Johnnie Akins remembered being about 6 or 7 years old and watching little Marquell Saunders dance around the field as if it were his stage and the opposing defense was his captive audience.

"It was his birthday," Akins said. "He got the ball and he kept spinning and spinning and spinning. And then he scored."

It was the last play of their PAL game, and Saunders' touchdown was the winner.

The two, cornerstones of the Roosevelt offense, have remained friends off the field and showmen on it. Akins is strong and compact and takes a hit like no one else in the conference. Saunders is fast and adaptable and someone coach Joe Vito calls "a very smart football player."

It's only natural, then, that the spotlight should be on them Saturday as the Rough Riders return to the Long Island Class IV championship game in search of redemption. They lost to Glenn last year; this time they will face undefeated Babylon at 4:30 p.m. at Stony Brook.

It will be the last game the two will play together in high school as Saunders, a year older, will graduate.

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"I've known him since I was 3," Akins said. "We've been playing together since we were really young. It's like family."

Akins certainly has done his part to make sure his football brother's last high school season is his best. The halfback has 240 carries for 2,203 yards and 24 touchdowns and has added 70 tackles on defense.

Saunders' numbers aren't as big -- he spent most of the season at split end on a team that doesn't pass all that much -- but his recent contributions are impressive. Vito has begun using him in the Wildcat. He had 117 yards in the Nassau IV final, and his first play out of the formation last week went for a 70-yard scoring run.

Saunders has rushed for 636 yards and five touchdowns this year and has eight catches for 321 yards and four TDs.

"Marquell is one of the best players we have . . . and we needed to get him more touches," Vito said. "What you've seen lately is what he's capable of doing . . . and the transition wasn't that difficult for him."

Saunders is more than ready for his encore against Babylon, and having Akins behind him was one of the reasons why.

"I have somebody I can trust," he said. "It's big. Since I've known him since he was little, I know what he can do. I know I can trust him."