NIAGARA GAZETTE STORY    10:12 p.m. October 13, 2007


HS FOOTBALL: Vikings win, return to playoffs

By Nate Beutel

GRAND ISLAND — A year away from the playoffs was one too many for the Grand Island Vikings.

GI, a perennial contender in Class A North, wrapped up a playoff berth with a hard-fought 20-14 win over visiting Starpoint at Gene Masters Field on Saturday afternoon.

“Last year was very disappointing and coming into this year we felt like we had an opportunity to get back, so we’re really excited about this right now,” GI coach Dean Santorio said.

GI, the No. 2 seed from Class A North, will await the outcome of Friday’s showdown between Class A South unbeatens Cheektowaga and Iroquois to determine which team they will visit in the opening round of the Section VI Class A playoffs.

Clinching the playoff spot was no easy task for the Vikings, though. In fact, with the clock running inside five minutes to go, the Spartans looked as if they were driving for the potential game-winning touchdown. Tailback Brandon Bratek was methodically picking his way through the GI defense, which was also flagged for pass interference on the drive.

But just as the Spartans reached the red zone, quarterback Joe Scibilia fumbled the ball, allowing big GI defensive tackle Nick Tomkins to pounce on it with 2:38 remaining. GI would then run the clock out with a series of plays highlighted by a key third-down conversion when QB Joe Oliverio found a kneeling WR Alex Neutz just past the first-down markers.

“If (fullback) Mike Regnet gets the ball on the handoff, he’s gone and we probably win 21-20,” Starpoint coach Al Cavagnaro said. “But that only proves the point that there’s a fine line between winning and losing. And in this league, you have to earn wins.”

It appeared as if the Vikings had potentially put a firm grasp on the contest when Lance Robinson scored on an 80-yard bomb from Oliverio on the final play of the third quarter. But the Spartans would not let down as they came right back with a nine-play drive that culminated with Scibilia finding Marc Sepanski for a 31-yard TD pass.

But Starpoint could not capitalize on GI fullback Eddie Weiser’s fumble on the next possession. It’s those kinds of defensive stands that ultimately won the game for the Vikings, according to Santorio.

“We knew Starpoint was going to give us a tough game, but for the most part I like the way we hung there and kept playing,” the coach said.

Middle linebacker Christian Nestark led the Vikings’ defense with 16 tackles, while Tomkins added nine stops and a fumble recovery and Weiser had eight tackles.

GI also got a boost with just under a minute to go in the first half when running back Alex Webb, who had 138 yards on 22 carries, scored his lone TD on the day. Cavagnaro estimated that to be the third or fourth time this season that an opponent had scored late in the first half.

“That’s always disappointing,” he said. “You can’t do that to yourselves, especially when you’re just not making enough plays.”

Earlier in the opening 24 minutes, Oliverio — who finished 6-for-8 for 140 yards — found tight end Greg Stephen for a 3-yard TD strike. Starpoint responded in the second quarter when Scibilia and Amir Billups hooked up for a 36-yard TD pass.

GI improves to 5-2 overall and 5-1 in the league, while Starpoint drops to a disappointing 1-6, 1-5. Still, Cavagnaro is proud of his team’s continued effort and enthusiasm.

“We’ve been so close so many times and we all know this team is better than a one-win football team,” he said.