HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - Expectations.
After three state championships, a 33-1 record over the preceding three seasons, expectations loomed large on the 2019 Hasbrouck Heights team. Win, win big, win championships or the season is a failure. That is what happens when success becomes the expectation.
So, to many, the 2019 season would not be considered a success. They would be wrong.
The Aviators finished the season with a 9-2 record, losing their opening game to eventual Meadowlands Division Champion Cresskill and North Group 1 Bowl Champion Park Ridge in the North 2, Group 1 Championship game.
Only those who are spoiled by success would call that a failure.
Right from the beginning, the season was slightly off. The pre-season game scrimmage was a 21-0 victory over a Garfield team that would have its best season in years, but no one seemed enthusiastic about the performance.
The season opened at Cresskill, on a Thursday night, with a 6 pm start, the game seemed off from the start. After stopping Cresskill on the opening possession, the Aviators opened their bag of tricks on the first play of the game, as quarterback Spencer Lee handed to Rocco Minichiello heading toward to right side line. Minichiello handed the ball to Stephen Faussette, on a reverse, tossing the ball to Lee, who hit Minichiello streaking down the sideline for a 66 yard catch and run.
Then came the flag. That was the omen for the season. The Aviators eventually scored on the opening drive, with Lee scoring on a three-yard run for a 7-0 lead on Connor Friedel’s extra point. Minichiello would later add a 17-yard touchdown run, but Cresskill quarterback Aiden Fuelner had two touchdown runs, to send the game to halftime tied at 14-14.
Fuelner scored twice more in the second half, and the Cresskill defense solved the Aviators offense, shutting them out in the second half, en route to 35-14 win over the Aviators.
The loss broke the Aviators win streak at 15 games, and was the first to a Group 1 school since they lost to Verona in opening round of the North 1, Group 1 playoffs in 2015. (Ironically, it was Verona’s last year as a Group 1 school, as the Hillbillies moved to Group II the following season.) It was the Aviators first loss in NJIC Meadowlands play since the conference broke into four divisions in 2016.
The Aviators bounced back with a dominating 47-15 win over Saddle Brook eight days later. Lee rushed for two scores (2 and 15 yards) and David Morgan scored on a 36-yard fumble recovery to spot Hasbrouck Heights a 21-0 lead after one quarter.
Lee threw his first touchdown pass of the year, hitting Minichiello with a swing pass for a 25 yard touchdown, with Friedel converting the extra point for a 28-0 lead. Michael Robertson scored the first of his two touchdowns on the day, an 8 yarder, to give the Aviators a 34-0 lead at halftime.
Robertson put the game into ‘running time” with a 72-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half, giving the Aviators a 40-0 lead. Saddle Brook battled back for two scores in the second half against the second team defense, while Mohamed Assaf scored on a five-yard run for the Aviators final score.
The Aviators jumped back over the .500 mark with a 40-18 win over Becton that was closer than the score appeared. Robertson scored from three yards out for an early 7-0 lead. Lee hooked up with Zai’here Jenkins on a 62-yard pass/run for a score and a 13-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
But Becton’s Joseph Crifasi threw a 4-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 13-6. Minichiello increased the Aviators lead to 19-6 with a three yard scoring run.
The Wildcats bounced back on the next series, driving down the field, and converting on a fourth and goal at the 19 when a desperation pass into the end zone bounced off the hands of an Aviator defender and was caught by Marcus Duran for a touchdown. The kick failed and Becton trailed, 19-12 at the half.
Lee and Minichiello hooked up on a 17 yard scoring pass, increasing the lead to 25-12. But Becton scored on a late yard run in the third quarter, once again cutting the lead to one score, 25-18.
Finally, in the fourth quarter the Aviators were able to put the game away, as Lee hit Faussette for a 62-yard scoring play and a 31-18 lead. Lee threw to Minichiello for the two-yard conversion, and a 33-18 lead. The final score came on a 10 yard Minichiello touchdown run, with Friedel adding the extra point.
For the first time since 1960, the Aviators faced Lodi in a regular season contest. A little bit of trickery helped Hasbrouck Heights jump out to 7-0 lead, when Lee handed the ball off to Minichiello on a jet sweep, who pitched the ball to Faussette, who hit a wide open Jake Diaz down the field for a 67-yard scoring strike. Lee followed up with a pair of touchdown runs, three and four yards, and the Aviators led 21-0 at the half.
Hasbrouck Heights continued the dominance in the second half, shutting down the Lodi offense. Minichiello added a one-yard scoring run, while Lee hit Diaz with a 26-yard scoring pass in the third quarter for a 35-0 lead.
Diaz added his third touchdown of the game, a 49 yarder, while playing quarterback in the fourth quarter for the final score.
Up next was a must-win game against Butler, but the Aviators were coming in banged up. Robertson suffered a hamstring injury against Becton, and was unavailable. (He would not return to lineup until the Park Ridge game, and he only played linebacker.) Minichiello was out with a leg injury. Down their top two tailback options, the Aviators did what they do best, got creative.
Butler, looking for revenge for a pair of losses to the Aviators in 2018, were undefeated, and had their sights set on first place in the Meadowlands, knowing they had Cresskill later in the season. Even though it was only September, there were major November implications in the game.
With freshman Anthony DiLascio inserted as the starting tailback, the Aviators moved the ball around, with DiLascio, Diaz, and Jenkins each touching the ball before Lee carried it 54 yards for a 6-0 Hasbrouck Heights lead, which held into the second quarter.
Jenkins scored from 10 yards on a jet sweep around the left side of the Aviators line. The two-point conversion failed and the Aviators led 12-0. Butler bounced right back, as Smith marched the Bulldogs down the field, hitting Jason Polons on a 24-yard scoring play to cut the lead to 12-7 with 4:27 in the second period.
The Aviators were not done, as Lee hit Faussette twice to put the Aviators inside the Butler 20. Jenkins finished the drive with a 16-yard run, and the Aviators had an 18-6 lead going into halftime.
It appeared the Aviators put the game on ice early in the second half. Following a Butler kickoff that went out of bounds, Lee hit Faussette for a 65-yard touchdown to give the Aviators a 25-6 lead 10 seconds into the second half.
But the Bulldogs were not going to roll over, and rallied back, with Smith scoring on a one-yard run late in the third quarter to cut the lead to 25-13. Following a punt by the Aviators, the Bulldogs continued their comeback, methodically moving the ball down the field, with Smith hitting Polons from 19 yards away for a score with 11:22 remaining in the game, cutting the lead to 25-20. Butler went for two, but was turned away by the Aviators.
The Aviators offense, which had gone conservative following Faussette’s touchdown, maintained the ball for seven minutes, before turning the ball over on downs. Butler’s next drive was cut short, when Smith, who had been the Bulldogs best player, was lost to a knee injury.
Once the Aviators took over, Jenkins powered for two first downs, and the Aviators had a 25-20 victory, and second place locked up in the NJIC Meadowlands. The question was, could they somehow get first.
For that to happen, the Aviators had to root for Butler (a team they had quickly developed a strong rivalry with) to defeat Cresskill and score 40 more points more than the Aviators gave up against North Arlington.
The only suspense in the North Arlington game was whether or not the Aviators could shut out the Vikings, and they could keep focus while scoreboard watching the Butler at Cresskill game.
The Aviators did what they needed to do, shutting out the Vikings 47-0. Jenkins and DiLascio each rushed for two touchdowns, while Lee threw for one and passed for one. Sophomore fullback Hunter Freschi scored the final touchdown on a 58 yard touchdown run.
Butler could not hold a 34-25 lead early in the fourth quarter, falling to Cresskill, 39-34, and knocking Hasbrouck Heights out of the NJIC playoffs for the first time since the playoffs were created in 2016.
Instead, Hasbrouck Heights would play, after a bye week, Emerson, the runner-up in the Patriot Division, in the Week 8, in Emerson.
The Aviators traveled to Emerson and came away with a 21-7 win over the Cavos. Hasbrouck Heights jumped out to a 21-0 first half lead, and then held on for the victory.
“I thought we were sloppy,” said Hasbrouck Heights head coach Nick Delcalzo. “Maybe it was the week off, maybe not. Either way, we have a lot work to do to clean stuff up this week.”
The Aviators got on the scoreboard as Jenkins scored from three yards out for a 6-0 lead in the first quarter. The extra point was blocked. Jenkins picked off an Emerson pass and scored on a 54-yard interception return. With Minichiello, back in the lineup, he ran for the conversion for a 14-0 lead.
Minichiello scored from five yards out to give the Aviators a 21-0 lead in the second quarter. And then everything bogged down as sloppy play and officiating slowed the game down. Emerson returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, only to have it called back. The Cavos then took eight minutes to drive down the field and score, as quarterback Frankie Savino ran in from six yards out to make it a 21-7 game.
The rest of the game, each time a team started to gain some momentum, a flag waved off the play. Each time a team made a big play on defense, a flag would offset. A total of nine flags would be thrown in the fourth quarter, three against Hasbrouck Heights and six against Emerson.
Emerson was called for twice for holding, and once for a personal foul on the last attempt to score in the fourth quarter. After the Aviators held Emerson on a fourth and 37 with 21 seconds remaining, they took over on downs. A kneel down and the Aviators walked off 21-7 victors.
Next up was Wallington at Depken Field in the Meadowlands number 2 vs Patriot number 3 game. The Panthers finished 4-2 in the Patriot, but had been defeated handily by Butler (42-13) the week before, and were now facing a team that had a little bit of ill-will towards them. Plus, Wallington needed to beat Hasbrouck Heights to make the state playoffs.
Wallington had been involved in an ugly brawl during a previous game, which had taken place with several Aviators players in the stands. Hasbrouck Heights was prepared, playing on guard for trouble, but not wanting to get involved in something that would hurt them down the road in the playoffs.
The Aviators handled Wallington in convincing manner, overwhelming Wallington, 43-0. Lee threw three touchdown passes, on screens to Freschi (23, 38 yards), and Minchiello, while Jenkins ran for two scores (11, 1) and Dilascio added a 3-yard scoring run.
There was a shakeup at the top of the North Group 1 in 2019. Yet another new ranking system was in place, as the Born Rating had been ditched in favor of the Universal Power Rating. Cresskill, who had been riding high all season after their season opening win over Hasbrouck Heights was the one seed, Aviators the two seed, despite the Cougars losing to both Park Ridge and Waldwick in the NJIC Playoffs. Park Ridge, who had lost to Lyndhurst in the NJIC Championship Bowl after knocking off Cresskill, was #3.
As the number two seed in the North, the Aviators were assigned the #1 seed in the North 2, Group 1 bracket, opening with Bound Brook at Depken Field.
After a somewhat competitive first quarter, which saw the Aviators only score come when John Sedlmeir recovered a blocked punt and ran seven yards for a touchdown, for a 6-0 lead. A Lee pass to Jenkins for the two-point conversion increased the lead to 8-0.
It was the second quarter where Hasbrouck Heights established themselves, putting 27 points on the board for a 35-0 halftime lead. Lee rushed for two touchdowns, (2, 4 yards) and Jenkins had a four-yard run for a score, but the play of the quarter was a Faussette pass to Diaz for a 44-yard score and gave the Aviators a 22-0 lead early in the second quarter.
DiLascio scored from 10 yards out for the final score. Bound Brook scored its points on a quarterback sneak on the final play of regulation against the JV defense.
What would a season be without a playoff battle with New Milford?
The Knights defeated Hoboken 15-14 in a hard-hitting battle, and rolled into Depken Field a beat-up team. The Aviators showed little sympathy for the school which had become Hasbrouck Heights most hated rival, recording a 34-7 win over New Milford.
Lee, who had over 300 yards total offense in the game, scored the game’s first touchdown on a one-yard run in the first quarter for a 7-0. Once again, though, it was a second quarter explosion that put the game away for the Aviators.
After two relatively easy state playoff games, and two relatively easy games in the NJIC cross-over series, the top-seeded were going to get Park Ridge, the second seed in the North 2, Group 1 bracket. The Owls were coming in 9-1, having lost to Lyndhurst, 34-12, in the NJIC Bowl.
They had knocked off Cresskill, 29-28, in the NJIC semi’s, and had beat Wallkill Valley (22-8) and Weequahic (14-12) in the NJSIAA playoffs to get to the finals. Plus, they remembered getting knocked out of the 2018 NJIC playoff by the Aviators, and the controversial playoff loss in 2018 that deprived them of the 2018 North 1, Group 1 title. They were a good team that played with a chip on their shoulder, looking for revenge.
The Owls got on the board first, as star quarterback Vincent Pinto scored from five-yards out in the first quarter for an early 7-0 lead.
As had been the way most of the season, the second quarter was Hasbrouck Heights big quarter, as the Aviators put up 14 points, on a pair of Jenkins touchdowns. Jenkins cut the lead to 7-6, on a yard reception on a pass from Lee. Friedel’s extra point made the score 7-7.
The Aviators marched right down and scored again, although not without some controversy first. Lee appeared to score on a quarterback sneak, only to be ruled short by the officials. Following a loss of a half yard on the next play, Jenkins plowed into the end zone for 14-7 lead following Friedel’s extra point,
On the opening drive of the third quarter, with the Aviators on the move looking to go up two scores, Lee was stripped of the ball, and Park Ridge recovered. The Owls drove into Aviators territory, but the Hasbrouck Heights defense held, and the Aviators took over at their 25-yard line.
But the Aviators had a quick three and out, the Owls took advantage, returning Lee’s punt to the Aviators 35. Park Ridge tied the game four plays later, with Justin Wagner busting a 17-yard run before Pinto scored on a three-yard, tying the score at 14-14.
The Owls took the lead in the fourth quarter, taking advantage of a Lee fumble, scoring with 10:10 remaining in the game, when Pinto hit James Brazofsky with an 11-yard pass for a 21-14 lead.
But the Aviators would have their chances to score, being turned away at the 7-yard line on downs when Park Ridge prevented the Hasbrouck Heights receiver from getting a jump pass from Jenkins. After two first downs, the Aviators forced Park Ridge to punt taking over at the Heights 43.
Lee hit Faussette to move the ball down to the Park Ridge 28-yard line. But following a four-yard run by Minichiello and pair of passes downfield that were incomplete, the Aviators season came to fourth and six. Lee rolled out and looked for Jenkins, but was sacked before he could get the last gasp pass. With 1:22 remaining, Park Ridge had the ball and control of the game.
"I told the kids that I was proud of them,“ Delcalzo said. “They had a good year. It is hard to lose at this time of the year. It hurts. We lost to a very good football team in Park Ridge.”
Park Ridge would go on to defeat Boonton, 28-21, to capture the North Group 1 championship. Boonton had knocked off Pompton Lakes in the opening round, 48-21 before eliminating Cresskill in a wild shoot-out, 59-55, in the second round before eliminating Cedar Grove, 34-21 to win the North 1, Group 1 title.
Not that it made anyone feel any better.
Matteo Ochoa was named First Team All Group 1 at offensive tackle, while John Sedlmeir was named Second Team All Group 1 at defensive tackle. Jenkins was named to the Third Team as a defensive back.
Ochoa was also named First Team All Bergen County at offensive tackle by the Bergen County Coaches Association.
Ochoa led the contingent of All-Meadowlands choices. A First Team selection at offensive tackle he was joined Lee (QB), Faussette (WR), Sedlmeir (DL), Jenkins (DB) Minichiello (RB) offensive guard Hector Tavares and Diaz (DB).
Junior offensive linemen Chris Lohrmann and Peter Garifalos led the Aviators contingent on the Second Team. They were joined senior tight end Will Koukoutsis and junior receiver Daniel Viola. Senior defensive lineman Indiana Stone was joined by junior linebacker Adrian Mercado and sophomore linebacker Hunter Freschi on the Second Team.
Senior running back Michael Robertson and junior placekicker Connor Friedel were Honorable Mention selections.
|1||Indiana Stone||T, DE||Sr.|
|2||Zai'heer Jenkins||WR, CB||Sr.|
|3||Steven Faussette||QB, FS||Jr.|
|4||Spencer Lee||QB, MLB||Sr.|
|5||Isiah Barone||WR, DB||Jr.|
|6||Blake Freschi||FB, LB||So.|
|8||Justin Torres||WR, CB||Jr.|
|9||Rocco Minichello||RB, OLB||Jr.|
|10||Daniel Viola||WR, CB||Jr.|
|12||Jake Diaz||QB, WR, DB||So.|
|13||Robert Boscarino||WR, DB||So.|
|19||Adrian Mercado||OLB, WR||Jr.|
|20||Travis Lee||WR, CB||Jr.|
|21||Justin Ike||WR, DB||Sr.|
|23||Hunter Freschi||ILB, RB||So.|
|26||Michael Robertson||RB, OLB||Sr.|
|27||Chris Cravotta||WR, CB||Sr.|
|36||Trey Armonaitis||FB, DE||So.|
|38||Mohamed Assaf||FB, LB||Jr.|
|44||David Morgan||TE, ILB||Jr.|
|47||Fisnik Lulani||OT, DT||Sr.|
|50||Cristiian Lopez||OG, DE||Jr.|
|51||Steven Antunez||OL, DT||Jr.|
|52||Justin Wexler||OT, MLB||So.|
|53||Gage Delorenzo||OG, DT||Sr.|
|54||Will Koukoutsis||C, DE||Sr.|
|55||Hector Taveras||OT, DE||Sr.|
|56||Chris Lohrmann||G, DT||Jr.|
|57||Peter Garifalos||OG, DT||Jr.|
|58||Matteo Ochoa||OT, MLB||Sr.|
|60||Andre Brown||OL, DL||Sr.|
|64||John Sedlmeir||OT, DE||Sr.|
|67||Massimo Vignola||G, DT||So.|
|72||Kevin Campen||C, DE||So.|
|77||Max Powers||OL, DT||Sr.|
|78||Mike Priore||OG, DT||Jr.|
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