HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - December 3rd, 1973 is a historic day for those who follow high school football in the state of New Jersey. At the 56th annual business meeting of the NJSIAA, high school representatives passed, by a 185 to 121 margin, to conduct football playoffs at the end of the season. It took seven votes to get it passed, and only the NJSIAA’s archives can tell how many changes to the rules have been voted on since then. But one thing is for sure, high school football changed that day.
(During the same meeting there was discussion of holding all sports events during the day to help save on resources during the energy crisis of 1973.)
No longer would there be a vote to determine who the best was, although the means of how to choose who deserved to be in that game, where the game should be played, was far from being decided.
It was with this in mind a different phase in the history of Hasbrouck Heights football, the post-season playoff era. Not surprisingly, the Aviators were quickly immersed in the process. The 1975 season would really be the true start of the playoffs, as teams did not choose to opt-in right away.
The 1974 season opened with a four-game win streak before a mid-season slump sidetracked the team. Opening on the road, the Aviators shut out Harrison (48-0) and Leonia (14-0) to establish themselves as contenders right out of the box for the newly created state title.
The Aviators, led by junior quarterback Dave Farhat, improved to 3-0 on the season with a 29-24 win over Emerson as the Aviators defense held off a late challenge from the Cavos. Farhat hit Kip Vernaglia with a long scoring pass to open the game, the third straight game that the duo would complete that task.
Following a 42-0 mauling of Park Ridge, the Aviators ran into their toughest task of the season, traveling to Palisades Park. Despite Farhat’s 220 yards passing, and running his streak to five straight games with a touchdown pass to Vernaglia, the Tigers came from behind for a 22-19 victory. Farhat lost the ball during a sack with 15 seconds remaining on the Aviators last second drive.
Undefeated Becton was awaiting for the Aviators at Depken Field, and once again, the results were not good, as the Wildcats (who would go one to win the North 1, Group 1 title), handily defeated the Aviators 33-12. Farhat and Vernaglia’s streak reached six games, but the Becton defense was just too much.
On a two game losing streak, undefeated Cresskill was next, but the Aviators were able to rebound, handing the Cougars their first loss of the year, 29-7. The Aviators led 14-0 at the half, and after Cresskill cut the lead in half, the Aviators scored 15 points to ice the game.
Rutherford was next, again at Depken, with the Aviators holding on after Rutherford went for two, and was stopped, down 14-13 in the third quarter. Neither team scored the rest of the way. The Farhat-to-Vernaglia streak was stopped at seven games, although the two did complete the two-point conversion on the game’s first touchdown.
Thanksgiving saw the Aviators throw their third shutout of the year, a 14-0 win over Wood-Ridge, with Vernaglia and Farhat finishing out the season with a 17-yard touchdown pass for the game’s first score.
Vernaglia was a First Team All County selection, while center Bill Castilione, defensive lineman Tom Kilianski, defensive back/punter were First Team All BCSL-National selections. Guard Jeff Bliss, linebacker Mark Delcalzo, defensive lineman Bill Spindler and Farhat were Second Team All-League selections.
A positive note heading into 1975 was that many of the Aviators top players were coming back for at least one more season.
Harrison was victimized early, as the Aviators rolled to a 55-0 over the Blue Tide, in a game that was postponed until Monday due to rain. Vernaglia and Farhat completed two more scoring conversions to start the season off on a bright note.
Next up was a matchup at Rutherford, looking to avenge their one point loss a season ago. Once again, it was a close defensive battle, with the Aviators winning, 12-8, on Russ Bischoff’s seven yard scoring run in the third quarter.
Leonia (28-0) and Emerson (18-0) were next victims of the Aviators overwhelming defense, setting up a matchup with the defending North 1, Group 1 champs at Becton. Becton held Farhat to four completions, although one was to Vernaglia for a 58 yard touchdown, and the Aviators were “lucky” to escape with a 14-14 tie with the Wildcats.
Future Villanova basketball star Tom Sienkiewicz threw for one touchdown and rushed for another for Becton.
1975 had become the year of the rains, as three of the first four weeks, games were pushed back due to rain.
After Becton, the season suddenly broke the Aviators way.
The Aviators ran over Palisades Park (63-13), Cresskill (36-19) and Park Ridge (61-0) heading into a bye week for the playoffs. The state, using its formula decided that only two teams would qualify for the playoffs, Hasbrouck Heights (7-0-1), and Ridgefield (7-2-0), and they would meet on December 6. A week after the Aviators would face Wood-Ridge.
The Aviators dispatched their Thanksgiving Day rivals, 15-6 at Wood-Ridge, in a game, fit for the season, that was delayed two days by rain. The Blue Devils threw a scare into Heights though, as Mark Lynch of Wood-Ridge ran a fumble back 67 yards for a touchdown, to cut the Aviator lead to 7-6 late in the fourth.
But Wood-Ridge kicked the ball out of bounds on the onside kick, and Farhat connected with Vernaglia for an insurance score four plays later for a 15-6 win.
The Aviators first appearance in the playoffs would deliver yet another state title, as Hasbrouck Heights defeated the Ridgefield, 22-6. Bischoff, filling in for injured tailback Bob Fioravanti, scored the game’s first touchdown, on a one-yard run for a 7-0 lead. Vernaglia, scored a defensive touchdown, returning a fumble 38 yards from his safety spot to increase the lead. And when Rich Irwin caught a pass for the Aviators final touchdown, a fight broke out after the play.
Vernaglia was the only player named to the All Bergen County First Team, two years in a row, where he was joined by Farhat (QB) and Bliss (G), while Kilianski was a Second Tteam choice at defensive team. First Team All BCSL National honors went to tackle Frank Briganti, Fiorovanti (RB), center Scott Monahan and kicker Bill Pouch. Delcalzo was Second Team at linebacker while Dan Russo was named as defensive lineman. Spindler, would get an Honorable Mention nod.
(Next: The second half of the 70s)
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