Ask Oceanside's versatile James Paczkowski what position he plays and he will shuffle his feet, hesitate and then smile. "I'm a punter. Punters are football players, too, you know."
Punting was the one skill Paczkowski did not showcase Saturday. The Sailors did not need that particular skill as they routed defending Long Island Class I champion Syosset, 48-14, to the delight of a large homecoming crowd.
Paczkowski did, however, display the full range of his non-kicking skills. He carried nine times -- from both running back and wildcat quarterback -- for 55 yards and one touchdown, caught three passes as a wide receiver for 15 yards and two touchdowns, made a key interception as an outside linebacker and helped throttle Syosset's vaunted passing game as a safety.
"He's our do-everything guy. He's got a non-stop motor," Oceanside coach Rob Blount said after his team improved to 5-0 in Nassau I. Syosset fell to 3-2. "That interception was a tremendous play."
It came on Syosset's first possession as the Braves tried to answer the Sailors' opening-drive touchdown. On their second play, Will Hogan tried to hit Mike Elardo on a quick slant, but Paczkowski jumped the route, made the pick and returned the ball 17 yards to the Syosset 16. It took five plays, but Oceanside cashed in the turnover, with Vin Guarino hitting Dylan Judd for a 5-yard touchdown. Halfway through the first quarter, Oceanside had a 14-0 lead.
"The coaches drilled us all week on that play. The opportunity came and I took it," Paczkowski said. "We came out with a lot of energy and that play sparked us."
The Sailors had numerous sparklers in a complete performance. Guarino ran for 52 yards and a touchdown and also threw two short TD passes. Gabe Ruiz ran for 106 yards, including a 27-yard TD dash in the fourth quarter. Brandy Diaz had runs of 56 and 41 yards in compiling 111 yards on five carries. Nick Mari contributed a touchdown run and a TD pass on a jet-sweep option. Oceanside gained 308 yards on the ground.
The Sailors also showed some trickery. Paczkowski ran 7 yards for a first down on a fake punt and Andrew McDougal recovered an onside kick. McDougal also recovered a fumbled kickoff to set up a second-quarter touchdown and fell on a fumble in the end zone in the fourth quarter just as Syosset was about to score.
"We needed everything today," Blount said.
That included a superb defensive effort that was focused from the start on stopping Syosset's returning All-Long Island combination of quarterback Hogan and wide receiver Elardo. Paczkowski and fellow safety Mike Ambrosecchia were part of that plan. "We were playing man all around and just looked to slow them down," Ambrosecchia said.
They did just that, especially in the first half when Oceanside built a 35-0 lead and held Hogan to 53 yards passing. He finished 15-for-25 for 197 yards, including TD strikes of 33 yards to Christian Skorka and 84 yards to Robert Santiago. Elardo finished with three catches for 35 yards.
"I think our defense played great in the first half," Paczkowski said.
Blount concurred. "We wanted to eliminate Elardo -- he makes things go -- and bottle up Hogan. We never let them get going. Our defense has been lights out all year."