It has been 31 years since Valley Stream North appeared in a conference championship game and Saturday nigh the Spartans punched their ticket to the big dance in thrilling fashion with a 21-17 win over Seaford.
James Capoziello’s second touchdown of the night came with just 37 seconds left and it gave North its first lead of the night and the only one it would need. No. 42 sealed the game three plays later when he picked off Peter Adorno and effectively ended Seaford’s season.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Capoziello said of his celebratory sprint across the field, pigskin raised above his head. “It’s an extraordinary feeling, I’ve never played a better game in my life.”
For a guy who only touched the ball three times Capoziello made an indelible impact not only on the game but on Valley Stream North football history. A co-championship in 1981 was the Spartans only appearance in a title game and while folks on the Queens/Nassau border have been talking about “this year” for a few decades now, this year could actually be THE year.
“Since seventh grade people have been talking about our class as the group that could do it,” said Capoziello. “We knew we had something special but it wasn’t going to happen without hard work and since August 15th that’s what this team has been all about, we have sacrificed and right now it’s coming out exactly how we wanted.”
After falling behind by two touchdowns midway through the second quarter the Spartans were caught off guard by a Seaford onside kick and were in danger of falling behind by three scores entering halftime. Seaford marched but the Valley Stream North defense held and set the stage for a second half surge.
“We knew if we held them under 21 points we had a great chance to win,” quarterback Anthony Martelli said. “We were moving the ball on offense and with all the playmakers we have it was just a matter of time but the defense was the reason we had that chance to come back.”
As the decided underdog facing top-seeded Seaford Valley Stream North felt like it just needed to take the Vikings best punch and that the combination of tough running by Patsos and the big play capability of the passing game would inevitably shine through.
Pastos paced the Spartan offense with 185 yards on 21 carries, an 8.8 yard average. After North received the ball to start the second half it was a heavy dose of Patsos that set the Spartan’s up for their first score of the night, a 1-yard plunge by Patsos to cut it to 14-7.
“That was a critical drive for us, maybe the biggest of our season,” Patsos said. “Our confidence was sky high after that, to stop them before the half and not get down on ourselves was huge, and then to start the second half with a great drive made us feel like it was our night I think.”
After the defense forced a three and out it was the passing game’s turn to strike. With the defense peeking in the backfield to find Patsos Capoziello was able to sneak down the left sideline and Martelli hit him perfectly in stride. Just like that, it was a new ballgame at 14-14.
“They are two of the hardest working kids I’ve ever seen, they practice together tirelessly and you saw the payoff tonight,” Patsos said of Martelli and Capoziello.
“I know if I throw it up, Cappy will be there to get it, he’s something else,” said Martelli of Capoziello. “He’s like a dog with a Frisbee, he goes up and he’s going to get it no matter what and when he does he runs for days.”
The teams traded punts to set up what looked to be a game-deciding drive for Secaucus and the last chapter in Valley Stream North’s fairytale season. A methodical 12-play drive on the back of Nick Fishchetti positioned Matt Murphy to nail a 22-yard field goal with 1:53 showing on the clock.
“We weren’t worried, that was plenty of time as far as we were concerned,” said Capoziello. “ We weren’t panicking at all, if anything we were excited to hold them to three because we felt like with the ball in our offense’s hands we were exactly where we wanted to be.”
A 24-yard hookup from Martelli to a streaking Patsos out of the backfield was the key play on what was arguably the most important drive in Valley Stream North football history. Facing a second and goal from the seven with no time outs and 47 seconds left to play, coach Tom Schiavo was faced with an interesting conundrum; give it to the workhorse and risk running out of time, or put in Martelli’s hands and hope the senior would make a great play.
“It’s not secret Patsos is the biggest reason we are here, the guy does it all for us and never seems to get tired but as the quarterback you want the ball in your hands, I wanted to lead my team to a win,” said Martelli.
Using Patsos as bait on play-action, Martelli was able to roll to his right unmolested and he found Capoziello wide open in the back of the end zone for the deciding score.
“I couldn’t believe how open he was but with the way I was throwing on the run all night it was no guarantee, I was just telling myself not to bounce it,” Martelli said with a wry smile.
Now it’s on to the finals with a chance to erase 31 years of frustration and write a new chapter in Valley Stream North high school football history -- implications that are not beyond Patsos and company.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be in this situation, all year long we felt like we had what it takes even though no one really gave us much of a chance. Now we have an awesome opportunity to do something really special for each other and for our school. That’s really incredible when you think about it.”
Contact John Quirk at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter @Quirkmedia