For Bellport running back Travis Houpe, the pain was everywhere, except where it mattered most.
"I asked him if his knee hurt. He said, 'Yep,' " Clippers coach Joe Cipp Jr. said. "I asked him if his back hurt. 'Yep.' I asked him if his heart hurt. He said, 'Nope.' So I knew he really wasn't hurt."
Houpe shook off a couple of crunching hits early in the fourth quarter that sent him to the bench for several plays. Then he scored the winning touchdown on a 3-yard run with 1:23 left as Bellport defeated Garden City, 26-21, Saturday in the Long Island Class II championship game at Stony Brook University's LaValle Stadium.
"It was a hard-hitting game, but I knew my team needed me," said Houpe, a 5-5, 180-pound package of fury who had 104 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. "I gave it my all."
The defending Class II champion Trojans, making their record 12th appearance in the 19 years the Long Island Championships have been held, finished 10-2.
"It was a tremendous effort by both teams," Cipp said after his 211th career victory, 13 fewer than Garden City coach Tom Flatley. "They stopped us cold in the second half."
Garden City took a 21-20 lead on Patric Berkery's 1-yard run with 2:18 left in the third quarter and Ryan Norton's PAT. Berkery played a spectacular game - 160 yards rushing and two touchdowns (one on an 82-yard run), seven receptions for 108 yards (including a 4-yarder for a TD), an interception and 41/2 tackles.
The Trojans had two chances to take control. With 6:49 remaining, Mike Borges recovered a fumble at the Bellport 14. But the Clippers' defense stiffened and Tom Gordon's fourth-down pass from the 12 was incomplete. "We had a chance to put the game away and go up by eight points, and we didn't," Flatley said.
After the Trojans' Mark Ellis intercepted a pass at the Garden City 9 with 3:14 remaining, the Clippers came up big again, forcing a three-and-out. "Our defense stopped them when it had to," Cipp said.
Norton, an exceptional kicker, sent a soaring punt that was knocked down by a strong, gusty crosswind and went out of bounds at the Trojans' 30.
Houpe ran for six yards on two carries, putting Bellport in a critical third-and-4 from the Garden City 24. On "brickhouse slant," a delay route, Justin Honce found Armand Correa over the middle for a 21-yard gain to the 3.
Two plays later, Houpe followed tackle Ryan Sloan and others into the end zone. "I knew when the time was right, I'd be able to score," Houpe said.
Honce couldn't hold back the tears after the game, embracing teammate after teammate during the postgame celebrations.
"Travis - I call him Mighty Mouse. He's the hardest-working player out there," said Honce, who threw for 179 yards and two touchdowns. "Armand is a playmaker. It was a whip route and I knew he'd get open."
After Bellport reclaimed the lead, Garden City showed its heart - and some razzle-dazzle, too. Gordon threw a short pass to Matt Confort, who tossed a lateral to Berkery. The 42-yard hook-and-ladder play put the Trojans at the Bellport 36 with 53 seconds left. After an incomplete pass, Bellport's Mike Burton intercepted Gordon, who was under duress, to ice it for the Clippers.
"I saw the quarterback was scrambling," said Burton, who caught five passes for 121 yards, including a 28-yard TD that gave Bellport a 20-14 halftime lead. "I saw a crazy-duck pass and I knew I had to intercept it."
Determination carried the day. "We weren't going to let it slip out of our hands," the emotional Honce said. "I love everybody on this team."
The love was reciprocated after Honce threw that late interception. "They wouldn't let me lose my confidence," he said. "They picked me up. That's what team is all about."
That's what victory is all about. It takes the pain away.