With Wantagh trailing Valley Stream North by five after one half of football, the defending Long Island Class III champions banded together at halftime to keep its quest for a repeat title alive.
The third-seeded Warriors (7-2) scored 29 unanswered points in the second half en route to a 36-12 first round home playoff win last Saturday afternoon. The offensive fireworks and dominating defensive effort followed a largely sluggish second quarter in which North seized momentum late for a 12-7 halftime lead.
“The seniors know that this could be last game ever,” Wantagh senior running back Anthony D’Onofrio of the team’s determination in the second half to extend its season. “We started listening to coaches and came out with more energy and heart,” he added.
D’Onofrio put Wantagh in front for good with a 22-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Ryan McCarty with 3:32 left in the third quarter to cap a 99-yard drive. The senior, who produced 179 all-purpose yards including 137 on the ground, followed up the decisive score with a two-point conversion pass to Kyle Graham for a 15-12 lead.
“It was a full team drive,” Wantagh head coach Keith Sachs said. “We’re usually a big play team, but were a little banged up and a lot of guys contributed. “
Wantagh seized control on North’s ensuing possession on an interception by junior linebacker Will DiMatteo deep in Spartan territory for one of the Warriors’ three forced turnovers. Senior running back Pat Walsh followed with a 25-yard touchdown run and a 22-12 lead after Brett Pine’s successful extra-point attempt.
“We turned the ball over too many times,” said North head coach Tom Schiavo, whose team had fallen to Wantagh 34-13 in the regular season. “We gave them three extra possessions with the turnovers.”
D’Onofrio capped off a 22-0 third quarter run by Wantagh with a 47-yard touchdown run with 59 seconds left following a recovered fumble near midfield. Michael Lombardi finished off the Wantagh scoring with an 11-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
“We made some adjustments at halftime, but it was more about family,” Sachs said.
North appeared poised to pull off the upset after a 7-yard touchdown run from Tim Hutchinson with 4:29 left in the second quarter gave the Spartans a 12-7 lead. A 10-yard scoring run from Hutchinson on the previous drive cut Wantagh’s lead to 7-6.
“It was a season of ups and downs,” Schiavo said of the 2017 campaign that finished 4-5 overall. “We overachieved in some ways and underachieved in a few others.”
Wantagh advances to face Roosevelt in the county semifinals at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium in a rematch of last year’s Class III title game this Saturday at 10 a.m. Second-seeded Roosevelt won the regular season meeting, 22-12, on Sept. 28.
“We’re coming together as a team,” Sachs said. “We’ve got so many people at new spots so there is still room for improvement.”