Stewart leads Garden City to Class II title
Garden City sang the ol' mantra of the triumphant underdog Saturday: "We're the only ones who believed in us."
Because there were doubts even within the Trojans' locker room . . . from the head coach.
"At the start of the year, even he wondered how good we were," quarterback Brett Stewart said of his coach, Tom Flatley. "He thought we were going to be a 4-4 team at best."
Behind Stewart's four total touchdowns and receiver Ed Blatz's virtuoso performance, Garden City -- which scored 22 unanswered points in the second half -- came back to beat Riverhead, 29-16, Saturday, capturing the Long Island Class II championship game at Stony Brook's LaValle Stadium.
It was the Trojans' fifth L.I. title, their first since 2009 and, perhaps, their most unexpected.
"You've got your work cut out for you when you lose 21 seniors," said Flatley, whose teams lost to Bellport and Newfield in the Long Island Championships the previous two years. "I knew we had a tough road ahead of us."
And star wideout Justin Guterding's breakout lacrosse season -- and a verbal commitment to Duke -- had the senior unsure if he wanted to continue playing football.
Really, the question marks surrounding this team were justifiable. So as the coach looked on through watery eyes at his team hoisting its trophy . . . "I'm so, so proud," he said. "We started from scratch and became a winner."
Stewart threw for 199 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 138 yards and two scores to lead Garden City (11-1). Blatz had seven catches for 140 yards and two TDs. "I couldn't quit in my senior year, and this is the reason why," said Guterding, who added four receptions for 53 yards.
There likely were some more doubts when Garden City trailed 16-7 at halftime, though.
Stewart scored on a 3-yard run off a bootleg left to put the Trojans ahead for good with 22 seconds left in the third quarter. His team faked the extra point and Guterding, the holder, hit Kyle Skramko on a crossing route for the two-point conversion and a 22-16 lead.
Before the score, Blatz made a leaping, one-handed catch for 26 yards to the 5. "Brett's always throwing up perfect passes for me," Blatz said. But on that play, "I just heaved it up," said Stewart, who corralled a high snap and tossed a jump ball to the 6-5 receiver on a fade.
Stewart's 23-yard touchdown pass to Blatz had pulled Garden City within 16-14 with 9:02 left in the third. Blatz caught a short pass, slipped a defender, cut left and outran the pursuit to the end zone.
For Riverhead (9-3), Ryan Bitzer was 9-for-19 for 104 yards. He threw a 6-yard TD pass to Jaron Greenidge (three catches, 37 yards) in the first quarter.
The outsized Trojans were thoroughly outplayed in the first half as Riverhead's Jeremiah Cheatom ran for 198 of his 224 yards. But "Coach is great at halftime adjustments," former Trojans star Stephen Jahelka said then, "and that will take away a physical advantage."
Prophetic words. In the second half, the Trojans' defensive line slanted to help limit Cheatom's cutback runs. "We started keeping contain on him better," said linebacker Scott D'Antonio, who made eight tackles. "We stayed disciplined, so even if he was breaking tackles, he wouldn't get far."
James Sullivan had nine tackles and recovered a fumble with 11:13 remaining.
"This is the happiest day of my life," Stewart said. "And we proved a lot of people wrong."
Added Blatz: "We weren't the biggest and maybe not even the best. But we're here and we're on top."