HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - The euphoria of a championship team usually ends quickly in high school sports, as teams that win championships usually have a core that graduates. How well the classes that follow can rise to their level determines to quality of the depth of a program.
(Editors’ Note: Many of the fortunes of the Aviators rivals have gone through peaks with much longer valleys, some of which would make newer fans incredulous that those schools were ever good, which makes teams that are always above .500 that much more impressive.)
The 1995 season opened with another tough loss at Park Ridge, this time by a 14-7 score. Having lost the core of their offense, the Aviators struggled the second straight season against the Owls. (spoiler alert: The Owls would eventually win the 1995 title.) A fumble on the opening kickoff would lead to Park Ridge’s first touchdown, and the Owls would increase the lead to 14-0 before a late Hasbrouck Heights touchdown cut the gap.
Steve Mathe carried three times for 97 yards and two touchdowns as Hasbrouck Heights jumped into the win column with a 36-6 victory over Emerson at Depken Field in the season home opener. Vin Signorile had 115 yards rushing to lead the Aviators, with a 36-yard touchdown run, and also had an interception on defense.
The Aviators could not hold a 13-7 lead, allowing Wallington 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, as the Panthers defeated the Aviators 20-13, in Wallington. Wallington scored the winning touchdown with 1:25 left in the game. Rob Frangella had two touchdowns and 85 yards for the Aviators, who fell to 1-2 on the season.
Mathe threw a touchdown pass to tight end Matt Seals and Rob Karklin’s successful extra point was the difference, as the Aviators defeated Cresskill 14-13 in overtime. Cresskill scored on their possession, and had a chance to tie the game, but missed the extra point. Wayne Lustberg scored on a five-yard run for the first Hasbrouck Heights score of the game.
Frangella returned an interception 24 yards for a touchdown, and Signorile returned the second half kickoff 85 yards as the Aviators defeated Weehawken, 26-0. The Aviators led 6-0 at the half, before Signorile’s score gave them some breathing room. Lustberg added two touchdowns, from six and three yards, to put the game away.
The two-game win streak came to a halt as the Aviators road woes continued in Bogota, with a 13-10 loss to the Bucs in overtime. Karklin’s kick had given the Aviators a 10-7 lead in overtime. Bogota tied the game on its own field goal, but the Aviators were flagged for roughing the kicker. Bogota took the points off the board, and scored on a three-yard run for the victory.
St. Mary (Rutherford) was next and dropped the Aviators back under the .500 mark with a 19-17 win at Depken Field. The Gaels jumped out to a 19-10 lead at the half, and the Aviators rally fell short, despite Mathe’s 91-yard touchdown pass to Andre Green (his second of the day) in the fourth quarter that cut the St. Mary lead to two.
Facing their second losing season in three years, the Aviators bounced back with a thrashing of Dwight Englewood, 30-0. Signorile had two touchdown runs (3, 25 yards), with Frangella (4 yards) and Mike Leidenfrost (4 yards) rounding out the scoring.
Signorile rushed for 130 yards on 21 carries as Hasbrouck Heights defeated Wood-Ridge, 13-6 on Thanksgiving. His 25-yard touchdown run gave the Aviators the lead, and Mathe’s 17-yard run put the game out of reach. Wood-Ridge’s Jack Maher completed a 9-yard scoring pass to James Merrill for the Blue Devils points.
Guard Chris Wright was named Third Team All-County, while Frangella (LB) and Karklin (C) were named first team All-BCSL-Olympic, while Mathe (DB), Todd Minimi (P) and Mike Natiello (DL) were Second Team choices.
1996 saw the establishment of several younger players in the Aviators line-up who made a huge contribution to the Hasbrouck Heights program, not only in 1996 but through 1998.
Quarterback David Menne completed three passes, two for touchdowns, to lead the Aviators to a 21-6 win over Weehawken to open the season above the Lincoln Tunnel in Weehawken. Menne connected with Lustberg for a 40-yard connection in the first period, and with Mike O’Brien in the second, to spark the offense. Lustberg pounded in a touchdown from one yard to complete the Aviators scoring.
Lustberg rushed for 104 yards and two touchdowns, and Menne hit 8 of 16 for 118 yards and a touchdown to Minimi as the Aviators pounded Emerson, 33-6. Junior halfback Raymond Meyer had 150 yards total offense and a touchdown.
Minimi’s hands proved to be the difference in Week 3. The tight end caught a 10-yard touchdown pass to give the Aviators a 6-0 lead going into the halftime. After Bogota tied it in the third quarter, Meyer scored on an 18-yard run, giving Hasbrouck Heights a 13-6 lead following Bill Rinaldi’s extra point. Twice the Bucs had the ball inside the 30, with a chance to tie (or go for the win) but were turned away both times. Sophomore Joe Sentipal tripped up the Bogota runner on fourth down to end one drive, and Minimi snatched a deflected pass out of the air in the final for a game clinching interception to clinch the win.
Playing on Sunday due to heavy rains washing out most of the Saturday schedule, the Aviators stuck to their new script, grinding out a 12-6 win over Cresskill. The win moved the Aviators to 4-0, and put Cresskill at 3-1 in the league. Meyer put the Aviators up 6-0 with a 32-yard run in the first quarter. Cresskill tied the game in the second before Menne put the Aviators on top with a six- yard run and the defense held the fort, shutting down Cresskill the rest of the way.
Lightly regarded coming in, the Aviators were 4-0, and sitting in first place, the next opponent for the Aviators was St. Mary. Behind senior running back Anthony Rossillo’s career game, the Aviators came out on top, 35-26 over the Gaels. Rossillo rushed for a career-high 163 yards on 23 carries, scoring three touchdowns. Menne ran for a score, and threw one to Minimi, as the Aviators kept their record perfect at 5-0.
Wallington, however, threw a wrench in not only the Aviators undefeated season, but their league title and state playoff aspirations. There were now four teams tied at 5-1, and while there would be some attrition, the road the playoffs had gotten that much harder. Wallington had shut down the Aviators, and jumped out early on the defense with three first half touchdowns.
The Aviators righted the ship, the next week, throttling Ridgefield, 46-16, to move to 6-1 and set up a game with another recent nemesis, Park Ridge.
Park Ridge not only threw a wrench into the Aviators playoff plans, they hit them with it, handing the Aviators a 22-0 loss at home. Park Ridge dominated on defense and ball possession, as the Aviators only had three offensive plays in the final 12 minutes of the game. The loss dropped the Aviators to 6-2, and third in the BCSL Olympic, behind Bogota and Wallington, who were both 7-1. None of the three would make the state playoffs.
Thanksgiving meant a trip to Wood-Ridge, and the Aviators fighting to an 18-6 win over Wood-Ridge. Menne connected with Minimi on three passes for 120 yards, all setting up Aviator touchdowns. Menne rushed for two of the touchdowns from 1 and 3 yards out, while Meyer scored the other, on a four yard run.
Guard Mike Natiello and linebacker Anthony Rossillo were named Third Team All-County. Meyer was a first team All BCSL- Olympic at Defensive Back, while Minimi (TE), Chris Ferdinand (DL) and Sentipal (DB) were named Second team All BCSL-Olympic. Lustberg and sophomore lineman Frank D’Amico were awarded Honorable Mention.