HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - It was the word no one wanted to utter, until it was over.
The 2017 Aviators were tasked with replacing First Team All-County selections quarterback Frank Quatrone and two-way tackle Sean O’Malley along with Second Team All County running back/linebacker Johnny Iurato. So while expectations for a strong season were there from most, there was a little apprehension heading into the season.
“Last year is over,” said head coach Nick Delcalzo before the season. “I never look back, only forward.”
Despite the losses to graduation, Hasbrouck Heights came into the season with several starters in key positions, and several others stepping up with previous playing experience.
James Klenk, who played quarterback as a sophomore and junior, and had been First Team All League in the secondary as a junior, was taking over the reins behind center. He along with returning second team All-Meadowlands defensive lineman James Varga, who was moving to middle linebacker, were named captains, and were there to provide leadership.
Plus, the Aviators had All-League wide receiver Jasiah Purdie coming back for his junior season.
The road started off rocky for the Aviators, as they opened at home on a humid September evening and held on to beat St. Mary 28-26 in the season opener. The Aviators jumped out to a 21-7 halftime lead, following a scoreless first quarter. Klenk kicked off the scoring with a six-yard run, and following Matt Gwiszcz’s extra point, led 7-0. Klenk then hit Purdie for a 31 yard touchdown pass, and the Aviators led 14-0.
The Gaels came back and scored on quarterback Charles Schementi’s one-yard run, cutting the lead to 14-7. The Aviators bounced back, scoring right before the half ended, as Klenk hit Purdie with a 12-yard touchdown pass for a 21-7 lead.
The Aviators appeared to put the game on ice, when Nico Facchini scored from one-yard out for a 28-7 lead early in the third quarter. But St. Mary’s offensive line, which was significantly bigger than Hasbrouck Heights began wearing down the Aviators defense in the third quarter cutting the lead to 28-14 on Charles Gresham’s five-yard run.
The rally continued in the fourth, as Gresham scored cutting the lead to 28-20. The Gaels, who had airmailed a punt snap earlier in the game, had another bad snap allowing Travis Culkin to block the point after, keeping the lead at eight points.
The bad snap would become even more of an issue, as the Gaels scored on David Tarsallo’s seven-yard run, cutting the lead to 28-26. But Culkin would come through on the two-point conversion, stopping Gresham in his tracks, and keeping the lead at two with five minutes remaining.
The Gaels’ kicked the onside kick out of bounds, and the Aviators were able to run out the clock, escaping with a 28-26 win Week 1.
Week 2 would have no such drama, as the Aviators rolled over Secaucus, 42-7. Klenk ran for two touchdowns, threw for a third and picked off a Secaucus pass to lead the way. Facchini ran for 139 yards and touchdown, and Purdie caught a five-yard touchdown pass and returned a punt 75 yards for the Aviators. The win would move the Aviators to 2-0 and set up a match with Cresskill, also 2-0, for the top spot in the Meadowlands.
The Aviators took control of the top spot with a 34-0 win over the Cougars in Cresskill as Purdie established himself as the top threat in the division. Purdie scored five times as the Aviators overcame a slow first quarter before putting the game away.
Purdie opened the scoring in the second quarter on a 42-yard run for a 7-0 lead. Later in the quarter, Purdie twisted, weaved, and broke arm tackles to go 51 yards for a 14-0 halftime lead for the Aviators. The defense, meanwhile battered the Cresskill offense, knocking starting quarterback Kevin Ferrera out of the game in the second quarter, and shut down the Cougars run offense.
Purdie scored on a pair of Klenk passes in the third quarter, including a highlight reel, toe-tap catch for a touchdown to give the Aviators a 28-0 lead going into the fourth. He finished the game off with a one-yard run for the 34-0 final.
The Aviators clinched their second straight Meadowlands title with a 55-13 win over Saddle Brook. Purdie scored twice and Klenk threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third to lead the Hasbrouck Heights offense. JC Pagan, Jordan Wexler, Spencer Lee, Michael Robertson also scored for the Aviators, who scored on all eight possessions in the game.
Hasbrouck Heights wasted little time in disposing of North Arlington, 49-6, jumping out to a 42-0 halftime lead. Klenk hit Purdie with two long scoring passes (58 and 59 yards), and Facchini for a 13-yard score before halftime. Lee hit Ian Rinke for a 35-yard touchdown, while Michael Robertson scored twice (4 and 39 yards) and Rocco Minichiello once (28 yards) for the Aviators.
Hawthorne, who was replacing Ridgefield on the schedule after the Royals decided not to field a team at the varsity level, was next for Hasbrouck Heights, back at Depken Field. The Bears, a Group 2 school with a 3-2 record coming in, looked to be a challenge for Hasbrouck Heights prior to the start of the NJIC playoffs.
Hasbrouck Heights answered the challenge in a big way, breaking open a 7-0 first quarter lead with 24 unanswered points in the second quarter en route to a 45-8 win over Hawthorne.
Purdie scored on a 20-yard wide-receiver screen to give Heights a 7-0 lead after a sloppy beginning to the game that saw three punts in the first six minutes of play. Klenk busted a quarterback draw on the first play of the second quarter for a 14-0 lead. A safety, a two-yard touchdown run from Facchini (with a Klenk to Purdie 2-pt conversion) and a four yard scoring pass from Klenk to Pagan put the score at 31-0 at the half.
The Aviators defense, led by Varga, Culkin and Wexler, held the Bears to negative five yards in the first half.
Klenk connected with Wexler in the third quarter for a six-yard touchdown, while Lee ran one in from seven yards in the fourth quarter for the Aviators final points.
A trip to Wallington in the opening round of the NJIC playoffs was next to face the undefeated Panthers. The Aviators, behind three touchdown runs from Purdie and two from Klenk, struggled to a 42-21 win over Wallington to advance to the NJIC championship.
Purdie scored twice in the first quarter, on runs of four and 45 yards to give the Aviators a 13-0 lead after one quarter. Pagan scored on a 19-yard pass from Klenk, with Purdie running it in for the two-point conversion and a 21-0 lead. Following the third fumble by Wallington fullback Elijah Mitchell in the first half due to big hits from the Aviators defense, Klenk went for broke, tossing the ball deep down the middle, in an effort to put the Panthers away for good.
The pass was intercepted, and eight plays later, quarterback David Backo hit Drew Cabrera and it was 21-7. Klenk was intercepted a second time before the half, and following a controversial roughing call, the Panthers scored with 12 remaining in the first half, cutting the lead to 21-14, and giving Wallington the momentum going into the half.
Klenk, however, atoned for his two interceptions, just three plays into the second half, breaking a run up the middle 50 yards for a 28-14 lead.
Mitchell cut the lead to 28-21 at the end of three quarters, thanks to a two-yard run.
In the fourth, there was more controversy, as Purdie scored making the score 35-21. The ball popped out as he reached across the goal line. Wallington wanted a fumble called, but the officials ruled he had reached the end zone and called it a touchdown.
The Aviators defense came up with a big stop, with Will Vera sacking Backo on third and 15, forcing the Panthers to put with 5.26 remaining. Facchini took care of the rest, carrying seven times for 43 yards, before Klenk scored on a quarterback sneak with 10 seconds left for the final score of the game.
The win sent the Aviators to the finals, where they faced an undefeated Rutherford team, who advanced by defeating New Milford, 30-6 in the first round.
Rutherford came out on top in a 14-7 in overtime in a game that was filled with drama, tension and wind. The loss was the first in 18 games for the Aviators.
The Aviators were the first to break through and score, as Klenk hit JC Pagan for a 24-yard touchdown pass with 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter for a 7-0 lead. Rutherford chewed up eight minutes of the time left in the quarter, but were stymied by the Hasbrouck Heights defense, who took over on their own 20 with two minutes left.
Rutherford tied the score in the third quarter, as Johnny Mendez scored on a 22-yard run, setting up a tense fourth quarter and overtime.
The Aviators had a shot to win it after taking over in Rutherford territory with a 1.36 remaining. Following a sack, a 17-yard completion to Pagan and two runs by Facchini which picked up 15 yards, the Aviators set up by a 41-yard field goal by Gwiszcz. Kicking into a stiff wind, the kick had the distance but was pushed wide right, and the game went into overtime.
Given a second life, Rutherford’s offense scored on a five-yard pass from Kyle Russell to Mendez, giving the Bulldogs a 14-7 lead. The Aviators response was snuffed out in one play, as the Aviators ran a reverse with a toss back to Klenk. Klenk’s pass into the wind was held up a second, and was intercepted by Rutherford’s Tyler Aponte, giving the Bulldog’s the victory.
“We have nothing to be ashamed of,” said Hasbrouck Heights head coach Nick Delcalzo to the media after the game. “We lost to an outstanding team, in overtime.”
(Editor's Note: Rutherford would go on to win the North 2, Group 2 later in December.)
The state rankings however, damaged the Aviators, which fell to a five seed based on the loss, and by the results of Hasbrouck Heights previous opponents in Weeks 8 and 9. The loss would send the Aviators on the road to play Cedar Grove.
The game against Cedar Grove will be remembered by anyone who was there. What it will be remembered for is open for debate, the bitter cold, or the final moments of the game. With temperatures in the low teen’s and a steady 25+ mph wind, it is considered, along with the 1998 game in Glen Rock, as the coldest game in Hasbrouck Heights history.
The band gave up playing after one quarter, as the mouthpieces of the instruments were freezing. The crowd, expected to be about 1,000 capped out at about 400, and many left before the game ended. On the field, players were cramping during the game due to severe cold. The cold made it even hard to breathe.
“I think about how it was so frigid that it became difficult to function," said assistant coach Frank D’Amico. “It was hard to think, hard to move, hard to show emotion. The wind made it even worse. But as always, our kids rose above it.”
For 59 minutes, it looked like the cold was going to end the Aviators season. Down 6-0, the Aviators were pinned back at their own 20 with 57 second left. But Klenk hit Purdie with a pass down the right sideline for 40 yards to get the Aviators to Cedar Grove 40.
After hurrying the Aviators to the line of scrimmage and spiking the ball, and two incomplete passes, Klenk and Purdie once again teamed up, this time down the left sideline for 37 yards, putting the ball down to the Panthers three-yard line.
Once again Klenk hurried the Aviators to line of scrimmage, spiking the ball with 3.3 second left. The Aviators season came down to one play. Klenk handed the ball to Purdie, who had fumbled at the goal line earlier in the game, who pulled up behind the line, stopped and toss a jump pass to Vera with no time remaining. Vera corralled the pass and score was tied at 6-6.
But kicking the ball was like kicking a brick, and Gwiszcz, who had been reliable all year on extra points was not able to elevate the ball. The kick was blocked, and the game went to overtime.
Hasbrouck Heights won the toss, and Klenk scored from 12-yards out, the Aviators had the lead 12-6. Once again, the conversion failed, as Hasbrouck Heights went for two. Cedar Grove could win with a touchdown and extra point.
Following a controversial pass interference call, Cedar Grove had the ball, first and goal at the four. But Culkin stuffed Cedar Grove’s Ryan Turi for a six-yard loss on first down, and on third and 10, Varga deflected a Cedar Grove pass into Purdie’s hands for the game-winning interception. The Aviators had escaped.
Next would be a trip to New Milford, who had defeated Wood-Ridge, 49-0 in the opening round.
Once again, the Aviators would play a tight defensive battle. Once again, it would be one of the more memorable games in Hasbrouck Heights storied football history. It is one of the most controversial endings in New Jersey High School football history. It is the reason we have instant replay in high school football.
The Aviators scored first on a 21-yard field goal from Gwiszcz in the first quarter for a 3-0 lead. New Milford took the lead in the second quarter on a six yard touchdown run from Bart Nativo to lead 7-3 at the half.
The third quarter saw the Aviators chew up much of the quarter on a long scoring drive before Klenk hit Purdie for a 31-yard score, and a 10-7 lead, which carried over to the fourth quarter.
New Milford, down 10-7 in the fourth, went on a long drive in an attempt to tie take the lead. A 56 yard Ryan Picinic to Matt McElroy push the ball deep into Aviator territory. A pair of Nativo runs pushed the ball to 11 as the clock wound down. Following an incomplete pass, the Knights lined up for a 28-yard field goal to tie the game and send the game into overtime.
Wexler, who had missed most of the first half with a cut on his leg after being spiked, broke through the line, and blocked the kick, which was picked up by Purdie. Purdie, with a wide-open field in front of him took a few steps and threw the ball high in the air. The Aviators bench emptied onto the field.
McElroy grabbed the ball and rushed towards the end zone slowing down as he ran into the end zone. Both teams were on the field, New Milford celebrating what they thought was a touchdown, Hasbrouck Heights celebrating the blocked field goal.
After a brief discussion, the officials ruled that the whistle had blown, and the game was over. Hasbrouck Heights had won 10-7. New Milford argued the ball was live, and they had scored a touchdown.
The debate lasted the rest of the week, with talk of New Milford protests, media coverage using cell phone footage to weigh in on the story.
“When I saw the referees huddling, I felt a little sick,” Delcalzo said. “We are fortunate to come out of here with a win.”
But there are no protests, and the Aviators advanced to the North 1, Group 1 final, where they would meet sixth seed Pompton Lakes at Kean College. The NJSIAA had decided, for undisclosed reasons, that game would be one of those moved from MetLife to Kean.
After three straight games decided either in overtime or on the game’s final play, the Aviators and Pompton Lakes provided no such drama. From the opening kickoff, which Gwiszcz hammered inside the five yard line, bounced once and stopped, to the final whistle, it was Hasbrouck Heights game.
The Aviators led 3-0 at the end of one as Gwiszcz kicked a 27-yard field goal. Pompton Lakes would briefly take the lead in the second quarter, as Frankie Negrini scored from 24-yard run for a 7-3 lead.
Klenk put the Aviators back into the lead, 10-7, with a nine-yard touchdown run. Purdie scored on a 68-yard run before the half to give Heights a 17-7 going into halftime.
The Aviators put the game away on a defensive play, as Vera stripped Negrini, and the ball popped straight in the air to Purdie. Purdie took off down the field, and 68-yards later, the Aviators had a 24-7 lead at the end of three quarters.
In the fourth Purdie scored from three yards out to make the score 30-7. Klenk then hit tight end Anthony Marino in the end zone for the two point conversion for a 32-7 lead.
Pompton Lakes scored on a 29-yard pass play to cut the lead to 32-14 before Purdie put the final score on the board, scoring on a 13-yard pass from Klenk for a 39-14 final score.
Purdie finished with 636 yards rushing, good for nine touchdowns, while catching 10 touchdowns and 692 yards receiving on 39 catches. Klenk led the team in rushing with 779 yards and nine touchdowns, while passing for 1,040 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Purdie was named First Team All County wide receiver. First Team NJIC-Meadowlands honors were granted to Culkin (LB), Facchini (RB), Gwiszcz (K), Zai’heer Jenkins (DB), Nate Kim (OL), Klenk (QB), Ian Rinke (DB), Roche (OL), Varga (LB), Wexler (DL). Second Team honors went to Shaker Assaf, Michael Lohrmann (OL), Marino (TE), Vera (TE) while Johnny Capozzi, Marcos Ochoa and Jake Schloemann were named Honorable Mention.
|1||James Klenk||QB, FS||Sr.|
|2||Nico Facchini||RB, OLB||Sr.|
|3||Jasiah Purdie||WR, OLB, P||Jr.|
|4||Spencer Lee||QB, MLB||So.|
|5||John Dammann||WR, OLB||Jr.|
|7||Ian Rinke||WR, CB||Jr.|
|9||Zai'heer Jenkins||WR, CB||So.|
|10||Jc Pagn||QB, FS||Jr.|
|12||Dylan Grisafe||WR, CB||Jr.|
|13||Ashado South||WB, DB||Jr.|
|15||John Capozzi||RB, CB||Sr.|
|19||Jake Schloemann||WR, CB||Sr.|
|20||Sean Roche||WR, FS||So.|
|21||Nick Fontana||WR, CB||Sr.|
|23||Ismael Ortiz||RB, CB||Sr.|
|24||Shawn Calhoun||WR, CB||Jr.|
|26||Michael Robertson||RB, OLB||So.|
|27||Chris Cravotta||WR, CB||So.|
|36||Hector Duran||WR, DB||So.|
|38||Ronnie Hurtado||WR, CB||So.|
|45||Jordan Wexler||TE, DE||Sr.|
|47||Will Vera||RB, MLB||Jr.|
|50||Nathaniel Kim||G, T||Sr.|
|51||Declan Sonzogni||G, DT||Jr.|
|53||Mateo Ochoa||OT, DE||So.|
|54||Shaker Assaf||G, DT||Sr.|
|55||Michael Lohrmann||G, DT||Sr.|
|56||James Varga||G, MLB||Sr.|
|57||Evan Roche||C, DE||Sr.|
|58||Travis Culkin||G, MLB||Sr.|
|60||Andre Brown||OT, DT||So.|
|62||Alex Daus||T, DT||Jr.|
|64||John Sedlmeir||OG, DE||So.|
|65||Chris Thibault||G, DT||Jr.|
|67||Frank Battaglia||C, DT||Jr.|
|68||Zach Gilligan||T, DE||Sr.|
|70||Youssef Elesawi||OT, DL||So.|
|72||Peter Lohrmann||FB, MLB||Sr.|
|77||Max Powers||OT, DT||So.|
|78||Marcos Ochoa||T, DT||Sr.|
|83||Anthony Marino||G, DT, TE||Jr.|
|84||Gwziszc Matthew||OT, DT, K||Jr.|
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