Jack Archer #23, Garden City running back, rushes 31 yards...

Jack Archer #23, Garden City running back, rushes 31 yards off a direct snap for a touchdown during the first quarter of the Nassau County football Conference II final against Mepham at Shuart Stadium on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. Credit: James Escher

One couldn’t ask for much more in a title clash then the potent matchup in this season’s Long Island Class II football championship game.

Nassau’s Garden City (11-0) has won it nine times at the Long Island Championships. Suffolk’s Bellport (10-1) has taken the crown six times. Together, that’s more than half of the 29 titles decided since the 1992 creation of the event (none was played in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic). They are two of the three most decorated programs of the LIC era.

The two programs arrive after taking different roads. The Trojans essentially shrugged off all comers in Nassau II en route to a seventh straight county title, trouncing foes by an average of nearly 33 points and allowing just 6.6 points per game. The race in Suffolk II was bruising weekly affair with a half-dozen legitimate contenders and the Clippers managed to shake off an early-season loss to Lindenhurst to repeat as county champion.

And this is a rematch of last season’s game and the sixth time that Garden City and Bellport have squared off in the LIC. The Trojans rode a pair of long second-half touchdown passes to a 14-6 win, its first LIC victory over the Clippers.

“It seems to be a very difficult conference so them being the winner two years in a row is highly impressive,” Garden City coach Dave Ettinger said. “”Playing them last year, and knowing how many contributing juniors they had. I thought that they had a good shot to get back to this game.”

“We saw them last year and watching film of them now, they are tremendous,” Bellport coach Jamie Fabian said. “Everything they’ve gotten, they earned. They are so efficient. They have great players. They don’t make mistakes.”

It’s true for both teams. Bellport’s Dontae Phillips has rushed for over 1,400 yards, run for 20 touchdowns and caught four TD passes. The Clippers’ Jason Hunt is dynamic in all he does and can score on the run, the catch and on every type of return. Quarterback Justin Miles has thrown for almost 1,300 yards and 14 scores.

“You don’t see a lot of offensive holes with them,” Ettinger said. “They can throw it. They can run [to the edge]. They can run right at you.”

Trojans starters didn’t play a lot of second-half snaps, however the electric Stevie Finnell still accounted for more than 20 touchdowns with his running, catching and defense. Quarterback Cole Webber has thrown for a dozen scores. And Jack Archer is a legitimate big-play threat; he had touchdown runs of 31 and 35 years in the county final against Mepham.

Asked for his observations about Garden City, Hunt replied “they have a lot of athleticism,” before adding “I still believe we have the better athletes.”

Bellport has, on occasion, hurt itself with mistakes this season. Fabian sees little room for doing that against Garden City.

“We have to be more disciplined than we’ve been,” he said. “Maybe the most important thing for us is to eliminate [miscues]. Garden City seems to seize the moment after every mistake.”

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