Blake Cascadden of Garden City gets past two North Babylon...

Blake Cascadden of Garden City gets past two North Babylon defenders during the Long Island Class II championship football game at Stony Brook University, on Saturday, November 25, 2023. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

There is a next-man-up mentality in the Garden City football program. And to that end, there seems to be no end to Garden City’s football dominance. But this year’s Long Island championship run was going to be a little different.

Garden City did not come into the Long Island Class II championship game as the definitive favorite. The Trojans were without junior halfback Michael Berkery, arguably the top player in Nassau County and the team leader in rushing yardage and touchdowns.

The Trojans could have found themselves in a scoring shootout with high-powered North Babylon and halfback Jawara Keahey, Long Island’s rushing and touchdown leader, without the services of their own offensive star.

Nothing doing.

Garden City plugged in junior Blake Cascadden, who rushed for 144 yards on 13 carries and scored two touchdowns, and the Trojans produced a superb defensive effort in rolling over North Babylon, 38-7, to capture the Long Island Class II championship before a crowd of 1,500 at Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

There have been legendary dynasties in Long Island high school football, and Garden City is right up there with the best. It was the Trojans’ third straight Long Island title, sixth in the past seven seasons and record 11th overall.

That kind of dominance has never been seen since the inception of the Long Island Championships in 1992.

Garden City recorded its 42nd straight victory, tying the longest winning streaks in Long Island football history. The Trojans share the record for most consecutive wins, set by Floyd from 2005-08 and duplicated by Garden City from 2016-19. They also became the first team in Long Island history to go four straight seasons unbeaten and untied.

“It’s tough to lose a two-way player like Berkery,” Garden City coach Dave Ettinger said. “We lost Berkery’s skill and leadership on the field and we needed someone to fill that void, and Blake did that. Our guys responded in a big way.”

Cascadden, who hadn’t played offense all season, ran for third-quarter touchdowns of 32 and 45 yards to put the game out of reach.

“We were getting out on the edge and clearing lanes for our backs,” Garden City captain and right guard Owen Holtzman said. “And, to Coach Ettinger’s credit, he kept calling the same play. They never adjusted and were leaving the defensive backs on an island against our bigger linemen.”

After a scoreless first quarter, Garden City exploded for 17 second-quarter points. The Trojans took advantage of a short field to take a 3-0 lead as Chris Desiderio kicked a 27-yard field goal.

“We kept them pinned in their own end,” Garden City safety Matthew Liberopoulos said. “Our guys were playing assignment football and North Babylon couldn’t move the ball.”

After North Babylon’s fourth straight punt, Garden City quarterback Carson Kraus directed a six-play, 65-yard touchdown drive capped by a 19-yard scoring pass to Liberopoulos in the back of the end zone for a 10-0 lead with 6:05 left in the half.

“My first touchdown in my first game on offense,” Liberopoulos said. “It was a play-action pass and I had to look back into the sun for the ball. I caught it and had to toe- tap to stay in.”

Garden City added another score just before the half ended. Kraus engineered a nine-play, 54-yard march and scored on an 18-yard run with nine seconds left for a 17-0 lead.

“They’re an even better team than we thought,” North Babylon coach John Rowland said. “Much respect for that Garden City program. But I wouldn’t trade my guys for anyone on the planet. We had a six-year championship drought and these guys got us back here. We lost to a better team.”

The Garden City defense stole the spotlight, shutting down the vaunted North Babylon running game. The Trojans — led by a defensive front of Cascadden, Brady Karol, Jack O’Neill and Tyler Gorman — limited the Bulldogs, who averaged 404 yards and 38 points per game, to three first downs and 58 yards in the first half. Keahey, who was averaging 233 yards per game, was held to 49 on 15 carries.

“We played assignment football and read our keys,” said Trojans linebacker Aidan Considine, who played despite a heavily taped left ankle.

“He was a game-time decision,” Ettinger said. “He’s a difference-maker.”

Considine added a 2-yard touchdown run and finished with 60 yards on 10 carries. The Garden City offensive line, composed of tackles O’Neill and Justin Gisolfi, guards Zach Olson, Matt Reilly and Holtzman and center Brendan Bohn, cleared the way for 333 rushing yards.

North Babylon avoided the shutout when Alexander Griffith caught a 66-yard touchdown pass from Chris Stumpf late in the third quarter. It was the only time the Bulldogs crossed midfield.

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