It was test day for Commack quarterback Rob Paccione. He had to get up early Saturday, drive to Northport and take the SAT. Satisfied with his performance there, he jumped back into his 1997 Nissan Altima, got dressed like Superman in the Northport parking lot, and played the final football game of the regular season for the Cougars.
At stake was Commack's first perfect regular season since 1983.
Paccione, who joined the team in time for pregame warm-ups, went out and rushed for two first-half touchdowns and threw the game-winning 21-yard scoring pass to Jesse Klimetis as Commack outlasted a gritty Northport, 28-23, before a capacity crowd of more than 2,000 Saturday in Northport.
Paccione completed 11 of 20 passes for 144 yards and one interception as Commack garnered the top seed in the division playoffs next week.
Commack (8-0) will host No. 8 Brentwood (3-5) in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.
"I thought I did very well on the SAT," Paccione said. "It wasn't hard to concentrate. I knew first things first. But the game was definitely on my mind. I didn't want to let my teammates down."
He lifted Commack on the very first drive of the game. Augie Contressa returned the opening kickoff 56 yards to Northport's 34-yard line and eight plays later, Paccione had them in the end zone. His 4-yard scoring run around right end and the extra-point kick by Billy Holscher made it 7-0 with 8:01 left.
Northport (4-4) responded with a 10-play, 64-yard scoring drive capped by a Tristen Mauro 2-yard run. Ryan Trembley added the point after to tie it at 7 with 3:53 left. The key play came on a 31-yard pass from quarterback Connor Quinn to wide receiver Matt Nicolai.
Northport forced a short punt and halfback James Gerdvil punched it in from a yard out for a 13-7 lead with 10:35 left in the half.
"Northport plays with everyone, they're as good an anyone in our division," Commack coach Joe Reggio said. "We knew this one would go back and forth."
And it did.
A Willy Monroy interception set up Paccione's 2-yard scoring run as Commack took a 14-13 lead into the half.
Northport opened the third quarter with a long drive that stalled at Commack's 5-yard line. Gerdvil rumbled for 26 yards and Mauro caught a 15-yard pass to set up Trembley's 22-yard field goal for the 16-14 lead.
Commack's Matt Recek, who also was on the SAT grind Saturday, returned the ensuing kickoff 61 yards to the Northport 29.
On two successive third-down throws, Paccione came up golden. On third-and-10, he hit Contressa for 12 yards and a first down to the Tigers' 17, then later on third-and-12 he connected with Josh Valentin for 11 yards to set up fourth-and-1.
"And we had confidence in our offensive line on fourth down and ran right at them," Paccione said.
Monroy burst through the line for 2 yards and a first down and on the next play went over right tackle for the touchdown and a 21-16 lead with 5:40 left in the third quarter.
"We go as the line goes," said Monroy, who left the game with a right leg injury, but expects to play next week.
Paccione keyed the last touchdown drive with a 28-yard pass to Recek setting up his 21-yard scoring strike to Klimetis.
"We had Matt on the post pattern and we were going back to it," Paccione said. "But the flat was open and Jesse took it home."
As Commack's players celebrated and boarded the bus, Paccione hopped into his ride with his brother Danny.
"I'll see them later," Paccione said. "that's for sure."