Wantagh were the kings of fourth down on Saturday and now they’re the kings of Nassau IV. The new champs made the most of make-or-break downs early in the game, and converted a big – yet controversial one – late to top host North Shore 26-13 in the Nassau IV championship game on a picture perfect afternoon.
"It’s just like any other down," said Picirillo of all the fourth down chances. "We’re going to play how we play. We knew we were a better team We worked the entire offseason for this moment, for this game, and we knew we were going to come in and dominate both sides of the ball."
Wantagh’s first two scores came on fourth down conversions. They broke through late in the first quarter when Picirillo found a leaping Ryan Graham in the front corner of the end-zone for an eight-yard touchdown on a 4th-and-3 from the North Shore 8 yard-line to take a 6-0 lead.
"First off, the offensive line blocked great on that play," Picirillo said. "I had a bunch of time in the pocket. Graham is six foot, five. He’s an easy target. I just have to throw the ball up to him. He’s going to make every catch."
Fourth down magic struck again, this time on the defensive side of the ball. Wantagh broke up a 4th-and-6 from their own 9 with 7:55 left in the second quarter. On the ensuing possession Martini broke a 59-yard touchdown run on a 4th-and-1 from Wantagh’s 41-yard line to break open a 12-0 lead with 4:23 left before halftime.
With a powerful rushing attack that had the clock dipping down with precision, Wantagh looked to be in complete control – a 12-0 score that felt much more dominant than that. But then North Shore struck gold. Ian Roach picked up a fumble with 5:52 left in the third quarter and took it 70 yards for a touchdown, cutting the Wantagh lead to 12-7 after a David Berlin extra point.
"Out motto this year was ‘trust us,’" Martini said. "We knew we would come back and that’s really it. We trusted our coaches and we trusted each other."
Wantagh, which had yet to face a point of major adversity, responded, but not before some more fourth down magic – followed by a little controversy. With a little more than eight minutes left in the game, Martini took a handoff on a 4th-and-2 from the North Shore 13 and launched himself towards the line to gain. The spot, initially measured as short was changed to a first down upon further inspection by the officials.
"The ball was past the bottom of the yard marker, so it was a first down," said Wantagh coach Keith Sachs. "But, the pole was so bent that it started bending out. If you looked at the middle of the pole, it wasn’t a first down, but if you looked at the chain it was. Everyone saw the pole, which was bent five inches out. Once everyone saw the chain, then it was a first down by a couple inches."
Martini said the ball moved after the play was over, potentially causing the controversy.
"I think I got it," Martini said. "The North Shore defender pushed the ball back into my hands, so where they thought I was down, that’s where they put it. I think I had it."
Three plays later, Picirillo found Anthony Reale, who beat his man 1-on-1, for a nine-yard touchdown pass.
"All week, we worked on 1-on-1 routes," said Reale, who was celebrating his 16th birthday Saturday. "The coaches said 1-on-1 routes are going to win the game. When it was third down, they said ‘Reale, get in there and run your route.’ I knew what I had to do, ran the route, [Picirello] threw a great ball, the line blocked well, and it just happened. We needed that."
Maniet’s 48-yard touchdown run with 6:08 left in the game came two plays after a Nick Cupelli interception and gave Wantagh a 25-7 lead, icing the championship.