East Rockaway's gameplan was simple: play Rock football. That means keeping the ball on the ground.
But Malverne had the same gameplan Saturday -- the Mules have a strong running game with volatile scoring ability.
Malverne implemented its plan, but so did East Rockaway. Between Caleb Alvarez, Jarell Brown and Dylan Henshaw, No. 4 East Rockaway rushed for over 350 yards, defeating visiting No. 5 Malverne, 24-12, in the Nassau IV quarterfinals.
“We came in with the same game plan; run the ball well,” Brown said. “Our line did a hell of a job blocking for us. Whenever there was an opening we took it.”
Alvarez added, “We played our football. All we need is three yards a carry.”
Malverne won the coin toss and deferred to East Rockaway. The Rocks' first drive lasted about eight minutes and led to a 3-yard touchdown run by Alvarez. Andrew LaBarbera ran for the conversion making the score 8-0 with 4:09 remaining in the first quarter.
“The key point for this game was to keep the ball for a whole quarter and score,” Alvarez said. “We knew we couldn’t give them the opportunity to score.”
The Rocks didn’t have the ball for long in the second quarter but the results were similar. With 1:27 left in the first half, on third-and-2, Henshaw ran for 50 yards and gave the Rocks a first-and-goal situation. Henshaw scored on a 2-yard run, and Brown's successful conversion run made it 16-0.
Malverne, minus a few mishaps, came back strong in the second half. An interception by Salek Butler gave the Mules the ball and boosted morale on the sidelines, but two plays later Malverne fumbled and recovered a fumble in its own end zone for a safety, and trailed, 18-0
That's when the Mules finally got untracked. They scored consecutive touchdowns on a 58-yard run by Donovan Ishmael, and a 78-yard run by Jordan Eveillard to cut the deficit to 18-12.
“We had to slow down on defense,” East Rockaway's Logan Ackerman said. “It’s all mental. They are an explosive team and we practiced for that all week. We had to slow down, get the reads and once we did that, we could shut them down.”
The final score came from Brown off a 30-yard run with eight minutes left in the fourth. Brown finished with 134 yards on 21 carries. Alvarez added 128 yards on 28 carries and Henshaw had 69 yards on eight carries.
The next stop for the Rocks is the semifinals, and they haven't been there since 2011. That year they made it to the finals but lost to Roosevelt. They’ll be looking for a different outcome this time.
“This is not something that comes around often here," LaBarbera said. “Only five teams in our school history have made it to Hofstra, so this is really special, not just for us but for our community. We’ve been playing together since first, second grade. We knew we would get here and we’re going to finish together. Go Rocks.”