East Rockaway resident and Roosevelt head coach even said it himself that the Rocks were getting better each week after sitting through a few film sessions.
However, his No. 2 Rough Riders were not to be outdone on Thursday night as they claimed the Nassau County Class IV title over the No. 6 Rocks, 21-14.
“It is very bittersweet whenever we play East Rockaway,” said Vito, whose nephew, Dan, is one of the assistant coaches for the Rocks. “One of us is going to be unhappy at the end of the game, but once we get inside the lines, we are opponents. … We are going to savor this moment and we are really excited that we got it done.”
In the first quarter, East Rockaway squandered an opportunity following a high snap on a Roosevelt punt. After beginning the drive on the Roosevelt 22 with a prime chance to take a lead, a botched snap resulted in a turnover. Roosevelt did just the same in the East Rockaway zone as Mikey Lores recovered a fumble for his side on their 37-yard line on the ensuing drive.
The one Rough Rider in which the Rocks needed to contain to have a shot was able to find holes in the defense. Senior Erin Parker broke a slew of tackles and sprinted 64 yards to the end zone for a 7-0 lead. Just a minute before halftime, East Rockaway's Sean Bohan threw a long fade to Nick Ulip for a 31-yard touchdown and a 7-7 tie score.
Coming out in the second half, Parker, who finished with 192 yards on 19 carries, ran 63 yards for his second score on the first play of the drive. Roosevelt led for the second time at 13-7 after a failed two-point attempt.
On the next possession, East Rockaway drove down the field and faced a critical fourth-and-three. Luke Fahrenkrug dashed 31 yards down to the eight yard line and followed it up with a rushing touchdown on the next play. East Rockaway now held on to a 14-13 with just more than a quarter-and-a-half to play.
In the final quarter, Roosevelt faced a fourth down on the East Rockaway seven, but quarterback Robert Sweeney found Teddy Santana in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Parker converted the next pass to Santana for a two-point conversion to go ahead 21-14 with 10:58 remaining.
The teams traded possessions until the Rocks found themselves with one more shot. With the ball on their own 44 and 58 seconds to go, Bohan connected on three passes covering 32 yards. However, their bid for a tying touchdown stalled as Roosevelt held on for the title-winning effort.
The two teams last met in the final in 2000, a 20-0 win for Roosevelt, which won its previous county title in 2006. After its latest effort, East Rockaway is still in search of its first championship as many seniors part with their high school careers on a heartfelt note.
“I’m proud of the kids. They worked hard and didn’t give up in the end,” East Rockaway head coach Russell Pajer said. “The community is great and everyone was behind us. The kids enjoyed it, had fun and made the best out of it. It was a fun year.”
East Rockaway ends its season with a 6-4 overall record.