It was another example of football being a game of inches.
Garden City’s defense stymied MacArthur on back-to-back attempts from inside the 1-yard line midway through the fourth quarter and held on to win last Saturday’s Nassau Conference II championship, 14-7.
On the way to capturing a fifth straight county title, the Trojans ran out the final 6:52 following the intense goal-line stand which ended in a bit of controversy as MacArthur’s players, coaches and fans believed the fourth-down play was a touchdown.
“It pretty much came down to us not being able to finish,” MacArthur head coach Bob Fehrenbach said. “It’s expensive real estate down there and often not easy to punch it in. The last attempt was very close. We thought we had it, but it wasn’t clear-cut.”
As was the case when the Generals (6-2) came up short during the regular season at Garden City (6-0), falling 35-29 on March 27, they were unable to cash in promising drives. Last Saturday, they had three possessions stall inside Garden City territory in the first half alone, including two in the red zone, and trailed 7-0 at halftime.
The Trojans scored on their first possession after stopping MacArthur on a fourth-and-three try from their 46. Junior Jack Cascadden, who carried 13 times for 145 yards and made Garden City’s three biggest offensive plays of the game, capped its 54-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown with 4:56 remaining in the opening quarter.
The ensuing possession summed up the day for the Generals, who reached the title game with a convincing semifinal victory over South Side. Behind Thorp Award candidate Ryan Isom, they drove from their own 30 to inside the Garden City 5 before the senior running back was held to a gain of three on fourth-and-4. Isom had 38 yards on the drive, including a fourth-down conversion at the 12, and junior quarterback Ryan Muller added a 16-yard run earlier on third down to keep the chains moving.
The Generals, led up front by senior Martone Award candidate Andrew Calderon, were back in the red zone again after forcing the Trojans to punt late in the second quarter, starting at the 27 and moving to the 16 after a run by Isom. However, the threat would end in the closing seconds of the half on a turnover.
It was still 7-0 better than midway through the third quarter when MacArthur took to the air for just the third time in the game and the result was a spectacular one. On first down from its own 28, Muller found Matt Papach in stride around midfield and the junior wideout made a nice adjustment for the catch and outraced the defense for a 72-yard touchdown. It was 7-7 with 3:54 to go in the third.
It wasn’t tied long, however. Cascadden broke free for a 48-yard touchdown in the final minute of the quarter for what proved to be the game-winning score.
“We had a feeling we could get this far and have a chance to win it,” Fehrenbach said.