By Ted Keith
Garden City not make the Conference II finals? The idea was laughable. In 17 straight trips to the playoffs, the Trojans had failed to get as far as the finals just four times.
It's something of a birthright for the Trojans and their fans to expect, at the very least, a playoff win. So what exactly was going on? With the fourth quarter about to start, the Trojans had fallen behind Hewlett 3-0. A second straight first-round playoff exit didn't seem far behind, what with the Trojans pronounced lack of offense. "Things were going their way more than our way," said Head Coach Tom Flatley. "I felt that if they scored a touchdown, it would be out of reach."
Then you can imagine the despair felt by the Trojans when Hewlett started to move the ball early in the fourth quarter. They were down three when Hewlett quarterback Jim Aberasturi's pass drifted aimlessly towards an open receiver. That receiver was Garden City's senior defensive back Chris Waters, looking to atone for a dropped third down pass that had stalled the Trojans' best drive to that point. But Waters wasn't thinking about atonement as the ball floated his way. "Most of the time, you don't think about that stuff you just react," he said. Waters jumped and the ball stuck to his freezing cold hands in the 37 degree weather.
It was the biggest play of the game to that point. Two plays later, quarterback Matt Casey hit senior tight end Matt McFarland, who broke a tackle and rumbled 28-yards for the game's only touchdown and a lead the Trojans would not relinquish. Assistant Coach Bob Defliese had talked about capitalizing on opponents' mistakes and the Trojans had done it again.
It was fitting that it was Waters and McFarland who figured in the team's only score because they, along with senior Bill Flannery, are the team's tri-captains and that trio is the biggest reason Garden City will face Lawrence tonight (Thursday, Nov. 20) for the Nassau Conference II championship game at 7 p.m. at Hofstra.
To the delight of the student section who chanted "Bomber" every time his picture went up on the Hofstra scoreboard, Flannery was having the best game of his four-year varsity career, carrying the team on his back. "He was in the right place at the right time and made some spectacular plays," said Flatley. Besides compiling 65 yards on just ten carries, Flannery headlined the defense that kept Hewlett, a team averaging thirty points a game, to ten points total in the team's two meetings. With face masks bearing his likeness popping up in the stands, Flannery dropped Hewlett running back Nick Castrovilla for a 14-yard loss on first-and-goal from the GC nine to keep Hewlett from extending its lead in the third. Later, he pressured Aberasturi to force an incompletion at the Trojans eight-yard line in the fourth to preserve the win.
Hewlett Head Coach Jay Iaquinta was forced to go for the touchdown because of what Defliese called, "the game's most underrated play." Following McFarland's touchdown, senior Kash Patel kicked the extra-point for a 7-3 lead, rendering a Hewlett field goal meaningless. No big deal you say? Well, Patel couldn't even feel his toes. When told later about how his PAT had affected the game, he said, "I'm glad I didn't think about it at the time."
Unfortunately for Garden City, seven points will probably not be enough to overcome the Golden Tornadoe of Lawrence this Thursday. Despite topping the 200-point plateau for the sixteenth straight campaign, in three games against Hewlett and Lawrence this year (the only playoff teams GC has faced) the Trojans have scored a paltry thirty points. In their six games, they have averaged that many. It's no wonder then that Flatley's greatest concern this week will be how to light up the scoreboard. "We're not a better team then when we played them last," he said. "We've got to put more points up. We haven't done it against the good teams. We just have to move the ball better." Against Hewlett, the Trojans totaled just 206 yards and Casey had his first subpar game of the season, going 5-12 for 84 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
With those two picks, Casey has now thrown four balls into enemy hands. All have been against Hewlett and Lawrence, another cause for concern. Garden City only has eight turnovers in its nine games, but half of them came in the team's disappointing 7-7 tie at Lawrence in early October. The dagger was senior Mike Dunn's fumble as the team drove for what seemed top winning points in the fourth quarter, marring an otherwise strong game by Dunn.
Things aren't all bad, however. At 8-0-1, the undefeated Trojans have had a crutch to lean on all year their defense. Garden City has yielded just sixteen points this season. To equal their great mark, they will have to handle Lawrence's offensive line, which boasts two all-county lineman at 280 and 270 pounds, respectively, on the right side.
Garden City will also be back at full rest after playing for the third time in eleven games last Thursday. "Everything was rushed. We had to force-feed people," said Flatley. Actually, at one point in practice this past week, the coaches had to stop the players from going too hard. The biggest objective this week in practice is to keep the players healthy. Stalwart linebacker Eric Wenzel, who recovered a Hewlett fumble this past week, has been bothered by a sore neck lately and senior center Matt Hesterberg was limping around all night Thursday with a sore leg.
Both are expected to play this Thursday as Garden City goes after its tenth win in fourteen conference finals.