The Mineola Mustangs varsity football team wrapped up their 2014 season with a 6-2 Conference IV record, 8-3 overall, and made it to their first conference title matchup since 2002.
With senior quarterback James Gerstner, who ranked eighth in rushing Nassau County and 16th in passing, senior wide receiver Brian Smith who ranked 15th in receiving, 12th ranked senior kicker Robert Lang and a solid offensive and defensive line—the Mustangs became a force when defeating top-seeded Roosevelt Rough Riders 47-38 in their second game of the season.
Mineola’s opening season three-game winning streak was snapped with 24-21 loss to Locust Valley in October ending on a last second field goal kick loss. One month later in the conference semifinals, Lang returned the favor by securing a 16-13 win after topping the Carle Place WildFrogs in home playoff game, bringing the Mustangs to a rematch with Roosevelt for the conference title.
Gerstner, having rushed for 212 yards and five touchdowns on 23 carries, and completed eleven of 13 passes for 229 yards and one touchdown in their first game against the Rough Riders, left a lasting impression, but were ultimately defeated 41-14 last month in the title game.
“Even though we’ve been in the playoffs about six of the last 10 years, we always end up playing one of the top teams in the first round,” Mustangs head coach Daniel Guido said. “And that’s difficult to do.”
Throughout the year, the Mustangs had their share of setbacks with numerous injuries and having to change players’ positions. Senior offensive tackle and team captain Edien Hincapie and senior running back Kyle Dunleavy were both out for the season while senior running back Eric Guardado, senior starting defensive tackle Luigi Athan and junior offensive lineman Logan Dunleavy sustained injuries.
Among the position changes were senior safety John Clancy moving to linebacker. Brian Smith played running back as well, which Guido said despite Smith’s versatility, took away from the team’s wide receiver core.
“We had players who didn’t even start on JV—they’re starting for the first time this year, and it caught up to us in the last game,” Guido said. “Roosevelt was doing different things and we weren’t able to adjust.”
All things considered, Guido praised his team for doing, “an unbelievable job. We never had a bad day at practice, just about nobody ever missed.”
With a number of players alternating between football, lacrosse, baseball and wrestling, the Mustangs were an athletic bunch that bonded closely on and off the field.
“I’m proud of the whole team, and even though we lost, its still great to even get to play in a championship game,” Gerstner said, who is applying to the United States Merchant Marine Academy and plans to play lacrosse.
James Gerstner had a relatively limited amount of quarterback experience coming into his senior year, but ran for more than 1,200 yards and passed for 900 yards in his final Mineola season.
“We thought he would be good, but we never thought he would end up doing what he did for us,” Guido said.
Brian Smith, who also plays lacrosse, is still undecided on which school to attend, and echoed his quarterback’s sentiments, saying, “unfortunately we came up short to Roosevelt, and despite the injuries we had, we stuck together all year.”
With 500 yards catching and 500 yards running the ball, Guido mentioned some of Smith’s highlights being a special teams touchdown on a kickoff return and defensive touchdown picking up a fumble.
Gerstner, Smith and Guardado received all-county honors, as well as senior running back Brian Eccher. Senior offensive lineman Matt LaFaye was all-conference. Gerstner was also voted as Conference IV Player Of The Year, which Guido said is the first year that award was given to each conference.