The playoffs began Friday night for Centereach and Deer Park.
"Coach told us all week that this was Week 1 of the playoffs," Deer Park quarterback Jarett Bonser said.
Latest HS sports stories
The host Falcons survived, 20-13, and get to wear their costumes -- um, uniforms -- for at least one more week as they clinched a playoff berth.
"It wasn't pretty but we got it done," Deer Park's first-year coach Dan Ferguson said of the win-and-you're in scenario for both teams. Deer Park, which began the season as a No. 13 seed, improved to 5-3. Centereach, the No. 14 preseason seed, finished 4-4.
"This was our goal from Week 1," Ferguson said. "We didn't want any transitional year. We wanted to win right away."
Mission accomplished, thanks to Bonser's grittiness in a run-oriented offense, and a blitzing defense led by Ramel Hill and Kevin Loeber that came up with eight sacks.
Bonser didn't post big numbers -- only 8 rushing yards on six carries -- but he ran a quarterback sneak in from the 2 in the second quarter to break a 6-6 tie and Deer Park never trailed after that. Bonser ran it in from the 5 early in the fourth quarter, executing the read option to perfection with a sleight-of-hand handoff, then darting into the end zone for a 20-6 lead.
"If the running back is going to get tackled, I pull it out. I can keep it or pitch it," Bonser said.
The Falcons rely on the running game, and Kermann Azemar (64 yards on 17 carries) and Ayinde Briggs (70 yards on nine carries) had some success in their ball-control attack. But it was a surprising 71-yard touchdown pass from Bonser to Josh Pismeny on a quick slant that provided an early 6-0 lead.
"They were bringing some heat from the outside," Ferguson said. "It was a great throw, a great catch and great blocking downfield."
Deer Park also got some great defense for much of the game, especially its pass rush on Nick Juvelier, who was sacked seven times in the second half. He completed 14 of 30 passes for 134 yards, but 79 came on the final drive, which ended with a 7-yard TD pass to Rob Montgomery with 22 seconds left. The Falcons recovered the onside kick to seal the victory.
"Our coach called a lot of blitzes," said Hill, who had two of the sacks. "But I wouldn't have gotten any if it wasn't for Kevin [Loeber]. He was getting double-teamed and we were able to get through."
Loeber still managed to notch one of the Falcons' sacks. "Defense is where it all starts," Hill said.
And it hasn't ended yet for Deer Park. As Ferguson joyously yelled to his players, "We're going to the dance, boys!"