There are lofty expectations this season for two quarterbacks separated by 39 miles on the South Shore of Long Island. And they are realistic given the performance of both in last year's epic Long Island Class III football championship.
Sayville took the Long Island Class III title with an unimaginable 78-61 win over Lawrence in what is believed to be the highest-scoring football game in state history. Records were shattered, defensive units were shredded and astounding statistical numbers were compiled.
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"I think everyone just assumes that we'll have a rematch in the LIC," said Lawrence quarterback Joe Capobianco. "I wish it were that easy."
The kid from Inwood
Capobianco, then a little- known sophomore from Inwood, near the Queens border, emerged as a leader with a big arm for the Golden Tornado last year. The kid had a confidence and a swagger well beyond his years and took over an offense that featured a bevy of outstanding athletes and made it all click. The result was a run through the Nassau III schedule and a date with Sayville's record-breaking quarterback Steven Ferreira.
Capobianco guaranteed he'd throw for more than 400 yards against Sayville. The sophomore dazzled with a 541-yard passing performance, including seven touchdown passes and a running score. His fancy footwork allowed him to escape the heavy rush of a blitzing Sayville defense. But it wasn't enough.
While Capobianco aired it out, Sayville's junior halfback Zach Sirico rushed for six touchdowns, etching his name into the LIC record books. The two stole the LIC spotlight with an eye that now looks ahead at what the two can accomplish moving forward.
It was an unforgettable experience and one that drives them toward this weekend's season openers with a focus on returning to the LIC. Capobianco agreed it'll be hard to shed the expectations for he and Sirico.
"No one will accept anything less than an LIC win," Capobianco said. "So we need to meet the expectations and overcome the pressures that come with the hype."
There is a different mind-set for both athletes this season. The test drive for Capobianco (5-11, 195), who widely is considered one of Long Island's best quarterbacks, is over.
"I know what's expected of me," Capobianco said. "As a sophomore everything you do is a surprise and has a wow factor. That is over for me and now I'm no longer the guy trying to prove myself. I'm the guy the coaches believe can lead the team. My motivation lies in the fact that we lost in the LIC last year and that can't happen again."
For Sirico (6-0, 171), the halfback with shifty hips and breakaway speed, the transition to the quarterback position will key Sayville's march back to the LI Class III title game. Of Sirico's six rushing touchdowns in the LIC, three came untouched, as the Golden Flashes offensive line blew gaping holes in the Lawrence front.
"There wasn't much to do but get it and go," Sirico said. "The line just dominated."
Sirico, the Loyola-Maryland-bound lacrosse star, benefited from the record-breaking passing of graduated quarterback Ferreira and the bullish running of senior John Haggart. While defensive coordinators tried to game plan for the Ferreira-Haggart tandem, Sirico killed them with his gifted running ability.
"The transition to quarterback has been tough," Sirico said. "Steven Ferreira was a genius and made our offense look easy. His check downs and hot calls were unbelievable. He totally understood how to read the different defensive schemes and alignments."
Sirico said he spent his summer watching and learning from film and adapting to his new position.
"The reality is that I've been a running back my whole life and this is a big challenge," he said. "I guess I'm a Tebow-like quarterback."
Sayville coach Rob Hoss is confident Sirico will persevere in the Golden Flashes often difficult and demanding offense.
"The offense that we run is very complicated," Hoss said. "He has to know all the reads and the check downs when the defenses load the box or show a different front. I demand that the quarterback check me into a different call for a successful play."
Hoss said his receivers also are taught to recognize different blitz packages.
"An average football fan would not notice these audibles, they're like college level calls," Hoss said. "The transition for Sirico has not been easy but he'll get better and better during the season."
Sirico beat the blitz in the 7-on-7 tournaments and checked into positive plays but struggled in the game scrimmage with a ferocious Floyd defense that penetrated a young line and disrupted the Sayville offense.
"Teams will crowd the box on us and blitz," Hoss said. "We'll have to identify the threat at the line, check down and make the right call."
Sirico, like Capobianco, has been breaking down film and dissecting defenses.
"When you are a running back they give you the ball and you go," Sirico laughed. "As a quarterback the responsibility is much different. Now you control the huddle, the play and everything. I have to learn how to expose the weaknesses of the defense."
It's a process
Both quarterbacks are looking for ways to improve their respective styles. Sirico yearns to improve his skills as a leader in the pocket and to throw the ball efficiently to add to his rushing capabilities.
At the west end of the Southern State Parkway, Capobianco speed trains and works hard to add a running dimension to his aerial repertoire.
"We know we can rely on his arm," said Lawrence coach Joe Martillotti. "We were a run first team last year before Plainedge slowed down our run game and we put it all on Joey and he led us to the win."
Martillotti said Capobianco has a better knowledge of the offense and after battling for the job last year now understands this is his team.
"His confidence is soaring and he's so much bigger and stronger this year. He runs hard like a fullback and got much quicker."
It will be a daunting task but schools like Plainedge, Bethpage, Miller Place and Islip will have a say come the postseason, as nothing is easy in Class III.
Sirico and Capobianco got together for a preseason photo shoot in August. It would be the last time these two would meet as they reach for the same goal to meet again Nov. 23 at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium.
Their parting words -- see you in the LIC.