HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - We will never know if the 2018 team was the best Hasbrouck Heights team ever. Since time machines don't exist to teleport teams from one year to another to square-off and settle the question. Head coach Nick Delcalzo, who has been involved with Hasbrouck Heights for 50 years as a player or coach, and even longer as a fan as pre-high school age fan, refuses to say which team he thinks is the best.
"I don't compare them," Delcalzo states whenever he is asked what the best team he has ever coached is.
What is not up for debate however, is that no team in Hasbrouck Heights history has accomplished more than the 2018 Aviators. An extra round in the state playoffs and a league playoff to determine a championship had only been introduced in 2016 (NJIC Champs) and 2018 (Bowl Championship.)
Coming into the season, the Aviators were the choice of the media to win the North 1, Group 1 title, and they had just won two straight championships. They had the most dynamic player in North Jersey Group 1 in Jasiah Purdie. They were expected to win. They did not disappoint.
The Aviators opened the 2018 season with a sluggish 49-14 win over Saddle Brook. The Aviators fell behind 7-0 and 14-7 before running off 42 straight points for the win. Hasbrouck Heights led 21-14 at the half, behind two touchdowns from Purdie, an 11-yard run and a 51-yard pass from Spencer Lee to tie the score at 14. Lee ran for five-yard touchdown to give Hasbrouck Heights the lead.
Lee ran for two more touchdowns in the second half, and Purdie rushed for his second score of the game, while Rocco Minichiello scored the Aviators final score.
Next on the schedule was Ridgefield, who had stated they were reinstating varsity football for the 2018 season. They even had a good showing in the Hasbrouck Heights 7-on-7 passing tournament, but canceled their season in August citing lack of numbers. With the cancellation coming so late, and no one volunteering to play the two-time defending Sectional Champions, the Aviators had to accept a forfeit win for Week 2.
The forfeit win would hinder the Aviators all season in the rankings. For 2018 the NJSIAA had instituted a new rating system, 40% power points, 60% Born Power Index Rating. Forfeits did not help in either system.
Purdie scored five touchdowns, three running, two receiving, as the Aviators crushed Becton 42-6. Purdie took a swing pass on the first Hasbrouck Heights offensive play of the game, and went 71 yards for a score. Purdie followed that up with a pair of rushing touchdowns (one and three yards) to push the lead to 21-0.
Purdie added a 49-yard run, and a 63-yard scoring pass from Lee to put the Aviators up 35-0. After Becton added a 20-yard Al Benamour touchdown from Michael Renta, Michael Robertson scored on a 61-yard run for a touchdown. Matthew Gwziszc was six-of- six on extra points for the Aviators.
Next up was Cresskill and the Aviators took no prisoners in a 55-14 win over the Cougars.
Following a fumble and a punt, the Aviators' offense got their act together, scoring 42 unanswered points in the first half, to take a 42-0 lead over Cresskill at the half. Purdie rushed for two touchdowns (five and three yard runs) to give Heights a 14-0 lead. Robertson added three touchdowns (52, 5, 60 yards) and Matteo Ochoa scored on a 60-yard interception return to take control of the game by halftime.
Cresskill scored twice in the second half, before the Aviators responded with four quarter scores from Minnichiello (79 yards) and Steven Faussette (38 yards) for the final points of the game.
Week five saw the Aviators play a game that will be always remembered in Hasbrouck Heights history as “The Mud Bowl”. With field conditions that head coach Nick Delcalzo called “the worst he could remember,” the Aviators squared off with an undefeated Butler team in Butler with the Meadowlands Division title on the line.
The field conditions were not the only challenge, as Butler opened the scoring on a 27-yard field goal to take an early 3-0 lead. Lee, though, led the Aviators back down the field, scoring on a 14-yard run to give Hasbrouck Heights a 7-3 after one quarter.
A second quarter touchdown by Butler quarterback Evan Smith put Butler up 9-7 at halftime.
Purdie, who had a rare fumble when he his foot gave way in the mud earlier in the game, put the Aviators back on top with a five yard for a 13-9 lead. Purdie then hit Will Vera for the two-point conversion, and the Aviator lead was now six, 15-9.
Purdie, who was battling cramps in his thighs and some tightness following the first half split that caused the fumble, scored on a one-yard run to put the Aviators up by two scores, 21-9. Once again, the Aviators went for two, with Purdie hitting reserve fullback Etni Alvis, to go up 23-9 early in the fourth quarter.
The Aviators put the game away with 53.8 second remaining. With Purdie back to punt, the Aviators reached into their bag of tricks. The ball was direct snapped to Vera, who handed off to Robertson, who plodded 53 yards through the mud for a 29-7 lead. Gwziszc’s extra point made the score 30-9.
Butler scored a late touchdown against the Aviators reserve defense as time ran out for 30-15 win, clinching the Meadowlands for the third straight year.
Lee hit Ian Rinke with a 27-yard scoring pass to open the scoring, and Purdie rushed for two first quarter touchdowns, as the Aviators crushed North Arlington, 42-6. Purdie hurdled a North Arlington defender on his second run, from 39 yards, which gave the Aviators a 21-0 lead. Following that run, the Aviators sat Purdie, as the game was already into blowout mode.
Minichiello scored three times, from 68, 5 and 13 yards for the Aviators remaining scored. North Arlington ran a kickoff back 88 yards for the Vikings only score.
The Aviators had a bye Week 7, before facing Park Ridge at Depken Field in the opening round of NJIC Playoffs. The Owls had been coming on the past two seasons, and captured the Patriot Division with a 6-0 record on the regular season.
If the Aviators were rusty coming off the bye, it certainly did not show as Minichiello took the opening kickoff and went 80 yards for a quick 7-0 lead. The Aviators defense meanwhile, locked in, shutting down the Owls first two possessions. On their second possession, the Aviators increased the lead to 14-0 on a five-yard run with 25 second remaining in the first quarter.
Both teams defense buckled down in the second quarter, and the score was 14-0 at halftime.
The Owls defense came up with a potentially game changing defensive stop, stopping Purdie three inches short of a first down on fourth and four yards at the three-yard line. But Christopher Thibeault was able to sack Park Ridge quarterback Vincent Pinto in the end zone, and the Aviators had a 16-0 lead early in the third quarter.
Purdie scored on a 25-yard run on the following possession, and the Aviators had a 22-0. Robertson scored on a fake reverse for the two point conversion and a 24-0 lead.
Park Ridge bounced back, with Pinto scoring on an eight-yard run to cut the lead to 24-8 after the Owl were successful on the two-point conversion.
Robertson recovered the onside kick, and then went 52 yards for the game-clinching touchdown. Park Ridge scored late against the Aviators defense playing not to give up a big play.
The victory put the Aviators back into the NJIC Championship game, this time with revenge in mind, as Rutherford was the opponent. The Bulldogs, who knocked off the Aviators in the NJIC Championship in 2017, were the last team that defeated Hasbrouck Heights, and were coming into the game with a perfect 7-0 record, and 18 straight wins.
The Aviators also had the top seed in the North 1, Group 1 playoffs in their sights.
Rutherford scored first, on a 24-yard field goal by Matteo Sullivan for a 3-0. Rutherford’s ensuing kickoff was returned to the 36 yard line giving the Heights offense the ball for the first time. It took one play for the Aviators to assert who was in charge of the game.
Purdie lined up in the backfield before going in motion, lining up a right end. Rutherford slid a cornerback on Purdie to cover him man-to-man. Lee and Purdie made the Bulldogs pay and Lee hit Purdie in stride on a slant over the middle, and 66 yards later, it was 7-3 Hasbrouck Heights, with momentum clearly on their side.
Rutherford moved the ball back down the field, before Purdie came up with one of the Aviators five interceptions on the night, giving the Aviators the ball and setting up one of the plays of the year. Purdie hauled down a Lee pass one-handed in the end zone, and the Aviators had a 14-3 lead.
Rutherford fought back, scoring on a Johnny Mendez from Kyle Russell to cut the lead to 14-10.
But Lee responded, hitting Ian Rinke down the middle for a 41-yard touchdown catch and run, and Heights was once again up two scores, 21-10. Following a defensive stop, the Aviators got back to work offensively, as Robertson ripped a 39-yard run down to the three yard line. On second down, Purdie hit Shawn Calhoun with a four-yard pass for a score and 28-10 lead with 1;46 left in the first half.
Rutherford bounced back, scoring right before the half, cutting the lead to 28-16, the kick was blocked, and the Aviators went into halftime with a 12-point lead.
Robertson scored on an 11-yard on the opening drive of the second half, and Gwziszc kicked his fifth extra point of the day, and the Aviators led 35-16.
Matteo Ochoa picked off his second pass of the evening, but the Aviators were not able to convert the turnover into points. Mendez took over, rushing for 43 yards and a touchdown on the drive, and the lead was now 35-24 following the two-point conversion.
But the fourth quarter was all Hasbrouck Heights, as Lee threw his fourth and fifth touchdown passes of the game, to Rinke 13 yards and Purdie 26 yards, as the Aviators pulled away. Zai’heer Jenkins and Dylan Grisafe added interceptions as Rutherford threw five interceptions on the day, while Lee threw for five touchdowns in the game.
Part II - The NJSIAA Post-Season To Follow
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