A broken play saved the season for Carey, a season in which the Seahawks had never trailed and had hardly broken a sweat.
They did both Friday night.
Ray Catapano scrambled out of the pocket and launched a precise pass to Dylan DeMeo for a 36-yard touchdown with 5:15 left that gave No. 1 Carey a 20-16 victory over No. 2 Garden City. The Seahawks earned their first Nassau County championship since 1978 before a noisy crowd of nearly 5,000 fans at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium.
"The play was supposed to go left. Nothing was open, so I rolled to my right," said Catapano, who threw three touchdown passes and completed 13 of 23 passes for 142 yards. "A huge credit to our offensive line and Dylan made a great catch."
The Seahawks (11-0) will face Riverhead in the Long Island Class II championship game at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Shuart Stadium. It will be their first appearance in the LIC. Defending Long Island Class II champion Garden City finished 9-2, with both losses to Carey.
"They played a great game," said DeMeo, who caught five passes for 76 yards, none bigger than the fourth-quarter play that will long resonate in Carey lore.
"Ray did a great job of keeping the play alive," said DeMeo, who injured an ankle while falling to the ground after the game-winning catch and was unable to boot the extra point or the ensuing kickoff. "I just tried to get open. The play wasn't meant for me."
The Trojans had taken a 16-14 lead -- the first time all season that Carey faced a deficit -- on a 27-yard field goal by Gerard Smith that capped a 10-play, 62-yard drive that consumed 3:12. The march was highlighted by the marvelous ability and versatility of Garden City quarterback Brett Stewart. He ran for gains of 13, 17 and 18 yards on the drive and completed an 8-yard pass.
Stewart (146 yards rushing, 170 yards passing) also turned in the game's most electrifying play, a 61-yard touchdown pass to Matt Borges, who turned a quick slant into a stunning TD with some nice open-field running. That cut the Seahawks' advantage to 14-13.
"It was all about keeping your head up," DeMeo said. "We knew that eventually we would have to handle some adversity."
That showed up in the fourth quarter. Catapano, who has thrown 35 touchdown passes this season, was intercepted for only the third time, and Carey also was forced into a three-and-out series. The Trojans had plenty of time to retake the lead, but the Seahawks' defense, featuring a sack by Thomas Gallant, forced a punt.
Garden City had one last chance, taking over with 2:33 left, but Stewart's long pass was picked off by Andrew Ris, who earlier caught touchdown passes of 21 and 6 yards. That allowed the Seahawks to celebrate their first county title in the LIC era.
"This is a special group," coach Mike Stanley said. "There's no quit in them. All season long, we told them the most important thing was to finish. It may have taken a busted play down the sideline, but they did it."
Added a jubilant Catapano, "It's an amazing feeling to finally bring a Nassau championship back to Carey. It's exhilarating."