Garden City's Stephen Jahelka celebrates a turnover by Bellport in...

Garden City's Stephen Jahelka celebrates a turnover by Bellport in the Class II Long Island Championship at Stony Brook University. Bellport won, 26-21. (Nov. 27, 2010) Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Soon-to-be Harvard men carry a certain cachet.

But the level of respect for Garden City's Stephen Jahelka, who is committed to play lacrosse at Harvard next year, flew through the roof after yesterday's 26-21 loss to Bellport in the Long Island Class II championship game at Stony Brook.

During the postgame award ceremony, Bellport coach Joe Cipp Jr. congratulated the Trojans on their fine season, "especially No. 42."

That would be Jahelka, who led the Trojans' defense with five tackles, including one for a loss. He also rushed for 68 yards on 14 carries and threw a 4-yard pass to Tom Gordon.

"Jahelka had a great career," Garden City coach Tom Flatley said. "His leadership, the changes he makes on the fly, you don't find talent like that anywhere."

Jahelka didn't have the best numbers for Garden City Saturday. That honor went to Patric Berkery, who rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns, caught seven passes for 108 yards and a score, and made an interception. But Jahelka, one of the team captains, is the heart and soul of the Trojans.

Even with his outstanding effort, though, he couldn't lead his team past Bellport, especially without running backs / linebackers Brian Fischer, who sat out with a concussion, and Conor McDonnell, who broke his leg two weeks ago.

"It'd be unfair to say we didn't win because they were out," Jahelka said. "That's a lot of 'what-ifs.' They were the better team today."

Jahelka made a rare mistake when he coughed up a second-and-5 carry from his own 49 and it was recovered by Bellport's Eddie Carson with 8:15 left in the fourth quarter and Garden City clinging to a 21-20 lead.

The turnover didn't lead to any points, but it prevented Garden City from milking the clock. Travis Houpe scored the winning TD for Bellport with 1:23 to play. "That's on me," Jahelka said. "The kid just got a good hit on me and it was a stupid mistake."

Could it be Jahelka was fatigued late in the game? He was on the field for nearly every offensive and defensive play, and, early on, he was blitzing as fast as he could from his linebacker spot in an attempt to blow up Bellport's running attack.

Jahelka insists he was fresh - "both teams were well-conditioned," he said - but Berkery acknowledged the team might have tired down the stretch without two key players.

"We just didn't have enough in the tank, and it all added up," said Berkery, who was fighting a cold. "The big plays got us in the end."

Bellport has defeated Garden City all four times the teams have met in the Long Island Championships. All four have been decided by eight or fewer points.

When the latest edition was over, Cipp sought out Jahelka and the two shared a poignant moment. Minutes later, Jahelka began to weep. What did the coach tell him?

"He just said that no one had stopped them all year like I had," Jahelka said. "But in the end, it wasn't enough."


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