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East Rockaway rolls to fourth victory

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At the onset of the 2019 high school football season, there were some certainties and a few unknowns at East Rockaway. The team’s vaunted ground-and-pound attack would be well-stocked with talented players, but a lack of depth at most other positions was a concern.

The Rocks were outmanned in their matchups with Clarke and Cold Spring Harbor, two of the upper echelon teams in Conference IV, but their running game has been absolutely dominant in their triumphs. In last Friday night’s 70-27 victory over visiting Oyster Bay, the orange-and-black amassed 520 yards on the ground.

Senior Ezequiel Espinal ran for 270 yards on 14 carries and scored four touchdowns to lead the Rocks. Junior Franklin Infante added 118 yards and two touchdowns. East Rockaway (4-2), which actually trailed three times in the opening half, scored 42 points in the second quarter to turn the game into a rout. Sophomore Jack Mistretta ran for 77 yards and scored twice.

“Our defense came out flat and they took advantage,” East Rockaway coach Russ Pajer said. “We answered each of their early scores, and then we shut them down. We did what we like to do; ran the ball effectively. Only, we weren’t getting five or seven yards each carry, we were getting 10 to 15.”

Ironically, the offense put up the gaudy numbers without contributions from Caleb Alvarez who was nursing an injury. The senior running back, who is one of the team’s top offensive threats, ran for 187 yards in a 44-18 victory at West Hempstead two weeks earlier.

After falling behind 6-0, the Rocks didn’t take long to respond. Espinal took the ensuing kickoff at his 20-yard line and scampered 80 yards to pay dirt. Junior Julian Palma connected with Zach Sobel for the two-point conversion to give East Rockaway an 8-6 lead.

The Baymen found the end zone twice more in the opening quarter, but each score was followed by an Espinal touchdown run; the first from 73 yards out and the next from 28. Infante’s first score of the evening, a 36-yard run, put the Rocks up 26-21. They would not trail again. Senior Craig Kelly had three quarterback sacks to lead the defense.

With the win, the Rocks remained in the middle of the pack in terms of playoff seeding. With perennial-power Seaford coming to town this weekend, and a visit to Island Trees in Week 8, East Rockaway has a chance to push itself into position to host a game in the postseason.

Pajer isn’t looking that far ahead. “This week will tell us a lot about how tough we are,” Pajer said. “We’d love to win, of course, but it’s really more of a character test. Seaford has certainly had our number. They’re very physical, and they’re well-coached. We’ll have to play better than we did this week to beat them.”

The Rocks will honor the seniors playing their last regular-season home game this Saturday at 2 p.m.