Pat Mullin of South Side, left, and Jack Lozito celebrate...

Pat Mullin of South Side, left, and Jack Lozito celebrate after their team's 17-14 win over Floral Park in the Nassau Conference III final at Shuart Stadium. Credit: James Escher

South Side’s lead in the Nassau Conference III championship game had gotten uncomfortably tight over Floral Park, shrinking from 11 to three with 5:21 left. The Cyclones huddled before their ensuing drive and the message basically went like this:

“Push on every play and we’ll be champions,” senior quarterback Owen West said.

They started from their 35 and picked up five first downs. Floral Park never got the ball back, and the second-seeded Cyclones emerged with a 17-14 win over the fourth-seeded Knights on Friday night at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium.

They were champions.

“It feels much better than I thought it would, to be honest,” senior running back/safety Jack Lozito said after carrying 22 times for 114 yards and the deciding touchdown. “I’ve never felt so happy in my life.”

It was South Side’s first county football title in a long time, so long that coach Phil Onesto was a senior receiver, safety and captain for the Cyclones at that point. That was 2001.

“People have been asking me to compare this team with the 2001 team,” Onesto said. “The thing I’ll compare about that, and they’re so similar, is the cohesiveness as a team. They play as one. They don’t care who gets the credit.”

Next for the Cyclones (10-1) comes a chance for a first Long Island championship. They will face East Islip (9-2) at 4:30 p.m. on Friday at Hofstra.

“We’re going to get ready for them and give them everything we’ve got,” Onesto said.

South Side had a third-and-7 from its own 45 on its first possession of the third quarter. West went long for Michael Melkonian, and the senior receiver grabbed the ball for a 44-yard gain to the 11.

“We do that play in practice every day,” Melkonian said. “We’ve been doing it since we were little kids.”

The drive ended with Nick Papadopulos' 21-yard field goal and a 10-6 lead.

Papadopulos then kicked a 26-yarder, but Floral Park was called for roughing the kicker. Onesto took the points off the board, and on the next play, South Side put more on it. Lozito ran through the middle for a 4-yard score and Papadopulos’ PAT made it 17-6 with 9:24 remaining.

The Knights (7-4), who were hoping to claim the program’s first county title since 1976, responded with a nine-play, 71-yard drive. Senior quarterback Ryan Connolly fired an 8-yard pass to Kevin Hehir in the end zone and then ran for the two-point conversion to make it 17-14.

“I’m proud of my kids,” Floral Park coach Ron Pickett said. “They fought to the end. We were down 11 points late in the fourth and they came right down and scored and gave us a chance at the end to have an opportunity to win.

“This group has been doing that their entire career. They don’t flinch. They continue to work.”

West threw a 25-yard scoring pass to AJ Magaraci in the first quarter. Chase McLoughlin countered with a 20-yard TD run in the second quarter, but the point-after kick was missed. The Knights also had a missed field goal, leaving South Side ahead 7-6 at halftime.

The Cyclones refused to turn over the lead. And that led Melkonian to proclaim: “This is the greatest day of my life.”


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