One defensive stop proved as valuable as five passing touchdowns.
No. 5 Valley Stream North's offense was close to unstoppable in its 41-27 win over host Locust Valley in the first round of the Nassau Conference IV playoffs Saturday at Fred Smith Field, as quarterback Joe Ruscillo had five scoring strikes.
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But the No. 4 Falcons (6-4) trailed by just seven when they got the ball to open the second half and marched down the field. On the 17th play of the drive, Locust Valley had fourth-and-1 at the Spartans 15. The defense was able to stuff John Pedranghelu for a 1-yard loss, and the Falcons got nothing out of a nearly 10-minute possession.
"We ran a sweep and had good blocking," Locust Valley coach Matt McFarland said. "They got in from the edge and made a nice play."
"That caused a spark," Spartans lineman Pat Brady said. "It drove us to finish the game."
Valley Stream took the ball after its big stop and got Brian Carroll's 17-yard run to go up by two scores again early in the fourth quarter.
"That was the difference," Valley Stream North coach Tom Schiavo said. "We were able to stop their momentum."
The win sends the Spartans (6-3) into the conference semifinals Thursday at Hofstra.
Whoever they play will face a very balanced offense. Carroll powered the ground game, rushing for 187 yards on 30 carries and a touchdown, spinning and dodging tacklers.
Ruscillo was nearly perfect, completing 12 of 14 passes for 167 yards and five touchdowns to four receivers.
"They're one of the few teams that keeps you off balance with the pass and run," McFarland said. "[Ruscillo] made two unbelievable throws."
Thomas Canny slipped past the defense into the end zone on a 23-yard strike on fourth-and-8 in the second and Joe Kempton made a leaping grab for a 31-yard reception in the fourth quarter.
"The wide receivers did their jobs," Ruscillo said. "I got it to them to make plays and they executed. The offensive line played amazing, their best game all season."
Only twice Valley Stream North drives ended without a touchdown. One was on a fumble in the fourth quarter and the other was on the final possession of the game. Locust Valley had two fumbles and punted once.
Quarterback Jordan Formicola led Locust Valley (5-4) with 68 yards on seven carries and completed 4 of 6 passes for 27 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons had a balanced running game, with production from Pedranghelu (65 yards, 14 carries) and Matt Vezza (63 on 11), each of whom scored a touchdown.
The Spartans set the tone on the opening drive when Ruscillo rolled right on third-and-goal and found Joe Abruzzino for a 5-yard TD, then booted the extra point, after a 10-play, 78-yard drive.
Locust Valley responded with a 19-yard pass from Formicola to Louis Jokinsky, but missed the extra point and never led.
"We found some spots where they couldn't stop us," Carroll said. "We can keep doing big things in the playoffs."