HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - So let's review the goals set before the 2018 season for the first eight games of the regular season by the Hasbrouck Heights Football team as they eyed their third straight Sectional title.
Division Championship: Check
NJIC Championship: Check
North 1, Group 1 Top Seed: Check.
With the win over the top team in North 2, Group 2, the Aviators had moved up second overall in the Group 1 standings, behind North 2, Group 1 defending champion Shabazz, who had finished the regular season 7-1.
But the NJSIAA had used a new ranking system that year, which had proven quite controversial all season. Weequahic, undefeated at 8-0 and Hasbrouck Heights at 8-0 both felt they should have the highest power ranking, not Shabazz. But it did not matter, since Hasbrouck Heights would be home throughout the playoffs until the first ever Bowl Championship Series, which was to be played in the Meadowlands.
Everything was fine until sometime Saturday afternoon, when Pompton Lakes defeated Hawthorne, in overtime. The win gave the Cardinals the 16th highest Born Ranking in Northern New Jersey, which meant they qualified for the state playoffs, despite a 4-4 record. But it also played havoc with the Sectional Ratings. Hasbrouck Heights, which was ranked first in the North 1, Group 1 rankings, was determined to be the 9th northern-most school (by a Northing number - which was set by longitude and latitude) in the top 16, and was shifted from North 1, to North 2.
Moved to North 2, they were seeded second, in between Shabazz (#1) and Weequahic (#3). The top three teams in Group 1 were now all in the North 2 Sectional playoffs. Instead of playing the North 1 teams that they competed against, and prepared for all season, they would now be facing teams that they had no history with.
Even social media was against the Aviators, as one poster in listing the Aviators' possible path had posted "#Welcome to North 2".
The Aviators would host New Providence, 8-0 in the opening round of the NJSIAA North 2, Group 1 Playoffs.
New Providence could have their own complaint with their Born ranking and seeding, as an undefeated conference champion, they were being sent on the road, as a #7 seed no less.
But Hasbrouck Heights was not in the sympathetic mood. Even the weather would not cooperate.
The game scheduled to start at 7 pm, was moved to 6 pm as heavy rains were expected during the evening. But the Aviators took care of business early.
When Matt Gwizczc’s opening kickoff pinned New Providence back at the 12, the defense shut down the Pioneer offense, and took advantage of a 12-yard punt to take over at the New Providence 25. Spencer Lee finished off the Aviators first drive with a 12-yard touchdown run, for an early 7-0 lead.
Another defensive stop gave the Aviators the ball at the New Providence 40. Jasiah Purdie would finish the drive with a one-yard run early in the second quarter for a 14-0 lead.
New Providence started to solve the Aviators defense in the second quarter, driving into Hasbrouck Heights territory before being forced to punt, pinning the Aviators down at the 12-yard line. Lee ran for eight yards on first down, to give the Aviators a little room, then hit Purdie on a 80-yard hitch and go, and the Aviators had a 21-0 lead.
“It was the same play as last week,” Purdie said afterwards, referring to the touchdown on the first play against Rutherford.
New Providence did not travel an hour to quit in before halftime. When Purdie fumbled a punt at the Aviator 43, and the Pioneers had a bit of a spark, driving down deep into Aviator territory. On third and goal from the six, the Pioneers tried to throw for a score, but Rinke read the play and picked it off and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown and a 28-0 lead.
Purdie and Robertson would add fourth quarter touchdowns, and the Aviator defense would record a shutout as the Aviators won 42-0.
Up next, at Depken, would be Weequahic. The Indians had defeated sixth-seeded Hoboken, 14-6, to advance to the North 2 semi-finals. Weequahic was a defensive wall, having allowed only 55 points to date, recording three shutouts in nine games. They also had a chip on their shoulders, feeling they were deserving of being the number one seed. After all, they were in the same division as Shabazz, and had come though undefeated. (Shabazz and Weequahic play each year on Thanksgiving.) They had not lost to Cedar Grove.
Once again, the weather would not cooperate, as the rain fell at Depken Field. Even the lights were a problem, as a momentary, second half blackout resulted in bank of lights never coming back on.
Michael Robertson opened the scoring with a nine-yard against a Weequahic defense focused on stopping Purdie, giving the Aviators a 7-0 lead at the end of one quarter.
Following a defensive stop, the Aviators drove into Weequahic territory, but the Indians defense held, forcing a field goal attempt. But the snap was bad, and Weequahic took over, having dodged a bullet. It was short-lived however, as Dylan Grisafe recovered a fumble giving the Aviators the ball at the Weequahic 37-yard line.
The Aviators made the most of it, overcoming a controversial offensive face masking penalty on Robertson, to go up 14-0 when Lee found Ian Rinke for a 21-yard touchdown.
Weequahic bounced back, scoring late in the half, aided by a pair of questionable penalty flags, to cut the lead to 14-6, as the two-point conversion failed.
Purdie scored in the third quarter on an 11-yard pass from Lee, and then scored on an eight-yard run to ice the game away. Zai’here Jenkins had two interceptions in the fourth quarter as the Aviators defense stonewalled the Indians offense, giving the Aviators a 26-8 win over a Weequahic team that had an average weight advantage of 50 pounds per position on the front lines.
Shabazz advanced to the final, drilling Cedar Grove 49-6, repaying the Panthers for their 22-19 upset win over the Bulldogs in Cedar Grove. The Aviators would be traveling to Newark to face the Bulldogs Friday Night at Shabazz Stadium. Shabazz in addition to being home, had an even greater size advantage over the Aviators.
The delay did not seem to impact either team, as both teams defense came ready to play. The offenses would have their work cut out for them all day long.
After a physical, scoreless first quarter, which included Shabazz’ leading rusher being knocked out of the lineup, Purdie hit Shawn Calhoun with a three-yard jump pass for a 7-0 halftime lead.
Shabazz tied the score in the third quarter on a quarterback sneak following a long catch and run. That set up Purdie to once again step to the forefront in the fourth quarter.
John Sedlmeir knocked the ball out of the Shabazz quarterback’s hand, and the Aviators recovered. The Aviators game-winning drive started with a little over six minutes remaining in the game, sparked by a 21-yard catch-and-run from Lee to Rinke. Purdie then burst through for 28 yards and the Aviators were in Shabazz scoring territory with 5:37 remaining in the game. On fourth-and-two at the 17 with approximately four minutes remaining, Purdie powered through the pile to what appeared to be the 14-yard line.
But a questionable spot put the ball at the 15-yard line, requiring the chains to come out for a measurement. Even with the questionable spot, the Aviators were marked for the first down by the nose of the football. Following a loss of a yard on a run outside the right tackle, Lee came back to Purdie on a slant route. Purdie caught the ball at the four and powered his way into the end zone and a 13-7 lead with 2:33 remaining. The Aviators went for two, and were stopped, heightening the tension for the final drive.
But Jenkins recorded his third interception in two games with 1:44 remaining. The Hasbrouck Heights offense then was able to run out the clock, giving them a 13-7 victory.
Hasbrouck Heights had won its third straight sectional title, although this one was the North 2, Group 1 Championship. They would advance to play the team that captured the North 1, Group 1 title they had been expecting to defend, a team they had played once before this season - Butler.
After having run the “gauntlet” of Newark schools, the Aviators had disproved the theory that North 2 was the tougher group, and that the Aviators had been beating up on teams in the weaker North 1 sectional.
Butler had advanced with a controversial 35-28 victory over Park Ridge.
Word was that Butler felt they would be able to handle the Aviators on the turf at the Meadowlands, that the mud in Butler was an advantage for Hasbrouck Heights. (The Butler home field was so damaged by the Mud Bowl that they had to play their home playoff games at Pequannock.) Butler, which was ranked fourth in the Northern Group 1 rankings, would be the "home team" at MetLife, as they were the #1 seed in North 1, Group 1.
It did not take long to see what the truth was.
Purdie scored five touchdowns, the Aviators never punted, and ran out the fourth quarter with a twenty play drive that saw Butler never touch the ball. From the moment the game started, it was all Hasbrouck Heights.
On their first drive, the Aviators had bogged down, facing a fourth and eight, when Hasbrouck Heights went for a little razzle-dazzle. Lee hit Purdie with a quick slant pass, who quickly tossed the ball to Robertson, who went down the sideline for a 22-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Following a diving, juggling catch by Rinke, Purdie gave the Aviators a 14-0 lead with a one-yard run. Purdie put the Aviators up 21-0 at the half with a 48-yard run around end with 4.09 remaining.
Jenkins picked off his fourth pass of the playoffs right before halftime. Purdie finished the drive with his fourth touchdown, a seven-yard run, with 1:02 left for a 27-0 halftime lead.
After halftime, the Aviators reached into their bag of tricks following Butler’s onside kick to start the second half.
Lee handed the ball to Purdie heading around the right end. Purdie handed the ball to Robertson on the reverse, and kept heading down the field. Robertson tossed the ball back to Lee, who hit Purdie going down the sideline. Purdie made the catch and eluded the Butler defenders for a 48-yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion failed, so the lead remained 33-0.
Up 33-7, Purdie finished off the scoring on the day, with a 25-yard touchdown run for a 39-7 lead. Will Vera powered in for the two-point conversion for a 41-7 lead.
Butler’s day could be summed up by this sequence: down 41-7 late in the third, the Hasbrouck Heights defense stoned Butler four times at the goal line, giving the Aviators the ball at the two. Hasbrouck Heights ran the next 20 plays, as Butler never got the ball back, giving the Aviators the first NJSIAA North Group 1 Bowl Championship.
Purdie, was named to the USA Today All New Jersey team as a running back. He was also named First Team All Bergen County by the Bergen County Coaches Association and Second Team All-State and First Team All Group 1 by North Jersey Advance Media. He scored a school record 31 touchdowns during the year, and finished his career as the Aviators all-time touchdown leader with 63.
Purdie was joined on the First Team All County Team by defensive back Ian Rinke, Second Team All County by defensive lineman Chris Thibault. Offensive tackle Anthony Marino was First Team All Group 1, center Frank Battaglia i and Thibault were named Third Team All Group 1.
Five defensive starters joined five offensive players and kicker Matt Gwiszcz on the First Team of the All-Meadowlands team.Defensive linemen Chris Thibault, and Michael Lorhman were joined by linebackers Matteo Ochoa and Will Vera and safety Ian Rinke from the Aviators defense. Purdie was joined by quarterback Spencer Lee and running back Michael Robertson on the First Team offense. Linemen Frank Battaglia and Anthony Marino rounded out the contingent of Aviators on offense.
They were joined by Second Team selections Shawn Calhoun (WR), John Sedlmeir (DL), Dylan Grisafe (DB) and Zai'Heer Jenkins. Defensive lineman Alex Daus earned Honorable Mention notice.
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