South Side isn’t going to sneak up on anyone this season. One year removed from coming out of Nassau III’s No. 11 seeding and making it to the county semifinals, the Cyclones are seeded second and wearing a bull’s-eye. And it turns out they fancy being a conference favorite.
"I like the added pressure we have this season,” South Side coach Phil Onesto said. “We have a team with the character to handle it.”
The Cyclones had to handle a little more than just the pressure of being favored Friday night against Lawrence. They had to go without starting quarterback and offensive powerhouse William Pickett, who is serving a one-game suspension for violating a team rule. South Side dealt with the adversity well and beat the visiting Golden Tornadoes, 35-7, in the opener for both teams.
Senior Nick LiCalzi picked up a lot of the slack by rushing for 225 yards and one touchdown and catching two passes from backup quarterback John Jude Considine for 13 yards and two more scores.
“Going without Will made this a pretty big challenge, but we did a good job of getting through it without him,” LiCalzi said. “We didn’t feel vulnerable because we didn’t have our starting quarterback because we know we have a team of people that will step up in a situation like the one we were in.”
LiCalzi did a little bit of everything. The senior, who will play lacrosse at the U.S. Naval Academy in a year, played quarterback in the wildcat. He took direct snaps into the backfield. He rolled out of the backfield to catch screen passes.
“He’s a 210-pound freak of nature,” Onesto said of LiCalzi. “As a runner he can go around you or go over you or a little of both. He’s a special, special athlete and I am thankful we don’t play against him.”
LiCalzi capped the opening drive by the Cyclones by beating defenders around the outside and going 10 yards for a touchdown.
Lawrence may be in a rebuilding phase but there are a lot of good pieces on the Tornadoes. It was evident when they struck right back to tie the score at 7 on their first snap of the season, an 80-yard touchdown pass from Jack Abecassis to Aquan Walker. Abecassis finished the game 16-for-25 for 195 yards and was not intercepted.
But after that strike, LiCalzi and South Side took control.
The Cyclones went up for good with a 64-yard drive, capped by a Considine-to-LiCalzi 5-yard touchdown pass. On South Side’s first possession of the second quarter, they went 41 yards for another touchdown with those two hooking up for an 8-yard score.
“He makes everything easier for everyone,” Considine said of LiCalzi.
Junior Maurice Reid scored on an 11-yard run with 1:51 left in the second quarter to give South Side a 28-7 lead at halftime. Matt Melkonian added a 9-yard TD run late.
TJ Maher was a standout on the defensive side for the Cyclones, making several key stops and recoering a fumble. Kevin Bonilla also had a fumble recovery for South Side.
Asked about going from hunters to the hunted, Onesto replied: “We know what we did a year ago. The players are focused on going back to Hofstra. Maybe we’re not a surprise, but this feels just as good.”