As he lay on the ground midway through the fourth quarter, screaming in pain moments after suffering a severe leg injury during a 4-yard run, Garden City junior Conor McDonnell summoned Stephen Jahelka, his friend and one of the Trojans' captains. "Win this thing for me," Jahelka related later of what McDonnell had told him.
"That's the most telling thing for me. The kid's in immense pain with no meds, and he's thinking about his 51 teammates," Jahelka said.
After receiving a prolonged ovation from players and fans on both sides of Hofstra's Shuart Stadium Saturday, McDonnell was taken by Nassau County ambulance to Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, where his injury was diagnosed as a broken leg, according to members of the coaching staff.
On the first play after a 35-minute delay, Brian Fischer shook off a tackler and high-stepped into the end zone from the 8 for the clinching touchdown as Garden City defeated Wantagh, 21-7, Saturday in the Nassau Conference II semifinal. The Trojans will face Carey for the Nassau championship next Saturday at Hofstra at 12:30 p.m. Wantagh finished 7-3.
"I've known Mac almost my whole life," Jahelka said. "He's a tough, physical kid who plays so hard. Unfortunately, these things happen in football, but it's hard to see something like that."
Jahelka, who rushed for 94 yards on 19 carries, including the game's first touchdown on a 4-yard run, and made seven tackles, had gathered the team together during the long stoppage "to corral our emotions and get everyone back on track."
He said he told fellow Harvard-bound senior Fischer to "go north-south" on the first play after the game resumed. "So what does he do? He runs east-west," Jahelka said with a big grin. "Typical Fish."
Earlier on that drive, McDonnell bolted 17 yards to the Wantagh 17. He scored his first receiving touchdown of the season in the third quarter on a 5-yarder from Tom Gordon that helped Garden City (9-1) erase a 7-6 Wantagh lead and move ahead at 12-7.
Garden City's defense, which held the Warriors to four first downs, had come up big only a few minutes before McDonnell's frightening injury.
After the fourth outstanding punt of the game by Ryan Norton pinned the Warriors at their own 1, Jahelka, a Newsday All-Long Island linebacker, not only made the right call but also the right play.
He nailed Mike Scully in the end zone for a safety and a 14-7 advantage.
"I watch a lot of film and I saw that when they're in a tight situation, they run a weak-side blast. So I called a weak-side blitz," Jahelka said. "Conor took on the block of No. 7 and forced Scully right toward me. My eyes lit up when I saw that. It got us going in the right direction."
Garden City coach Tom Flatley acknowledged that Jahelka has the freedom to call certain plays in certain situations. "He's smarter than I am," Flatley said after his 223rd career victory.
Of McDonnell, Flatley said: "He's a starting linebacker and a very solid player. I hope he's back for lacrosse. He's a great kid."