Gus Scutari was aboard the USS Haynsworth as it sailed toward Okinawa, Japan during a World War II strike mission when the U.S. Navy ship was struck by a kamikaze plane.
The 92-year-old combatant escaped harm, but as he prepared for the coin toss before Syosset football's 45-19 Nassau I rout over Valley Stream Central yesterday, he acknowledged that others have been far less fortunate.
"We support them," Scutari said about the school's commitment to the Wounded Warrior Project, now in its fourth year. Proceeds from t-shirts sold at the game went to the charity. The event has raised about $4,000 annually.
And the game? Well, Syosset didn't do too bad, either.
Valley Stream Central scored four plays into the game, on Vito Friscia's long pass to Carlos Jackson up the left sideline, a 74-yard score. But the Braves rallied right back, on Travis Hammer's 26-yard field goal with 6:58 left in the first quarter.
And though the Eagles' Boljan Castillo would cruise through a huge hole up the middle for an easy 72-yard score only a minute later, that would be all Valley Stream Central would manage before the Syosset onslaught.
The Braves (2-0) rattled off the next three scores, all courtesy of their slick quarterback, Hunter Gross, who overcame the whipping winds with crackerjack play-fakes and phantom handoffs.
He was 19-for-26 for 155 yards and a touchdown, and he ran for four touchdowns -- including a fake handoff to Brandon Nieves that he kept for a 15-yard TD to draw Syosset to within 12-10 two minutes into the second quarter. His three-yard scramble with 3:14 left in the second quarter gave the Braves the 17-12 lead.
The Eagles eventually drew to within 24-19 on Louis Ludwig's 51-yard, over-the-shoulder catch with 3:25 left in the third, but Syosset scored three more times in the fourth to put it away. Defensive end Bradley Balogh and the defense otherwise clamped down on the Eagles' offense, which managed only 14 offensive yards in the fourth.
"It was Jon Klobus, Mike Verdello, Justin Napolitano, Daniel Kim and Joseph Dionisio . . . my offensive line," said Gross of the burst. "They work hard. Harder than any of us."
There was no losing sight of raising money for the Wounded Warriors, coach Paul Rorke said. "We wanted our kids to recognize something bigger outside of football," he said. "We want to recognize that we enjoy our way of life because of their sacrifice."