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Garden City line measures up

Garden City quarterback Brett Stewart, center, and his

Garden City quarterback Brett Stewart, center, and his teammates celebrate with their trophy after the 29-16 win over Riverhead for the Long Island Class II football championship at Lavalle Stadium. (Dec. 1, 2012) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Riverhead offensive line cast a shadow over Garden City nose tackle Matt Schmelzinger, those burly bodies dwarfing his, even in the three-point stance. The teammates at his side, Ryan Dooley and Nick Giannone, were in a similar predicament. But this was nothing new for the Trojans. It had been this way all season.

But one of the smallest lines in Class II didn't get to the Long Island championship game by being a pushover. Though they be but small, they are fierce.

"Our group is probably the smallest, especially when you put it up against huge guys from Suffolk,'' said Dooley, who is 5-9, 170. "We played big guys all year. We've stayed low and we've been successful that way.''

After making adjustments for the second half, Garden City held Riverhead to 14 yards on 12 carries and only two first downs. The Trojans scored three straight times in the second half to erase a nine-point halftime deficit and win, 29-16, clinching their first Long Island title since 2009.

This in a year in which they lost 10 starters on defense and, coach Tom Flatley said, have only two players who count football as their primary sport.

"Our defensive line was pretty well ripped up, and they came back and dominated in the second half,'' Flatley said. "We made a few adjustments in moving to people . . . and cheated the middle guard and slanted a bit'' to cut down on running back Jeremiah Cheatom.

That middle guard would be Schmelzinger, the winter wrestler who, at a generously- listed 5-6, is a compact target whose quick hands and low center of gravity help him fight through double-teams. Giannone is listed at 5-8, rounding out the 3 in the Trojans' 3-4.

"We use our quickness a lot,'' Schmelzinger said. "That's what we do best to compensate . . . and I feel like, with my size, I'm able to get under guys and it's easier for me to make plays.''

Wrestling, he said, has helped to strengthen his hand play "and helps me get rid of guys quicker.''

Garden City quarterback Brett Stewart called him "the strongest kid I've ever met. He probably weighs around 150 and benches 255. He has this mind-set about him like 'we can't lose this game,' '' Stewart said.

It was that thought, Dooley said, that helped the line commit to its late-game adjustments and hold Riverhead scoreless for more than 25 minutes.

The relatively low expectations coming into this year made the victory even sweeter, Dooley added, and because he's one of the few who play only football, the achievement "means so much to me.''

"We played the hardest, we did our best and it worked out,'' he said.

The size disadvantage just gave Garden City something else to prove.

"We played our hearts out,'' Dooley said. "The biggest thing we have is our heart.''

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