As the Garden City players were introduced for Friday’s Long Island Class II championship game, all of them knew they would be staring down the biggest challenge of their season: a Bellport team loaded with hard-hitting athletes, capable of game-changing plays and motivated to defeat a Trojans team that beat them for the 2021 title.
What they didn’t realize was that they also would need to overcome themselves. And they did that too.
Garden City turned the ball over four times, but senior Stevie Finnell and the Trojans’ defense never let that become the story. Finnell capped his high school football career with his finest game and the Trojans were exceptional in not allowing Bellport to cash in on a single miscue as Garden City rolled to a 28-0 victory at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium.
Finnell gained 346 yards on 17 carries and scored all four Garden City touchdowns on huge bursts of 63, 57, 75 and 64 yards. His total yardage is the second most in a Long Island Championships game behind the 412 Floyd’s Stacy Bedell amassed against East Meadow in 2011.
“I found some daylight and definitely [was able to] have a great game,” Finnell said.
“He picked a day to have a day,” Garden City coach Dave Ettinger said. “He’s fast and he runs hard. Sometimes he takes a play designed to go outside and takes it inside and sometimes vice versa, but we’ve never once told him a way to run. I didn’t want to take that [creativity] away from him.”
Garden City (12-0) is a Long Island champion for the 10th time and the second season in a row. The Trojans have won five of the past six Long Island title games that were played — there were none in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic — and also dispatched the Clippers a year ago. Garden City will take a 30-game winning streak into next season.
The Trojans’ defense was excellent from start to finish, but especially strong in the moments after a turnover. The Clippers (10-2) gained two first downs after the first takeaway before they were forced to punt. After the next three, they ran a combined 11 offensive plays and gained only 17 yards.
“This was definitely our most impressive shutout of the season because of the strength of the other team,” senior lineman Sawyer Olson said. “They have the most playmakers — the strongest, fastest, most powerful players. But we were [prepared].”
Olson spent much of the afternoon in the Bellport backfield, amassing 2.5 sacks and three tackles for a loss in his 11 stops. Linebacker Bryan Boccafola had a team-best 12 tackles. Defensive back Aidan Considine had 10 tackles, including two for a loss and 1.5 sacks.
“Turnovers can be very demoralizing and we have a couple on our side of the field,” Olson said. “I am sure they feel like they’d score, but we stepped up in those situations.”
And how. The Trojans stopped Bellport on fourth-and-2 at the Garden City 13 in the second quarter, and four plays later, Finnell used a nifty stutter step to break away for the 57-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead. The Trojans stopped the Clippers on fourth-and-5 at the Garden City 14 in the third quarter, and three plays later, Finnell found a hole on the left side to go 75 yards for a 21-0 lead.
“Both [units] pick each other up,” Boccafola said. “When the offense needed it, the defense did it.”
Alex Brigadier was the Bellport bright spot, recovering all three fumbles.
“We just didn’t play up to our capabilities,” Bellport coach Jamie Fabian said. “They made uncharacteristic mistakes and we never took advantage. Four turnovers from them is pretty rare, and we didn’t punch it in and take advantage. And Finnell? He had a heck of a game.”
Asked what it’s like being a part of a program that has done so much winning, Finnell searched for an answer and came up with a simple reply: “It’s pretty special.”