The Eastport South Manor football team’s banner season continued last week as the Sharks downed Rocky Point on Friday night, winning, 24-14, on their home turf.
The victory improved the Sharks to 7-1, the best record in program history, and ensured them of the third seed in the Suffolk County Division III playoffs, which is the highest the program has ever finished in a season. ESM also earned the distinction of being Big Four Champion, which is awarded to the top four teams in each division in Suffolk County.
The Sharks are now set to host sixth-seeded Bellport on Friday, November 8, at 6 p.m. It will be the first home playoff game for the Sharks and, if they win, their first playoff victory.
ESM narrowly won, 31-28, at Bellport earlier this season, but ESM was without four of its starters for that game, including quarterback Austin Macchi.
Sharks head coach Paul Mastronardi said all hands are on deck for this weekend’s showdown.
“We’re all healthy now and we’re hoping to take it to them,” he said. “Bellport is traditionally one of the strongest programs in New York State. They’ve been to Long Island Championships, they’re very versed in playoff games. We’re going to have to fight for every yard we get. It’s going to be a brawl.
“The saying is that, ‘It’s always hard to beat a team twice in one season,’” Mastronardi added. “We’re both very similar teams, though they have a pretty good passing game. But we’re very similar in that we’re both hard-nosed football teams that come straight at you.”
Mastronardi noted that his team played a sloppy game against Rocky Point, which finished the season in last place and without a win. The Sharks only led 14-7 at halftime and went on to score 10 points in the third quarter to widen the gap. Macchi hit receiver Justin Pugal on a 65-yard, play-action pass for a touchdown and Nijay Brown nailed a 36-yard field goal.
ESM running back Cole Zeller paced the offense with 101 yards on the ground and a touchdown for the Sharks. Mike Bianco ran for 72 yards and also had a career-high three interceptions on defense to go with 15 tackles. Patrick Minogue finished with four sacks, six tackles and a forced fumble.
Mastronardi admitted that his players were looking past Rocky Point.
“It wasn’t one of our better efforts,” he said. “Any win is a good win, especially when it’s an ugly game and you find a way to come out on top. We never felt like, at any point of the game, that we weren’t going to win. We tried some different things just to get ready for the playoffs. We’re happy we won.”