HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - Coming into the 1998 season, expectations were high for the Hasbrouck Heights football team. Having just missed the playoffs with a young team in 1996, and losing in overtime in the first round in 1997 with a young cast, they were not going to sneak up on anyone.
Sure, they had to replace All League quarterback Dave Menne and All League running back Ray Meyer. While Joe Sentipal was an All-County linebacker, he had also been a terror in the backfield the previous two years. Frank D’Amico, who was First Team All BCSL-National as a junior, and had been an Honorable Mention as a sophomore, led an offensive line back that was experienced coming into the season.
Coming in, some thought the loss of Menne and Meyer were too much for the Aviators to make up, at least early in the season. Newspapers were in the business of making picks before high school games back then, and "The Herald News" staff picked Becton to beat the Aviators to open the season.
Behind two touchdown runs from Chris Ferdinand, the Aviators shut out Becton 13-0 to open the season with a much-needed win. Still, not everyone was convinced, as Becton was without star quarterback Jamie McGuire, who had broken bone in his hand in a scrimmage, and was limited to playing defense. “We will see them in the state’s” was the response of the Becton faithful.
While head coach Nick Delcalzo was concerned by the offense being shut down in the second half afterwards, those worries would soon be put to bed. Sentipal burst loose for 156 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries, and junior running back Rich DiFeo, as Hasbrouck Heights rolled over Harrison, 47-6 at Depken Field in the season opener. The Aviators amassed 396 yards of total offense, and the defense got on the board with DiFeo’s 63 yard fumble return for a touchdown.
Sentipal and Ferdinand each ran for two more touchdowns, while adding a touchdown pass for Joe Colangelo, as the Aviators ran over Secaucus, 41-0 to go to 3-0. The Aviators put up 395 yards of total offense, with Sentipal rushing for 120 on 11 carries, with Ferdinand carrying seven times for 116 yards.
The Aviators put up 40+ points for a third straight game, jumping out to a 42-7 halftime lead on the way to a 49-7 win in Wallington, who, like the Aviators, came into the game 3-0. Sentipal and Ferdinand put a quick end to the Panthers, combining for four rushing touchdowns. Sentipal picked up 152 yards on 15 carries, while Ferdinand carried just four times for 11 yards, each rushing for two scores.
DiFeo added six carries for 48 and a 44-yard punt return for a touchdown, while the defense held Wallington without a first down in the first half. The Panthers lone score came on a 77-yard interception return.
Mark DiPisa scored for the Hasbrouck Heights defense, with a 34-yard interception return, while Mike Carcich had a 13-yard touchdown reception from Colangelo for the Aviators other score.
The Aviators' streak of games scoring in the 40s ended, with a 53-6 rout of Weehawken to go to 5-0 on the season. Sentipal was once again dominant on both sides of the ball, rushing for three touchdowns and adding a sack. DiFeo three touchdowns on nine carries, and Colangelo hit Brian McDemott with a 16-yard touchdown pass for another score. Craig Meyer scored from seven yards out as the Aviators compiled 379 yards of offense.
St. Mary (Rutherford) threw a scare at the Aviators, who nearly squandered a 21-7 lead, hanging on for 28-20 victory at Depken Field. Ferdinand returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown to give Hasbrouck Heights an early 7-0 lead, and led at half 14-7. Mike Pussilano recovered a fumble in the end zone for a 21-7 lead, before St. Mary rallied, cutting the lead to 21-20 following a touchdown and a missed extra point.
Sentipal, who carried 10 times for 184 yards, including a 68-yard run in the first quarter, and a 74-yard score with 1:40 left in the game, giving Hasbrouck Heights lead a cushion.
It took Sentipal to the second quarter to score against Lyndhurst, but the Avaitors already had an 8-0 lead by the time he did, thanks to a safety by Ferdinand and a Colangelo-to-DiFeo 7-yard touchdown pass.
Sentipal scored three times (25, 2, 60 yards) as the Aviators took a 22-0 lead at the half. Tom Mansfield and Ferdinand also scored as the Aviators improved to 7-0 on the season.
Sentipal and Ferdinand took turns scoring against North Arlington, as the Aviators jumped out a 47-0 lead at the half, cruising to a 47-13 victory over North Arlington. Ferdinand opened the scoring with a 51-yard run for a 7-0 lead. Sentipal was next with an 18- yard run, the kick failed, for a 13-0 lead. Ferdinand scored from 28 to bring the score up 20-0, with Sentipal scoring from 44 yards, before Ferdinand scored his third touchdown, of the first quarter for a 34-0 lead.
Sentipal scored from 51 and DiFeo added a six-yard run for a 47-0 lead at the half for the Aviators who clinched at least a share of the BCSL-National title with the win.
The Aviators were awarded the #1 seed in the expanded NJSIAA playoffs, matched up against BCSL-National foe Secaucus, who the Aviators beat 41-0 in week two. (1998 was the first year that eight teams qualified for the playoffs, up from four.)
The result was little different, as Sentipal made sure that there would be no upsets. With 15 tackles on defense, and 213 yards rushing and four touchdowns, on just 24 carries, Sentipal led the Aviators past Secaucus 41-6, to advance in the playoffs. Afterwards, Secaucus coach Bill Fitzgerald praised the Aviators offensive line - DiPisa at center, D’Amico and Steve Rinaldi at guard, and Dan Gagliardi and Pussilano at tackle- for the Aviators success.
DiFeo had 78 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries while Ferdinand added 55 yards on eight carries, as the Aviators dominated on the ground. But it was a Colangelo-to-Carcich three yard pass that accounted for the Aviators first score.
The Aviators led 21-0 at the half, as Sentipal scored from three yards and 50 to put Hasbrouck Heights in front.
Next up was, as predicted earlier, Becton, with McGuire at quarterback for the rematch. The Wildcats were 8-2 on the season, having lost only to Hasbrouck Heights opening day and upset by Secaucus in week eight.
The rematch did not live up to its billing, as the Aviators scored four special teams touchdowns on the way to a 42-0 win over Becton advancing to the North 1, Group 1 final. The defense held the Becton ground game to negative 13 yards rushing, while the Aviators rushed for 263. Sentipal rushed 20 times for 86 yards, while DiFeo carried nine times for 59 yards, while Ferdinand had six carries for 44 yards. But his kickoff return of the opening kickoff set the tone for the game.
The Aviators led 21-0 after the first quarter, as Colangelo’s one-yard run and DiFeo’s 50-yard punt return added to lead provided by Ferdinand. Carcich recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for a 28-0 lead at halftime. DiFeo added a 10-yard run and Ferdinand a 28-yard scoring run as the Aviators ground out the second half.
Up next would be third-seeded Glen Rock, who had knocked off Park Ridge, 38-7, to reach the final.
But first, Wood-Ridge and the Thanksgiving rivalry awaited. Rain pushed the game to Friday and the Aviators decided to do something a little different. After pounding the running game all year long, they threw with equal success, as Colangelo tossed four touchdown passes on the way to a 33-6 win over the Blue Devils. Current Wood-Ridge basketball coach Jim Maher scored the lone Wood-Ridge touchdown with a 52-yard run.
Colangelo was six of eight for 75 yards, hit DiFeo twice for scores, once from 15 to opening the scoring, and once from 25 to extend the lead. Colangelo also connected with Carcich for an 11-yard score and Sentipal for three.
Given the option of playing Glen Rock at Giants Stadium or Depken Field, the team chose Depken, to play on the home field for the title.
As good as the Aviators had been all season, Glen Rock had been just as good. Their opening game of the season was their only loss, to Passaic County Tech, 20-13. After that, they were a steamroller, coming into the game having outscored their opponents, 483-55.
Colangelo hit Carcich early in the game for a 24-yard touchdown pass and an early 7-0 lead.
But Glen Rock scored just before halftime to tie the game at 7-7, and added 12 more in the second half, capturing the North 1, Group 1 title with a 19-7 victory.
D’Amico (Guard) and Sentipal (LB) were named First Team All-County, joined by Rinaldi (DL) on the Second Team and DiPisa (Center) on the Third Team. Carcich (DB), Colangelo (QB), Mansfield (K), Pussilano (T) were First Team All BCSL-National Selections, while DiFeo was a Second Team choice. Gagliardi and Pete Santana were Honorable Mention selections.
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