Ryan Hertling is listed as a tight end / linebacker / punter, and despite Oceanside's lopsided victory at Syosset on Saturday, it was his role as the third of those titles that made the biggest difference.
After all, there's a reason they call it special teams.
Midway through the first quarter in a scoreless game, Hertling drilled a 65-yard punt that pinned Syosset inside its own 2. Two plays later, Oceanside linebacker Joe Denaro picked off a pass that set up first-and-goal for the Sailors at Syosset's 8-yard line. Two plays after that, Tariek Harris rushed for a 13-yard touchdown, and with a two-point conversion Oceanside had an early eight-point lead.
From there the Sailors cruised to a 40-13 victory, leading by as many as 33 points in Nassau I.
"That was a huge moment for us," Oceanside coach Rob Blount said. "We kind of had a stagnant start, so to pin them deep and then have a short field from there was big. Our special teams have been good throughout the season and that was a big play that you don't think about initially."
Said Hertling: "I had the wind with me so it helped out and I just tried to hit it long . . . That's what I try to do every time."
Oceanside's defense and special teams forced three turnovers and scored a touchdown, led by Kyone Murphy's two sacks and interception and Conner Johnson's seven tackles.
"Our defense has been the strongpoint of our team this year," Johnson, a safety, said. "Our defense held strong again today and we might see them again in the playoffs so we have to prepare."
Oceanside (6-1) extended its lead to 21-0 at halftime, thanks in large part to running back Gilly Ruiz. After quarterback Vincent Guarino rushed for a 4-yard score to make it 14-0, Ruiz capped a nine-play, 90-yard drive with a 41-yard TD run to make it 21-0 with 2:16 left in the half, after converting first-down runs of 13- and 12-yards earlier on the drive. Ruiz finished with 11 carries for 123 yards, with 98 of those yards coming on nine carries in the second quarter.
"When I get the ball in my hands, I love it, and I do what I can to produce," Ruiz said. "There were a lot of gaps, we had great blocking out there, and I just took them."
Syosset (4-3) finally scored in the third to make it 27-6, but two more Oceanside touchdowns in a nine-second span put the game out of reach.
With Oceanside driving inside the Syosset 10, the Sailors fumbled, but offensive lineman Max Schneider alertly recovered the ball in the end zone for a 33-6 lead with 5:08 left in the third. On the ensuing kick-off, Syosset's Ian Berg received the kick but was hit and lost the ball, allowing Johnson to recover it and score from six yards to make it 40-6 with 4:59 to play in the quarter.
"It was great to see Schneider score, he's one of my best friends, and then I scored right after so that was definitely big," Johnson said. "That put them out of the game."
Harris had 86 yards on 12 carries, while Guarino ran for 56 yards and a touchdown on nine carries and connected with Timmy Nolan for a 19-yard TD reception in the third quarter.