Wantagh senior Gerard Roche was escorted onto the field by his parents. By game’s end, Roche helped usher the New Hyde Park football team off it.
Roche accounted for all three touchdowns Saturday as Wantagh earned a 21-7 win over the visiting Gladiators on Homecoming. The quarterback threw two touchdowns and recovered a fumble for a score on special teams. He also intercepted two passes at safety.
“He’s a great athlete and he can do anything on the field,” Wantagh running back Brandon Watson said.
It was senior day – the final home game of the regular season – and each player enjoyed an intimate moment with his parents on the field. Mom got a rose and peck on the cheek. Dad? He got to say his son was a football player.
Related: Homecoming Parade l Homecoming Court l Game Photos
Seniors got it done. The Warriors produced big plays and improved to 5-1 to remain in the thick of the Nassau Conference II playoff race. But with road tests against perennial champ Garden City (6-0) and high-scoring Long Beach (5-1) to close the regular season, Wantagh Coach Keith Sachs called the home finale a must-win.
“Knowing the power-point system, this game was a must-win,” Sachs said. “We would have dropped like a rock [had we lost].”
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And Roche, runner-up for Homecoming king, did his part.
New Hyde Park (1-5) took a 7-0 edge on Christian Trasolini’s 78-yard run.
But when T.J. Ragusa stripped Trasolini on a punt return, Roche swooped in and picked up the loose ball. He took off in the opposite direction with a 35-yard touchdown as the clock ran out on the first quarter. Andrew Martorella’s kick tied it.
“That definitely swung the momentum our way,” Roche said.
Then it was Watson’s turn to break a big play when he took a screen pass from Roche and weaved through the NHP defense for a 62-yard touchdown to give the Warriors the lead with 8:37 to go in the half. Watson finished with 107 yards on 21 carries and 64 receiving yards.
Wantagh was denied another score with a controversial call on third-and-goal from the 1 that awarded NHP a fumble and touchback.
But the Warriors marched 60 yards on 11 plays on the next Wantagh possession, capped by a 7-yard scoring strike to tight end Brett Neuman with 4:32 left in the game.
“You would want to put everything on his shoulders any day,” Sachs said of his quarterback.
Roche completed 7 of 11 passes for 101 yards and two scores.
Outside linebacker Ralph Sommer led the Warriors with 11 tackles and a sack.
Wantagh two-way lineman Brendan Devine was ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct late in the game. Sachs said he and the athletic director would evaluate the game video before filing an appeal. Otherwise Devine must sit out the next game.
The Warriors travel to Garden City Saturday for a 2 p.m. kickoff.
Nassau Conference II FootballTeams 1 2 3 4 F New Hyde Park 7 0 0 0 7 Wantagh 7 7 0 7 21
NHP – Trasolini 78 run (Trasolini kick)
W – Roche 35 fumble return (Martorella kick)
W – Watson 62 pass from Roche (Martorella kick)
W – Neuman 7 pass from Roche (Martorella kick)