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Rodney Roche, Brandon Watson lead Wantagh past Calhoun

Wantagh High School quarterback #12 Roddy Roche throws

Wantagh High School quarterback #12 Roddy Roche throws downfield in the second quarter. (Sept. 8, 2012) Credit: James Escher

You'd expect Wantagh's Roddy Roche and Brandon Watson to be a little uneven, given that Roche, who made most of his contributions as a defensive back last year, was now thrust into the role of big-time quarterback on a big-time Nassau team. Watson, the running back by his side, spent 2011 as an eager student and understudy. Even their coach wasn't sure what to expect.

"We didn't really see much of him until now, other than knowing that he really has the ability to do it," coach Keith Sachs said of Watson. "Now he's proving that it's his turn."

Watson didn't score a single touchdown last year, while Roche had only one. Saturday at Calhoun, the duo combined for five, as the Warriors rolled to a convincing 37-3 win in their Nassau II opener.

Roche admitted to being uncomfortable in the early going, though it didn't show all that much. In only the sixth play from scrimmage, he faked a hand-off and whipped around the right side to cruise in for an 11-yard score.

"Some nerves came into it," Roche said. "As the game started rolling, our line did a great job protecting me so that I could get in a groove. After that, we exploded and took the game away from them."

Though Roche's next pass on the next drive went for an interception, the Wantagh offense forced a fumble, setting up another score: a pitch to Watson, who scampered through off left tackle for a 14-yard touchdown with 9:30 left in the first half.

By then, this whole 'leading the offense' thing seemed to be old hat, as Roche and Watson hooked up again on the very next series: a four-play, 42-yard, 3 minute, 29 second drive that ended with a screen pass to Watson, who broke a tackle near the left sideline for the 36-yard TD. Andrew Martorella added a 30-yard field goal for a 23-0 lead at the break.

"I think we were able to exploit the Cover-3," Roche said. "We were able to look off the safety a lot, and expose him when we did our deep routes, our post [routes]; we got him on the wheel route, and also we just have a great line."

Roche went 6-for-11 for 102 yards, including a second passing TD to Michael Stack, while Watson added two catches for 52 yards and also had 78 yards on the ground.

"Last year, I was behind Matt Balzano and he taught me a lot of stuff," Watson said. "He told me, you gotta step it up . . . [But] there's not that much pressure on me. I'm just happy."

He might not feel the pressure, but Sachs said that Wantagh has had historically strong backs -- the graduated Balzano included -- and Watson "has a lot of responsibility this year."

He believes the senior has the tools to add himself to the Pantheon. "He can run, he could catch, he's good in the open field," Sachs said. "I think he's an athlete in [open] space."

Still, he doesn't expect them all to be this easy: "It was encouraging," he said. "We didn't play great, but we did a lot of different things . . . but there are a lot tougher tests ahead."

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