Brandon Watson was going to be remembered for his role in the waning moments of yesterday’s Nassau Conference II football thriller.
His mood went from downcast to euphoric in those final minutes as Wantagh edged MacArthur, 14-13, in overtime at Shuart Stadium in Hofstra University. Watson atoned for his fumble in MacArthur territory in the final minute of regulation with a spectacular 20-yard touchdown run in overtime to tie the score at 13. Andrew Martorella added the extra-point kick for the win.
“After I fumbled in the fourth quarter, I just wanted a chance to make a big play,” said Watson, who finished with 96 yards on 19 carries and both Wantagh touchdowns. “My line made some great blocks out front and made it possible.”
MacArthur (8-2) forged a 13-6 lead after Mike Rotondo found fullback Dom Danetti with an 18-yard touchdown pass on a wide receiver option pass in overtime. The ensuing extra-point kick went awry and left the Generals with a six-point lead.
“We blocked an extra point kick against Carey in double overtime last year and won the game,” Watson recalled. “I knew when we blocked this one, we were going to win.”
It was unclear on video replays which player made the block in the interior of the line as the ball deflected well to the right of the upright. And then it was left to Watson on a run over right tackle. He went over the right side and broke back across the grain, eluding three tacklers and dashing into the left corner of the end zone.
It was a defensive struggle from the start.
The MacArthur offense dictated the tempo of a first half that only last 56 minutes. The Generals gave bruising senior halfback Tom Kelleher 23 touches and he rewarded them with 100 gritty yards and a 1-yard touchdown run. The score came on the first possession of the game and capped a 10-play, 78-yard touchdown march that consumed 6:35 of the clock. Kelleher carried nine times for 58 yards on the drive.
The first half numbers were striking. MacArthur controlled the football for 18:08 and ran 35 plays to Wantagh’s 11. The Generals stifling defense led by Mike Marrero and Anthony DeNunzio held Wantagh to 13 total yards.
“We kept them out of rhythm in the first half,” MacArthur coach Bob Fehrenbach said. “We missed a couple of opportunities. I told them at halftime that we had Wantagh by seven last year and they came out and took the momentum away from us and won the game.”
Wantagh coach Keith Sachs agreed that the first half was more about a lack of rhythm for his team and great defense by both units. The Warriors (8-2) opened the second half with a nine-play, 65-yard scoring drive. Wantagh quarterback Roddy Roche fired a perfect 20-yard touchdown pass to Watson for the touchdown and Martorella’s kick made it 7-7 with 7:52 left in the third quarter.
From there it was all defense. Wantagh linebackers T.J. Ragusa and Peter Brasile stymied the Generals running game and forced three straight punts.
Wantagh drove to the Generals 2 midway through the fourth quarter and on fourth down and goal sent defensive tackle Nick English into the backfield. English charged into the MacArthur front and was stopped inches of the goal line by linebacker Joe Tangredi.
The big defensive plays came all game. But it was Watson when it mattered most.