Friday evening, the Oceanside High School football community honored the memory of Lance Cpl. Greg Buckley Jr., a former student who was killed last month in Afghanistan. Later that night, the Sailors staged an improbable comeback, scoring 36 unanswered second-half points, capped by a 25-yard score by Justin Buckley, the fallen Marine's youngest brother.
The running back, who Friday officially changed his jersey number to 30, his brother's old varsity basketball number, stood in the end zone and saluted after his score, as he has after all three of his touchdowns this season. And after the 36-21 win over reigning Conference I champion East Meadow, the entire team, dressed in special blue-and- white camouflage jerseys, saluted as well -- a final symbolic gesture in a day full of them.
"He always wanted to come to my games and he'd give me motivation speeches,'' Buckley said of the reason for his salute. "[The game] was the most pressure that I've ever had on me.''
Before kickoff, four Marines marched the colors out to midfield, the flag overlooking the scoreboard was at half mast and the crowd remained quiet and standing long after the moment of silence had ended.
Buckley, 21, was shot and killed last month in Afghanistan, where he had been training local police forces. He was just days before coming home.
"It's beautiful, but bittersweet,'' the boys' father, Greg Buckley Sr., said before the ceremony. Buckley added that the camouflage jerseys had been a surprise that he'd learned about only that morning.
"For an entire community to keep a secret like that is amazing," he said. "Justin saw them this morning and started screaming. He said it was the coolest thing ever.''
After three second-quarter scores by Jets fullback Billy Andrle, the Sailors (2-0) came back and took the lead on Thomas Capone's pass to Anthony Pintabona. The wideout caught the ball near the 50, broke a shirt tackle and cruised in on a 68-yard score with 11:40 left to make it 22-21.
"It was all for Justin and his brother,'' Pintabona said.
Pintabona also kicked off the scoring for Oceanside, snagging a screen pass with 10:41 left in the third for an 18-yard score. On the next possession, Capone (6-for-18, 208 yards) showed he could make the most of his completions, hitting Ryan McCarthy on a wheel route for an 82-yard TD, a five-play drive that drew the Sailors to within six with 6:23 left in the third quarter.
East Meadow (1-1) nearly struck back six minutes later when, on second and goal on the 2-yard-line, quarterback Chris Buschi tried to sneak in through the left side, but Pintabona, also a defensive back, knocked the ball loose. Shane Saucier recovered the fumble and took it back 98 yards, but an Oceanside personal foul near the 27 brought it back. The Sailors kept possession and Pintabona scored the go-ahead TD three plays later. Vassili Grigorakos and Buckley followed up with rushing scores of their own, with 9:34 and 4:57 left.
"I didn't even mean to cause that fumble,'' Pintabona said. "I just hit him as hard as I could and it worked.''
After the game, Greg Buckley Sr. was presented with the game ball by a giddy Oceanside team and received a hug from his sweat-soaked son, who whispered into his ear.
"I just told him I loved him,'' Justin said.
His father, meanwhile, thanked the community that came out in droves to support the family. The estimated attendance was 2,500.
"At the end of the day, that's what it's all about," he said, talking about the support. "It's about family.''