When Elmont Spartans running back Jaquan Smith broke off for a 76-yard touchdown run on his team's second drive of the day, it looked like the Elmont offense was in for a treat. But Smith's score was the only time the Spartans would find the end zone on Saturday as the Mepham Pirates shut down Elmont, 13-6, and tackled their way into the Nassau County Conference II semifinals next Saturday at Hofstra University.
Mepham's first score of the day came when wide receiver Dylan Gordon ran the ball into the end zone on a trick play to give the Pirates a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter.
After a series of back-to-back-to-back fumbles by both teams, Mepham quarterback Nick White found wide receiver J.T. Castaldo on a 25-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter to give the Pirates the decisive 13-6 lead.
Mepham running back Kevin Tauriello finished with 27 rushes for 115 yards.
"These kids have worked tremendously hard since last year to get there and it's just a huge program win," Mepham head coach Anthony Cracco said.
Score: Mepham 13, Elmont 6
Records: Mepham 7-2; Elmont 5-4.
Hero: Castaldo's touchdown grab was big, but his sack and forced fumble on the play immediately before his catch was even bigger. Castaldo also added an interception late in the third quarter to keep Elmont quarterback Qusarn Caldwell at bay. Castaldo was effective on both sides of the ball and was a major reason for Mepham's success.
"[He had a] huge day," said Cracco of Castaldo's efforts. "Defensively he was all over the field. He had an outstanding day. He's really stepped up the last three or four weeks."
Castaldo's touchdown catch came after he managed to create a significant amount of space between him and a defender. White had plenty of time to find his receiver.
"I got tripped up but I knew Nick White was going to hang in the pocket there and he just threw it to me. I knew it," Castaldo said.
Turning Point: On Mepham's possession immediately after Elmont's only score, the Pirates went three and out. The Spartans were looking to run away with the game early but back-to-back sacks from Miguel Shaw and Elias Lozada put a halt on Elmont's attack and got the Pirates back into the game. Mepham scored on its next possession to take the lead.
"We just came up tough and stopped them," Castaldo said. "It was tough, but we did it. We've been working for a long time since the summer, it was a good game."
Quotable: "It's a tremendous win for the program," said Cracco after his team's win. "It's been a long time since we've played at Hofstra and it's another huge step for the program."
Bottom Line: Mepham's defense was unstoppable on Saturday and kept Caldwell under pressure on every snap. Elmont's dual running back system of Smith and Charles Dimoh has served them well for most of the season, but with the exception of Smith's touchdown run, Mepham's defensive line allowed no room to run.
"They have two great running backs that are big-time players, and we were able to take them out of the game," Cracco said. "[We were] all over them all day. I thought up front we did a great job getting into the backfield and doing what we needed to do."
Key Stat: Mepham's defense had a total of six sacks.
Who's Next? Nov. 13, vs. No.1 Carey Seahawks at Hofstra University, 1 p.m.
Conference II QuarterfinalTeams 1 2 3 4 F Mepham 0 13 0 0 13 Elmont 6 0 0 0 6
ScoringQuarter Time Team Play 1 1:22 Elmont Smith 76 Run (kick blocked) 2 6:04 Mepham Gordon 10 Run (Lagomarsini kick) 2 4:17 Mepham Castaldo 25 Pass from White (kick blocked)
MephamQB Completions Yards TD INT Nick White 2/6 41 1 0 RB Attempts Yards TD Kevin Tauriello 27 115 0 Miguel Shaw 8 40 0 Dylan Gordon 4 27 1 Nick White 6 19 0 WR Catches Yards TD J.T. Castaldo 1 25 1 Kevin Tauriello 1 16 0 Defense Tackles Sacks INT Fumble Rec. Elias Lozada 3 1 0 0 J.T. Castaldo 2 1 1 0 Chris Shevins 7 0 0 1 Corey Heller 8 1 0 1 Miguel Shaw 8 2 0 0 Joe Aliberti 5 1 0 0