The Lidenhurst football team doesn’t care who it lines up against, so long as there is a game to play and a championship to contend for.
After defeating Oceanside 40-23 in the Long Island Class I Championship last year, the Bulldogs are looking for another title, but this season, they’ll be doing it in Class II, taking on Garden City at noon on Friday at Stony Brook's LaValle Stadium.
It’s been a season of transition for Lindenhurst, with brand-new players in starting spots and brand-new opponents on the other side of the field. One thing, however, hasn’t changed; this is a team that believes in itself.
“We still want to win, it doesn’t matter what division it is,” linebacker Dean Morreale said. “It could be Division I or Division IV, the mindset stays the same.”
Lindenhurst’s run to the LIC this season hasn’t been without challenges.
The Bulldogs (9-2) dropped a pair of regular-season games, falling to Northport on Sept. 14 and to West Islip on Oct. 12, and coach Nick Lombardo said the team struggled to find its identity early in the season, particularly against a schedule filled with unfamiliar teams.
“Every year kids are graduating, but this year we’ve been playing all new teams,” Lombardo said. “So there are new concepts you have to contend with and it’s been an interesting adjustment for all of us, both the players and the coaching staff.”
Although Lindenhurst would have loved an undefeated record, like last season’s championship team, the ups and downs of this year have helped prepare the Bulldogs for a deep playoff run.
“Last year was like a fantasy,” Morreale said. “We were stacked everywhere. This year, though everyone has had to work for what they’ve gotten.”
It hasn’t always been easy, but, fresh off a 21-17 victory over West Islip in the county final last weekend, the Bulldogs are brimming with confidence, something they know they’ll need against Garden City. After all, the Trojans aren’t just two-time defending Class II champs, they’re also riding a 35-game winning streak.
“All our thoughts have been about Garden City this week,” quarterback Mike Varela said. “We realize who they are and what they’ve done, and we respect that, but we’re not scared of them.”
Lindenhurst is hoping to get out to a quick start, settling into an offensive game plan that has Varela front and center. The senior has thrown for more than 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns this season and caught the wide-receiver option for the winning touchdown in the Suffolk II final.
“Our offense has to click,” Varela said. “It’s our time to prove what we can do.”
Lombardo echoed Varela’s offensive confidence, but added that Lindenhurst won’t be able to afford any careless mistakes against Garden City. The Bulldogs need to attack every down, looking to seize every opportunity.
“[Garden City has] had so much success and they have dynamic players and do things well on offense, defense and special teams,” Lombardo said. “We can’t make some of the mistakes we’ve made in the past and get away with them.”
Lindenhurst has its eyes on a second-straight title and while the season hasn’t always been perfect, the Bulldogs are hopeful the ending will be.
“I don’t think many people counted on us,” Morreale said. “But I know we can win any game against any team.”
Road to the championship
Suffolk II playoffs
Smithtown East, 35-7
West Islip, 21-17