Wantagh’s junior halfback Tom Rohan scored on an 80-yard run on the first play from scrimmage and added a 27-yard scoring run with 36 seconds left in the half.
Senior wide receiver Jimmy Joyce hauled in a 66-yard second quarter touchdown pass and junior wide receiver Ryan Murphy caught a 30-yard third quarter scoring strike.
Those were all big plays in a game dominated by Wantagh in its 33-7 win Saturday over crosstown rival Plainedge in a Nassau Conference III football opener.
But if you ask anyone on either sideline where the momentum changed for good, they’d have to agree it came on Plainedge’s biggest gain of the first half.
Trailing 7-0, Plainedge’s senior quarterback Alex Brown followed a big block around right end, faked a defender and raced toward the Wantagh end zone. As Brown neared the end zone for the tying score, Wantagh linebacker Sean Colbert, in hot pursuit, stripped Brown after a 62-yard run at the Warriors 3 yard-line. The ball was recovered by Wantagh’s Jesse Beard, a critical turnover by the Red Devils.
“Sean is a three-year starter and a kid that gives us everything he has on every play,” Wantagh coach Keith Sachs said. “I love that kid. He’s what every high school football player should emulate.”
Wantagh capitalized on the turnover with a seven-play, 97-yard scoring drive capped by the Castellano to Joyce 66-yard score for a 14-0 lead with 2:15 left in the half.
“I went through my reads and there was Joyce wide open,” said Castellano, who went down repeatedly with cramps throughout the game. “I just had to get it there.”
The Wantagh defense wasn’t finished. Buoyed by Colbert’s hustle, the Warriors forced another big turnover on Plainedge’s ensuing possession. The Red Devils on a third down and five, saw Brown’s pass deflected at the line and defensive back Anthony Vano make a diving interception at the 25 with 48 seconds left.
Two plays later, Rohan bolted over the right side and cut back to the left for a 27-yard touchdown run and a 20-0 halftime lead.
“We made a loud statement with this win,” Joyce said. “We were resilient early in the first half when they threatened to score. It was like a bend don’t break defense. And then we smacked them pretty good.”
Plainedge, the defending Nassau Conference III champion, drove inside the Wantagh 25 on three of five drives and came away with no points. Wantagh’s Joe Valente anchored the stingy defense with two sacks and three tackles for a loss.
“We didn’t finish our drives and they came up with some big plays,” Plainedge coach Rob Shaver said. “We’ll see them again down the road.”
Castellano, who completed five of eight passes for 185 yards and three touchdowns, sealed the win with third quarter scoring tosses to junior wide receiver Ryan Murphy and a 72-yard catch and run by junior fullback Gavin Casey for a 33-0 lead.
Murphy shook a defender at the 10 and made a one-handed grab on a fade pattern for a 30-yard score with 9:52 left.
“The defender had my right arm and I just reached out with my left to make the catch,” Murphy said.
It was big play after big play for Wantagh.
Rohan finished with 181 yards on 12 carries after he opened the Warriors season in grand fashion with a run over right tackle behind blocks by junior Billy Bonasera and Colbert.
“They punished everyone in front of me and I was off,” Rohan said. “I kind of smiled as I got to the end zone, you know, first carry, first touchdown.”