ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead’s Jeremiah Cheatom ran for 200 yards in the first half and 31 in the second half.
LONG ISLAND CLASS II FINAL | TROJANS 29, BLUE WAVES 16
A mere glance reveals that Garden City’s football team does not have much in the way of size. Scanning across the field at the Trojans, one will not find a single bulky lineman among the bunch.Yet, while the Trojans are undersized in stature, no one can question the size of their heart.
After posting come-from-behind wins over Carey and Wantagh in the Nassau County semifinal and final, respectively, Garden City pulled off another comeback on Saturday, this time for a Long Island Class II championship at Riverhead’s expense.
Brett Stewart passed for two touchdowns and then ran for two more as Garden City turned the game around in the second half for a 29-16 triumph at Stony Brook University’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium. It was the fifth Long Island title for Garden City, which has played in 14 such finals.
Stewart, who recalled the pain of losing to Newfield in last year’s Long Island final, went from his worst football experience to his best in one year’s time. Clutching the championship trophy, he said, “I’ve never been happier than this moment here.”
It was a different feeling for Riverhead, which had lost to Garden City in a 2003 Long Island final. The Blue Waves, behind the impressive running of Jeremiah Cheatom in the first half, looked on the way to what would have been their second Long Island crown. Then, after a first half that ended with Riverhead ahead, 16-7, the game turned dramatically in Garden City’s favor. The Trojans (11-1) made adjustments, put eight players in the box and clamped down on Cheatom. Cheatom, who ran 24 times for 200 yards in the first half, managed only 31 rushing yards from nine carries in the second half. Meanwhile, Riverhead’s normally explosive passing game was limited to 104 yards.
“The way we played in the first half, the game was in our favor,” said Riverhead junior Michael Van Bommel, who was involved in nine tackles, including a sack. “We had it in our hands. The way they came out and played really shocked me.”
Garden City has been full of surprises this year. Even its revered coach of 28 years, Tom Flatley, said he would have been happy with a 5-3 record this year. Flatley said this year’s Garden City team surprised him more than any team he has coached in his 48-year coaching career.
“These kids were happy to play,” Flatley said. “Football is not a chore to them.”
Garden City has an offensive line with two sophomores who never played offensive tackle before, a 170-pound center who was a fullback one week before the season started, one guard who weighs 165 pounds and another guard who had never played on the offensive line before.
What the Trojans do have, however, are athletes.
“We get the ball in space to our playmakers and they score touchdowns,” said Stewart.
Stewart went 13 of 23 for 199 yards and two touchdowns, a 28-yarder and a 24-yarder, both to Ed Blatz (seven catches, 141 yards). But Stewart used his legs to put Garden City in front. The junior quarterback, who ran up 136 rushing yards on 27 attempts, scored the go-ahead touchdown on a naked bootleg around the left side from three yards out. Justin Guterding’s pass to Kyle Skramko for the two-point conversion made it 22-16 with 22.3 seconds left in the third quarter.
It was a quarter Riverhead (9-3) would prefer to forget, but then again, the fourth quarter wasn’t especially kind to the Blue Waves, either. On the second play of the fourth quarter, James Sullivan recovered a fumble, giving Garden City possession for a drive that ended with another three-yard touchdown run by Stewart.
That pretty much sealed things before Garden City’s postgame celebration.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” said Scott D’Antonio, who was in on a game-high 11 tackles for Garden City. “The stakes were so high here, and we got the job done.”
The first half was all about Cheatom, with the fleet-footed junior touching the ball on 25 of Riverhead’s 36 plays in the half. Cheatom set up the game’s first score, a six-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Bitzer to Jaron Greenidge with 4.5 seconds to go in the first quarter. Cheatom scored himself on a one-yard burst in the second quarter.
“I just kept the intensity up,” said Cheatom, who registered his fourth 200-plus-yard game of the season. “I wanted this thing so bad.”
Devrim Kucuk’s career-best 36-yard field goal made it 16-7 Riverhead with 1:16 left in the first half. That was before the momentum swung against the Blue Waves, who uncharacteristically struggled on offense. They went 2 of 11 on third-down plays.
Facing reporters after the game, Riverhead coach Leif Shay said: “I think we had a great season. We’re Suffolk County champions. We’re one of three teams that have been able to do that in Riverhead’s history, so we got to be proud of that accomplishment. We fell short of the Long Island championship, but we had a championship.”
Cheatom, speaking about the season, said: “It’s a great experience, but you know, everybody always wants to be a champion, so you never want to stop here. You always want to keep going.”
In the end, the day belonged to Garden City, It was a day the Trojans will talk about for years to come.
“This is huge,” Stewart said. “This is the happiest day of my life. I’m happy that we proved the people who doubted us wrong. We’re Long Island champions.”
ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Jaron Greenidge of Riverhead nearly intercepted a Garden City pass, but the ball popped loose when he hit the ground.