HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ -  Hasbrouck Heights High School edged St. Mary (Rutherford), 28-26, in the season opening football game for both schools Friday night at Depken Field.  The two teams were considered favorites in the New Jersey Interscholastic Conference Meadowlands division going into the game, and they did not disappoint those anticipating a showdown.

Hasbrouck Heights coach Nick Delcalzo was not entirely pleased with his team’s performance, but admitted. “A win is a win.”.

“I thought we were a bit sloppy at times, “ Delcalzo stated.  “Don’t get me wrong, they are a good team, but there are things we need to work on and get better at.”

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Even the opening kickoff was convoluted, as the Aviators won the toss, and it looked like they initially were going to receive the ball to start the game. The return team was even on the field before it was switched to Heights kicking off to start the game, deferring receiving the ball to the second half.  

Initially it looked as if the decision to kick might have been a mistake, as the Gaels picked up 26 yards and two first downs in their first three carries.  But a holding penalty negated another good run by quarterback Charles Schementi, and the defense held, forcing St. Mary to punt.  

But a three and out by the Aviator offense resulted, and when St. Mary had their own three-and-out, and both offenses looked rusty until Heights final possession of the first quarter, Quarterback James Klenk woke up the offense, and the crowd, with a 42-yard run around right end to bring the ball deep into the Gaels’ territory as the quarter crawled to an end.  

Four plays later, Klenk rushed in from six yards out on a fourth and goal, giving the Aviators a 6-0 lead. Kicker Matthew Gwziszc extra point was perfect, for a 7-0 lead.  

The momentum quickly jumped to the Aviators, as the defense shut down St. Mary following an initial first down.  A bad shotgun snap put the Gaels in a hole, forcing them to punt. A second bad long snap, this time over the head of the Gaels mammoth punter, starting offensive tackle Giovanni Potente (6-4, 285). Potente was able to overpower a few Aviator special teamers before being tackled, giving Heights the ball at the St. Mary 28.

After Klenk was sacked for a four-yard loss on first down, he was able to find a little more time, and hit Jasiah Purdie down the right side line for a 31-yard touchdown pass and a 13-0 lead. Gwziszc nailed his second extra point for a 14-0 lead.

The junior kicker, who was perfect on the night on extra points, and blasted his kickoffs deep int St. Mary territory, made his only mistake of the night, kicking the ball out of bounds to give St. Mary’s good field position.

The Gaels capitalized, driving down the field, with Schementi scoring with 2:27 left in the half, cutting the lead to 14-7.

The Aviators were not done in the first half, though, striking quickly following a long return from Nick Monahan, giving them the ball the 43-yard line.  Following a defensive holding penalty, Klenk was able to find Purdie for a 20-yard gain to get the drive going.  Monahan followed with two runs for 16 yards as the first half wound down. Klenk finished the drive, hitting Purdie on a catch-and-run for 13 yards and a 20-7 lead with 42 seconds remaining in the half.

Gwziszc’s extra point gave Heights a 21-7 lead going into halftime.

Monahan went 52 yards on a counter play on the first play of the second half to force St. Mary to call a timeout within a minute of halftime.  A pair of six yard runs, sandwiched around a two yard run by Nico Facchini and a two-yard screen pass to Will Vera, set up second and goal.  Facchini plowed in to give the Aviators a 28-7 lead with 9.18 remaining in the third quarter.

“I thought we had a chance to put them away,” Delcalzo admitted after the game. “We didn’t.  We need to work on that.”

A long kick return from St. Mary returner Noah Rincon gave the Gaels the ball at the 20.  Gresham went for 11 to make if first and goal at the nine.  Following a Schementi’s four-run, Gresham went the remaining five yards for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 28-14.  

Following another three-and-out by the Aviator offense, St. Mary’s started moving the ball with confidence against the Aviator defense, as Gresham and Schementi moved the ball into Aviator territory before a false start penalty, stalled the drive.  A third and eight handoff to David Tarallo went nowhere, and on fourth and eight, the Aviators stopped Elijah Bracey short, to take over on downs.  

But what appeared to be a momentum changer, did not last long, as two plays later Monahan’s fumble gave the Gaels a second boost of momentum as the third quarter was ending.

Gresham started the fourth with a pair of runs, the second resulting in a touchdown cutting the lead to 28-20, and make the Aviator crowd nervous.  But the Gaels snapping problems resurfaced, as a bad snap led to Travis Culkin blocking the kick, and keeping the Aviators up eight.

Following an exchange of punts, St.Mary’s went back on the offensive scoring on a four play drive, highlighted by a 35-yard completion from Schementi to Shawn Mercado, putting the ball at seven yard line. Tarsillo rambled in seven yards out on the next play, and the lead was cut to 28-26.  

But the missed extra point on the third touchdown forced St. Mary to go for two to tie the game.  Once again, Culkin came through, stopping Gresham dead at the line, preserving the lead.

Still,  St. Mary had 5:01 left on the clock to take the lead.

But following an on-side kick attempt that went out of bounds, the Aviators did not give the ball back, running out the clock  Klenk did the heavy lifting, converting a third and five run for a first down, and later rushing for seven yards to put the Aviators to win the game.

After the game, Delcalzo conceded that the Gaels size advantage might have contributed to the Aviator performance.

“We knew they were big coming into the game, “ Delcalzo said. “We thought our quickness would offset that.”


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