The Wantagh football team took the field for last Saturday’s Conference IV finals against top-seeded North Shore with the memory of beloved longtime defensive coordinator Tony Carter fresh on their minds.
The Warriors made their former coach proud with a 26-13 win in which they kept an explosive Viking offense out of the end zone until the final seconds and limiting it to just 122 total yards. Following the win at North Shore’s home field, the family of Carter, who died in April 2020 from complications of Covid-19, joined the Wantagh players and coaches to celebrate the program’s first county title since 2016.
“We dedicated every day to him this season and hoped it would end with a win and it did,” said Wantagh head coach Keith Sachs, who coached beside Carter for 17 years. “This is what it’s all about.”
Wantagh (5-2) had fallen to North Shore 26-12 in the team’s regular season meeting on March 27. The Warriors defense stepped up in the rematch limiting North Shore to one defensive touchdown and a Philip La Rosa 2-yard touchdown run with five seconds left.
The Warriors took command of the game on the other side of the ball from aggressive play calling in converting four-of-five fourth down attempts with the first two resulting in touchdowns.
Senior quarterback Bryan Picirillo connected with Ryan Graham in the corner of the end zone for a diving eight-yard touchdown catch late in the first quarter on a 4th-and-3 for a 6-0 Wantagh lead. Junior running back Tyler Martini later raced 59 yards for a touchdown on a fourth-and-1 to expand the lead the 12-0 with 4:23 left in the second quarter.
Martini, who finished with 143 yards and was part of Wantagh’s impressive defensive effort at linebacker, said Carter was fresh on his mind during each play during the championship just like the entire season.
“Every time we stepped on the field we did it for him,” Martini said. “He was one of the most amazing coaches anyone could play for.”
Junior running back Mark Maniet also had big day on the ground with 133 yards that included a 48-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter expanding the lead to 26-7. Martini credited the offensive line led by Tom O’Connor, Drew Palladino, Liam Casey, Nick Aldino and tight end Joe Fontana
North Shore (7-1), which entered the finals unbeaten and seeking the program’s first county title since 1977, trailed 12-0 at halftime before clawing back into the game with 5:52 left in the third quarter on an Ian Roach 70-yard fumble recovery touchdown that cut the lead to 12-7.
Wantagh answered the North Shore momentum early in the fourth quarter with some controversy. On a fourth-and-2 early in the 4th quarter from the North Shore 13, Martini moved close to the first down maker prompting a measurement, which was initially ruled short but later reversed by the referees.
Three plays later Anthony Reale hauled in a 9-yard touchdown pass from Picirillo.
“Things didn’t go our way on the scoreboard, but they fought until the end and for that I’m proud,” North Shore head coach Dan Agovino said. “They played like champions.”