourth-seeded Spartans’ comeback with three touchdowns, including scores of 68 and 74 yards on back-to-back offensive plays, but the defending champion Rough Riders got a key defensive stop late in the fourth quarter to hold on.
Junior Johnnie Akins was the workhorse for No. 3 Roosevelt, rushing for 170 yards and a touchdown on 41 carries. He was aided by senior Marquell Saunders, who scored twice, and junior Robert Hansen, who led the way for Akins and made tough carries in short-yardage situations.
Things looked bleak in the early going for North, but head coach Tom Schiavo never lost hope. “You never like to go down by that many points, but I never lost faith,” he said. “I believed we were going to win until the buzzer went off.”
After the Rough Riders marched downfield on their first possession to cap a 10-play, 58-yard drive with an Akins touchdown, Saunders put his speed on display with two long touchdowns of his own. In the second quarter, he fielded a punt along the right sideline, broke a tackle, and ran across the field and into the end zone, a 67-yard score. Then, early in the third quarter, he rushed for a 70-yard touchdown to put Roosevelt up 24-0.
On North’s first play of the second half, senior quarterback Anthony Martelli found Patsos on a post pattern at midfield. Patsos caught the ball in stride and scampered into the end zone, the play covering 68 yards. After North’s defense forced a punt on Roosevelt’s ensuing possession, it didn’t take long for Patsos to reach the end zone once more. He took a handoff on the first play of the drive, ran to his left and found daylight along the sideline for a 74-yard touchdown.
“Billy is as good as anyone in Nassau County,” Schiavo said.
The Spartans defense found its groove in the second half, which included a big goal-line stand early in the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-goal from the 6-yard line, Saunders rushed to his right, but was quickly met by North senior James Capoziello and tackled for no gain.
Down 24-13, North took the ball with 9:57 remaining and marched 94 yards to cut the lead to a field goal. Patsos and Capoziello each had big runs on the drive, but it appeared that the Spartans would have to settle for a field goal when they were faced with a fourth-and-7 from Roosevelt’s 9-yard line. When North lined up for the kick, a defender jumped offside, so Schiavo decided to send his offense back on the field. Patsos promptly picked up the first down and punched it into the end zone on the next play from inside the 1-yard line.
Spartans Senior Stephen Giuliante picked off a pass on Roosevelt’s ensuing drive, and North looked poised to finish the comeback. But with the ball on the Spartans’ 44-yard line, Martelli threw three consecutive incompletions, each time under heavy pressure, and North turned the ball over on downs.
Roosevelt’s defense forced a safety on North’s final offensive play with 13 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
“These guys proved that if you have true faith in a group of kids and your coaching staff, you can achieve great things, and I’m very proud of them,” Schiavo said. The game marked North’s first appearance in the Nassau finals since 1981.
North High Athletic Director Michael Frazer said that despite the loss, it was a great season for the team. “It just goes to show you that our coaches have done such a great job to teach our kids that the game is never over, the season is never over,” Frazer said, “and we’re really proud of the job that they’ve done.”
Hundreds of North students and supporters cheered team members as they walked off the field, including the seniors who led the Spartans the whole season. “These guys made a special mark on the program, and they’re wonderful leaders,” Schiavo said. “A little piece of them is going to be carried forward in the years to come.”