HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - Remember 1999. Y2K. The thought of the world ending, computers going haywire, and people spending New Year’s Eve camped in front of the local ATM, hoping it would start spitting out twenty dollar bills like a broken slot machine. Some predicted doom, others, well, you get the picture.
Hasbrouck Heights football faced a familiar challenge in 1999, heavy losses to graduation. It would roll it out its third starting quarterback in three years, and have to rebuild a line that had been senior laden and experienced coming into 1998.
The season opener saw Hasbrouck Heights travel to Secaucus to face a revenge-minded Patriot team whom the Aviators had thumped twice in 1998. The Patriots jumped out to a 13-0 lead over the Aviators before Hasbrouck Heights rallied behind a 45- yard scoring pass from quarterback Brian Brieden to wide receiver John Behr, to cut the lead to 13-7. The Aviators took the lead when senior running back Rich DiFeo scored from three-yards out, and Tom Mansfield’s extra points gave Hasbrouck Heights a 14-13 lead.
But Secaucus was able to rally, scoring on a 12-yard from Tom Warth and a successful two point conversion for the victory over Hasbrouck Heights.
The Aviators wasted no time in putting up points in wins, over the next several weeks to insert themselves back in the NJSIAA playoff race in Group 1.
Lyndhurst was first, as Hasbrouck Heights rushed for 367 yards on 38 carries, and DiFeo reached the end zone three times as the Aviators rolled over the Bears, 41-8. Behr and Brieden struck again, this time from 63 yards, and fullbacks Mansfield and Craig Meyer added scores as the Aviators scored the game’s first 41 points in the first three quarters.
The short trip to Wallington did not slow the Aviators down, as they crushed Wallington, 48-7. Mansfield scored two first quarter touchdowns, before DiFeo added a second quarter score on a 20-yard run. Behr and Brieden (who was 5-of-7 for 174 yards) hooked up on an 86-yard touchdown. Brieden hit Ryan Malone for a 20-yard touchdown. DiFeo added a 52-yard punt return before Mansfield capped the day of with his third touchdown run, this time from five yards out.
The trip to North Arlington was a little more competitive, but the result still bore out a big Hasbrouck Heights victory, with a 33-11 win over the Vikings. Brieden was once again efficient, throwing for 103 yards in his five completions, good for three touchdowns, as the offense was dominant once again. DiFeo rushed for 144 yards on 16 carries. Behr hooked up on the end of two of Brieden completions, while John DiSimone was on the end of a 20-yard scoring strike.
The defense had five interceptions, including two by Malone.
A return to Depken kept the Aviators defense churning along, as Hasbrouck Heights stopped Harrison, 41-12, for coach Nick Delcalzo’s 100th win as the Aviators boss. The Aviators imposed their will on the ground, as Mansfield rushed for 160 yards and a touchdown, while Meyer rushed for 104 yards and two scores. Breiden and Behr hooked up for two more scoring plays as the Aviators improved to 4-1 on the season.
Hasbrouck Heights traveled to Rutherford to play St. Mary at Tamblyn Field with a shot at the league lead on the line in Week 6. St. Mary, playing with its backup quarterback, (starter LeVar Starr was suspended for throwing a punch a week earlier) was able to pull out a 25-19 win over the Aviators. Behr and Breiden once again had a two touchdown week, as Breiden passed for 197 of the Aviators 289 yards on the game.
The St. Mary defense, which had allowed only four touchdowns in six games coming in, had two interceptions in the second half to hold on for the victory,
Next up was Becton, during one of the Wildcats’ worst seasons in history. The Aviators contributed to the woes with a 46-0 win over their Route 17 rival. Meyer scored the first touchdown on a six-yard run, and Brieden ran for two scores in the win. The defense had a huge day, as Mansfield had a 43-yard interception return for a score, and caused three fumbles, all while holding the Wildcats to just three first downs.
A trip to Weehawken followed, as the Indians were having one of their best seasons in history, lurking around the top the BCSL-National. Phil Calabrese’s 16-yard interception return on the first play of overtime gave Hasbrouck Heights a 22-16 win over the Indians, giving their state playoff chances a huge boost. The Aviators improved to 6-2 with the win, while Weehawken fell to 6-2 with the loss.
Weehawken scored first, taking an 7-0 lead on a four yard pass. Pete Santana returned the ensuing kickoff 94-yards for a score, and Brieden ran the ball in for an 8-7 lead. Weehawken answered with a second touchdown pass to take a 13-8 lead. Nick Delcalzo recovered a fumble on the Indians first possession of the second half, which the Aviators turned into a touchdown when Mansfield plunged in for the lead. Brieden and Behr completed the conversion for a 16-13 lead.
A Weehawken field goal with six minutes left tied the game, setting up Calabrese’s heroics.
The sixth-seeded Aviators were sent to a familiar foe in Park Ridge in the opening round of the NJSIAA playoffs.
Hasbrouck Heights went to overtime for the second straight week, but this time the results were not favorable, as Park Ridge, behind Chris Charles fourth touchdown of the day, defeated the Aviators, 28-21.
DiFeo scored twice on the day, once on a 58-yard punt return, the other on a 21 run. Brieden and Behr provided the Aviators other touchdown, a 13-yard scoring pass in the third quarter that put the Aviators up 21-13.
Charles would tie the game later in the third quarter with a touchdown run, scoring from 75 yards to make the score 21-19. Park Ridge would convert the two-point conversion to tie the score. After a scoreless fourth quarter, Park Ridge won on Charles 22 yard kick and successful conversion, and an interception on the Aviators possession.
Thanksgiving at Depken Field awaited, and the Aviators once again proved their dominance in the rivalry, with a 47-12 win over Wood-Ridge. And DiFeo went out in style, scoring five touchdowns in the game, while Behr set the Hasbrouck Heights mark with his 44th reception of the season.
Behr caught a 36-yarder from Brieden for the game’s first score. DiFeo would score the next five touchdowns, four on the ground, one from Brieden, before Mansfield’s touchdown reception put an end the scoring for the Aviators.
Jimmy Maher and Frank Kozibroda scored for the Blue Devils, who finished 5-5 on the season.
Behr was named to the Second Team All-County team at Wide Receiver, while Brieden was named Third Team All-County at quarterback. DiFeo (RB) was First Team All BCSL-National along with Mansfield (K), Meyer (LB). Tackle Jesse D’Amore and Guard Chris Van Jura were joined on the Second Team by Santana at Defensive Back. Calabrese and Malonge were Honorable Mentions.
The Times Square ball fell at midnight, and Y2K was fairly uneventful. Eighty plus seasons were in the books, with plenty more to come.
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