A reliable kicker is not a luxury many Long Island high school teams are accustomed to.

St. John the Baptist coach Ralph Carusillo knows that. And he knows what he has in senior Nicholas Maldarella

"He's the best kicker in the league,'' Carusillo said. "I have full confidence in him kicking a field goal, anything within 45 yards. He's our guy. He's unflappable; he has ice water in his veins . . . He's a weapon is really what he is.''

In their season opener yesterday, the Cougars flaunted that weapon in their 20-17 overtime victory against St. Joseph by-the-Sea in CHSAA. Maldarella lined up on the windy afternoon and drilled a 35-yard field goal that could have been good from at least 45 yards. The kick -- his second of the game -- came on the Cougars' first overtime possession, and they won after the Vikings missed their 32-yard field goal in the following possession.

"I've been dreaming of a game-winning field goal situation like this for so long, waiting a long time and for this to happen now on our home opener is just really special,'' said Maldarella, who is beginning his fourth season as varsity kicker. "Knowing that I had the opportunity in front of me, I knew I had to take it.''

The Vikings opened the scoring, capitalizing on good field position after a botched snap on a punt. On play action, quarterback Francis Perry ran right for the first score and a 6-0 lead after a failed extra point.

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St. John the Baptist got on the board behind its big offensive line and the running of Nicholas Egan. The six-play drive, all runs, included four Egan rushes to the left side of the field for 28 yards, ending with a 1-yard touchdown.

After a defensive stop, Maldarella kicked a 32-yard field goal. The Vikings' Joe Cardona ended the half with a 34-yard field goal to make it 10-9.

The Vikings scored on their first possession of the second half to take the lead. After returning the kickoff to the St. John 28, Perry capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run.

But the Cougars produced the longest play of the game on their next possession, a 55-yard pass from Jose Guzman to Jerome Brooks III. Brooks noticed the linebackers cheating in and beat them on a drag route for the catch and run to the 10-yard line. He eventually scored from the 2 to tie the score at 17-17.

Brooks finished with 82 yards rushing on 14 carries and a touchdown, but this game was decided by Maldarella's right foot. "You just got to stick to your guns,'' said Maldarella "You just got to know what you do best.''

For Maldarella, it's kicking field goals.