NEW MILFORD, NJ - Thanks to a blocked field goal by Jordan Wexler, Hasbrouck Heights is going back to NJSIAA North 1, Group 1 finals, as the Aviators defeated New Milford 10-7, in a game that will be remembered more for the controversial ending than the game itself.
The controversy comes from the aftermath after Wexler blocked New Milford kicker Brian Johnston’s 27-yard field goal attempt with three seconds remaining in the game. The ball was recovered by Hasbrouck Heights and the bench stormed the field, the ball was tossed into the air to celebrate.
The problem was, no player from Heights had gone down with the ball and the play was, technically still alive. An alert New Milford player retrieved the ball and began running to the end zone, but appeared to stop as a whistle blew. And then chaos broke out.
Heights celebrated as if they had won, New Milford poured off its sideline as if they scored a touchdown. From the Twitter feed available from Varsity Aces Twitter feed, it is hard to tell if the player crossed the goal line before the New Milford bench (with coaches and players on the field) re-emphasized for him to run back to the end zone, while Hasbrouck Heights insisted they had won.
Then the referees huddled.
“”When I saw the referees huddling, I felt a little sick,” Hasbrouck Heights head coach Nick Delcalzo said.
The referees finally decided that the play had been ruled dead, a whistle had been blown, and the game was over with Hasbrouck Heights the 10-7 victor. Heights celebrated once more, as New Milford pleaded its case.
“I feel for Billy” Delcalzo said of New Milford coach Bill Wilde. “He is a great coach, and that is a very good football team. We are fortunate to come out of here with a win.”
The chaos at the end overshadowed another outstanding defensive effort by Hasbrouck Heights, which for the third straight playoff game, saw their opponents score just one touchdown.
The game-winning score came in the third quarter, as James Klenk hit Jasiah Purdie with a 31-yard scoring pass with 1;29 remaining in the third quarter to overcome a 7-3 New Milford lead. The pass and run came after the Aviators had been penalized on holding on first down, setting up a first and 20. The play capped off a 13 play, 84-yard drive, and chewed up 8:04 of the third quarter.
Heights' other score, and the margin of victory, came off the foot of kicker Matthew Gwziszc, a 27-yard field goal that came on the first drive of the game, after New Milford stopped the Aviators inside the 10-yard line.
Heights dominated a good portion of the first quarter, and Nico Facchini recovered a fumble at the New Milford 43, it looked like the Aviators had a chance to jump out to an early lead. After a first down, the Knights’ free safety Anthony Rivera picked off Klenk in the end zone, ending the threat. ,
The teams traded punts until New Milford was able to get on the scoreboard with under a minute remaining in the first half. Bart Nativo scored from six-yards out to give New Milford a 7-3 lead going into the half.
After shutting down the Knights on downs to start off the second half, the Aviators moved the ball down the field for the go-ahead score. Klenk was the key player in the drive, breaking 27-yard run on third and three to get the Aviators out of their own end to mid-field, and then later powering for two yards on a fourth and one to keep the drive going.
After the Knights accepted a holding penalty on the Aviators on a play that Purdie had been strung out of bounds, Klenk came right back to hit his receiver for the 33-yard touchdown play on first and 20 and the 10-7 lead after Gwziszc extra point.
New Milford bounced back, as Nativo ran for nine on first down and quarterback Ryan Picinic went for 10 yards on second down. Following a no-gain, Picinic hit tight end Matt Mcelroy for 12 yards. But, on third down and 12, Picinic went deep down the left sideline, but was intercepted in the end zone by Ian RInke gave the ball back to the Aviators.
The Aviators offense, which had stalled, continued to struggle and were forced to punt after three downs. A good kick by Purdie, helped the cause.
“Jasiah was punting the ball really well tonight,” said Delcalzo.
And with New Milford unable to move the ball, they punted away to the Aviators with 6:15 remaining in the game. Tyler Picinic shanked one off his foot, giving the ball Heights at the 45-yard line.
But the Knights defense was up to the task. And Purdie’s next punt backed the ball up to the New Milford 7- yard line.
Unable to pick up a first down, the Knights punted, and hoped for a defensive, which they got. But an illegal fair catch call moved the ball back to the 12 and set the Knights up on their last drive of the game.
On second and 10, Picinic hit Mcelroy for a 56-yard catch and run, moving the ball down to the 32. Nativo then went to work on the ground, pushing the ball down the Aviator 11 with 8 seconds remaining. The Knights took one shot at the end zone, but the pass was out of bounds, setting up the field goal try.
Wexler, who had his leg cut badly earlier in the game, broke through the line and blocked the kick, sending the game into its frenzied post-game scene.
NOTES: With the win, the Aviator will play Pompton Lakes, time and location to be determined. The Aviators beat Pompton Lakes, 14-13, in the initial NJIC Bowl. The Cardinals, 7-2, advanced to the final by defeating Wallington, 34-29 in Wallington, Friday evening. It will match the fifth and sixth seed in the finals.
Klenk finisihed with 17 rushes for 84 yards, while completing seven-of-13 passes for 68 yards and 1 touchdown. He also had one pass picked off. Purdie carried 10 times for 59 yards, while caching three passes for 40 yards and a touchdown. Facchini had seven carries for 23 yards, with three receptions for 16 yards. Zai’heer Jenkins caught one pass for 12 yards.