Wantagh linebacker Ralph Sommer paid attention in practice this week, and that paid off big-time in the most critical moment of Saturday's Nassau II quarterfinal against Elmont.
With Wantagh leading by three with 2:42 left in the fourth quarter, Elmont started a drive at its own 29-yard line, and brought the ball inside Wantagh territory on a long completion by Simon Kalu to Kavon Chambers with less than two minutes left. On third-and-10, Kalu dropped back to pass but was intercepted by Sommer with 1:24 left to seal a 24-21 victory.
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"I saw the quarterback drop back and the receiver had a stop route," Sommer said. "He threw it and I just broke on the ball. We had worked on that all week in practice, and it was huge."
No. 3 Wantagh (7-2) advances to a semifinal against No. 2 Garden City at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Hofstra.
Having taken the lead for the third time in a back-and-forth contest midway through the fourth quarter on Peter Brasile's third touchdown run, Wantagh's defense stopped Elmont on both of its final drives with interceptions by Nick Rodin and Sommer.
Wantagh took the ultimate lead when Brasile (18 carries, 99 yards) ran up the middle for a 40-yard score on first down for a 22-21 advantage, and added the two-point conversion on a completion by Stephen Killard to Dan Devine to make it 24-21 with 6:58 left.
On Elmont's next drive, Kalu hit Chambers for a 23-yard gain to put the Spartans on the positive side of midfield. But on the next play Rodin intercepted a pass when he battled Elmont receiver Matthew Brutus for possession on the near sideline and came away with the ball as both players fell out of bounds with 5:58 to play.
"We just knew we had to come up big when we needed to," Brasile said. "The line opened up great for me and I just didn't stop until I got to the end zone. And then later we had the interceptions at the end and that sealed it."
With Wantagh leading 3-0 in the first quarter, Elmont scored on its first possession by converting two fourth downs, including a 19-yard TD strike from Kalu to Chambers on a slant pattern on fourth-and-5. Kalu ran in for a two-point conversion to make it 8-3. Earlier in the drive, Kendall St. Louis converted a fourth-and-2 from the Wantagh 47, breaking initial tacklers in the backfield to gain six yards.
Kalu struck again with 4:10 left in the second quarter when he hit St. Louis on a streak pattern for a 70-yard score on second-and-14. Wantagh answered just before the half, though, on Brasile's 1-yard score, capping an 11-play, 63-yard drive that cut Elmont's lead to 15-10 at halftime.
Wantagh went ahead 16-15 on Brasile's second TD from 1-yard out, but Kalu's 1-yard score gave sixth-seeded Elmont (4-5) a 21-16 lead heading into the fourth.
Wantagh coach Keith Sachs said the two fourth-quarter turnovers forced by his defense were crucial.
"[Kalu] made a nice pass but Rodin just pulled it away from the guy and made a real athletic play," Sachs said. "And the last one Sommer was just in the right spot. He read the play and knew what they wanted to do."