Football players often credit training camp for fostering winning habits, so hearing Chris Mixon say Garden City developed its championship defense in August should come as no surprise.
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The manner in which it was developed, though, explains why the Trojans were so successful as a unit from top to bottom.
Mixon said that even the smallest fundamental mistake would draw criticism and instruction from defensive coordinator Steve Finnell, who would value technique above result. That encouraged players to hold themselves accountable. They learned early that one miscue on an individual level could set the entire unit off-kilter.
“If he sees you in practice going for the tackle and not doing what you were supposed to be doing fundamentally, it doesn’t matter if you made the tackle,” Mixon said. “He lets you know you were doing the wrong thing, and that builds the idea that we’re going to have success as long as everybody does their job.”
The Trojans held each other accountable all season, and their effort culminated with an impressive 13-6 win over Half Hollow Hills West in the Long Island Class II championship game on Nov. 27.
Hills West had averaged 36.6 points through 11 games before the Long Island Championships and had averaged 42.7 in their three previous playoff games.
“They were a really high-powered offense going in and we weren’t sure how we would fare,” Mixon said, “but we watched a lot of film and it worked out.”
Hills West did not score until midway through the fourth quarter, when Garden City already held a 13-0 lead and seemed well on its way to its sixth Long Island title in its record 15th appearance.
After entering the playoffs undefeated for the second straight year, the Trojans (12-0) avoided a disappointing finish this time around. They were 9-0 in 2015 before Wantagh ended their season in the county semifinals.
“Our guys learned a lot from what happened last year,” coach Dave Ettinger said. “Nothing’s to be expected. You’ve got to go out and earn everything.” And that’s what the team as a whole did.
Colin Hart and Jack Bill made quarterback a strength after Ettinger said the position was a question mark in the preseason.
Kicker Billy Rousakis was nearly flawless all year and converted two field goals for a 6-0 lead in the LIC.
James Buckley and Colin Paskewitz fortified a defensive line that already was strong with Andrew DeSantis.
Linebacker Matthew DeSimpliciis led the team in tackles, and Mixon and Matt Granville anchored a dangerous secondary.
“We kept focused and didn’t overlook anybody,” Mixon said. “Last year upset everyone, so nobody really wanted that to happen again.”