Floral Park's defense stifles South Side to advance to semifinals
Floral Park may have bent, but it did not break.
The Knights were back at South Side, scene of their most painful loss this season, for Saturday’s Nassau Conference III quarterfinal and this time made all the big plays. On three separate occasions the Cyclones drove into the red zone looking for a game-tying score. On all three occasions Floral Park turned them away.
And so the Knights avenged a one-point double-overtime loss three weeks ago with a uncharacteristic 7-0 victory to earn a spot in the semifinals for a second straight season. The fifth-seeded Knights (5-4) will face unbeaten and top-seeded Plainedge on Thursday at Hofstra.
"I saw it in the faces of all our guys before the game — they wanted it," Knights senior quarterback/defensive back Chris Naronis said. "That loss really hurt — it was a missed field goal and a missed extra point — and I think it brought us to a new level. Things were said off the field and we needed to respond."
"We wanted some revenge," senior wide receiver/defensive back Matthew Ollen said. "We came here with the aim of playing our hearts out and getting a ‘W.’ "That’s exactly what we did. We’re going to Hofstra.
Fourth-seeded South Side (4-5) beat Floral Park 34-33 in two overtimes on Oct. 16.
Floral Park hasn’t exactly inspired thoughts of great defense during this campaign. Entering play the Knights were averaging 28.1 points and allowing 26.5 per game. It had not posted a shutout all season. But in the biggest game of the season there were huge defensive plays by Ollen, senior linebacker Nate Estimable, sophomore defensive back Josh Lewis, senior linebacker Matthew Magyar and senior lineman Joaquin Llaurado.
"This is a tremendous accomplishment, to hold a strong team like that to no points," Knights coach Ron Pickett said. "They made a lot of big plays the last time we played and we made the big plays this time. We have a lot of seniors on this team and they responded."
South Side opened the game with an unsuccessful onside kick — something it often does — and it gave Floral Park the ball at the Cyclones 49. Eight plays later Naronis found senior Jason Kozak open in the end zone on a slant for an 8-yard touchdown.
The Cyclones took the ensuing possession as close as the Knights' 3. Then, on a fourth-and-goal from the 8, Ollen stepped in front of an Owen West pass into the end zone for an interception.
South Side made another good bid to tie the score before halftime. The Cyclones reached the Floral Park 4 in its last minute. After the Knights held sophomore running back Brendan O’Sullivan to no gain, West — a sophomore quarterback — made three throws into the end zone without success. The best pass was batted away at the last second by Lewis.
In the final minutes of the third quarter, the Cyclones came-a-knockin’ one more time. A sack by Magyar put South Side in a fourth-and-16, but a pass interference penalty made it fourth-and-1 on the Knights' 10. O’Sullivan was stopped cold by Estimable.
South Side was 4-for-11 on third-down conversions and 1-for-5 on fourth-down conversions.
"This [defensive] effort came from all the pain and anger after that loss here," Estimable said. "We had a lot of fuel coming into this."
Matthew Buonocore rushed for 85 yards and Naronis 75 yard for Floral Park. Matt Solano ran for 70 yards and O’Sullivan 64 yards and West was 8-for-16 passing for 67 yards with the one interception for South Side.
"Last season there were no games at Hofstra," Naronis said, referring to changes made because of the coronavirus pandemic. "We want to play on that stage. It’s going to bring out our best."