Leading into Saturday’s first round playoff game against Mepham, the Wantagh football team had only practiced twice since ending the regular season with a 41-7 win at Long Beach on Oct 27 as a result of the massive destruction Superstorm Sandy caused in the area.
Despite the rust and committing four turnovers, third-seeded Wantagh (7-2) paced by three touchdown receptions from senior running back Brandon Watson posted a convincing 33-7 win against Mepham Saturday to advance to the Nassau County Conference II semifinals. Sixth-seeded Mepham, which also fell to Wantagh on Sept. 22 by a 31-13 score, sees its season end at 4-5.
The lack of practice time Wantagh and Mepham faced was the case throughout Long Island with schools forced to close for several days in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy because of large-scale trees and flood damage along with power outages. In addition to Sandy, a nor’easter also hit the region this past Wednesday causing more time away from the football field.
“When you work so hard everyday six days a week for months and months it is hard to have days off at this time,” said Wantagh head coach Keith Sachs.
“It was a challenge but it was a challenge for everybody,” said Mepham head coach Anthony Cracco of the limited preparation time on the practice field since Superstorm Sandy struck on Oct. 29. “You make due and we were lucky that thank God all our kids were OK.”
Watson seemed unaffected by the lack of practices with three touchdown catches and also a 37-yard scoring pass on a halfback option to Will Fitzpatrick that gave Wantagh a 12-0 lead late in the first quarter. Warrior senior quarterback Roddie Roche finished 7-for-11 passing for 90 yards and two touchdown passes.
Mepham’s lone points Saturday came on a one-yard quarterback sneak from Tyler Davis with 8:36 left in the second quarter following a Wantagh fumble in the shadow of its end zone that cut the lead to 12-7.
Despite having the season come to an end Saturday, Coach Cracco was proud of how his team came together in 2012 while battling some key injuries.
“The kids really fought through some adversity,” Cracco said. “They elevated their game at the end of the year.”
Wantagh will next face MacArthur in a semifinal showdown at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium with the exact date and time unknown as of Saturday night. Wantagh edged MacArthur 21-14 in the team’s regular season meeting on Sept. 15.
“When we play our best game we control our own destiny,” Sachs said. “We don’t feel like we have to play above our heads to win but if we play below we will lose.”
In the midst of the challenges Wantagh’s players are facing at home after Sandy with some still without power, the playoffs are serving as a positive distraction with Sachs seeing an excitement on the practice field this past week that he has never seen in his two decades of coaching.
“The kids already have had enough misery so this is a good thing,” said Sachs of his players being able to play football while confronting the realities of a historic natural disaster. “They now appreciate just coming out to practice…They appreciate just being together and practicing.”