South Side twice stared down its football mortality against Wantagh on Friday night. William Pickett made sure the Cyclones didn’t blink first.
The senior quarterback was the architect of one of the season’s great comebacks, rallying South Side to three unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter and wresting the game from Wantagh’s firm grasp for a 28-21 Nassau Conference III semifinal victory at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium.
Nick LiCalzi’s 4-yard touchdown run and a 67-yard touchdown pass from Pickett to TJ Maher had South Side poised to draw even, but the conversion sailed wide and the Cyclones trailed 21-20 with 5:28 left.
South Side got the ball back at its 6 with 2:14 left and Pickett took the Cyclones 94 yards for the win. He ran or threw on all 12 plays, bursting through the middle for a 5-yard touchdown with 20.3 seconds left.
Pickett connected with LiCalzi on a 30-yard pass to the Wantagh 5 to set up the score.
“We’re not a team that ever feels like there isn’t enough time to get back,” LiCalzi said. “As long as there is time left, we like our chances.”
“The missed extra point was a setback, but our guys didn’t let it destroy the game for them,” South Side coach Phil Onesto said. “They made the plays they needed to make if they were going to win. [Wantagh] controlled the clock for a lot of the second half, but we made just enough stops to get it back. Then [Pickett’s] leadership qualities came through.”
Pickett rushed 24 times for 132 yards and was 10-for-18 passing for 176 yards and a touchdown. LiCalzi rushed for 55 yards and touchdowns of 24 and 4 yards for South Side.
The Cyclones (9-1) will face Plainedge (10-0) in Friday’s county championship game. They will be seeking their first Nassau title since 2001, when they won the Conference II title and Onesto was a player.
“Last season, we made the playoffs and Wantagh knocked us out, so we were pretty motivated,” Pickett said. “When we were down 21-7? When we were down 21-20? I always expected we’d be able to pull it out. Give us an opening and we’re going to squeeze through.”
Nick Teresky rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns and recovered a fumble to set up another for the Warriors (7-3).
“We needed to get one more first down or have one more good thing happen for us,” Warriors coach Keith Sachs said.
Pickett made plenty of good things happen for South Side. “We had a lot of obstacles to overcome,” LiCalzi said. “Some go around them. Some go over them. We’re the type that plows right through them. That’s what you saw tonight.”