November 2011: An unbeaten, mature Garden City returns to the LIC with an airtight defense and a microscopic 4.5 points against per game. Upstart Newfield wins on Julian Santiago's 1-yard touchdown 35 seconds into the fourth quarter.
November 2012: Garden City coach Tom Flatley is cautious. He fielded an almost entirely new team this season, and they're mostly lacrosse players and wrestlers. The Trojans already have been to the Long Island Championships 13 times, but they're 4-9.
"We don't have the size, and we don't have one senior interested in playing football in college," Flatley said on the Wednesday before the game. "They know it's going to be difficult and they're going to go out and play as hard as they have."
December 2012: The Trojans are outsized by Riverhead, but Flatley has taught them well. The defensive line, after some halftime maneuvering, contains Blue Waves running back Jeremiah Cheatom. Justin Guterding and Ed Blatz, fresh off being part of the No. 1 lacrosse team in the nation, prove that winning is contagious. Quarterback Brett Stewart, with four total touchdowns, makes sure of it. Garden City wins the Class II title, 29-16.
"This is better than winning [the lacrosse] states," Guterding said. "We were picked every time to lose here . . . We proved people wrong. I don't think a lot of people expected us to be good. It's more fun when you surprise people."
Despite preseason concerns, the Trojans went 11-1, with their only loss coming to MacArthur. Though Flatley said they gave up the most yards in their history, they didn't give up all that many points, limiting opponents to less than two touchdowns per game. Their offense, meanwhile, proved multi-faceted, with threats from the receiving corps of Guterding and Blatz and a bruising presence on the inside in the form of running back Scott D'Antonio. Leading the charge was Stewart, who passed for 1,519 yards and 20 touchdowns and added 855 yards on the ground with nine scores.
And then there was Flatley -- a coach known for his emphasis on discipline and execution as well as his tactical mind. "It just shows what kind of knowledge he has that we're able to adjust and dominate the second halves of big games," Blatz said.
But even with all those tools, Garden City sometimes was unsure of itself. D'Antonio said the road to a title gathered steam around Week 6, in a win over Long Beach. Both had gone into the game undefeated and the Marines moved within 20-18 with six seconds left. Long Beach went for the potential tying two-point conversion and the Trojans went to their goal-line set, sending those supposedly "too small" linemen up the middle. Matt Schmelzinger and company, all 5-9 and under, made the stop.
The Marines "were doing really well and we were down," D'Antonio said. "It was hard-fought and our team really dug deep . . . and then it was like, if we can beat this team, we can probably beat them all."
And so they did.