HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - Rocco Minichiello returned the opening kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown setting the tone for the Aviators 30-14 win over Park Ridge in the opening round of North Jersey Interscholastic Conference Bowl Series. The Aviators will face Rutherford in a rematch of last season’s NJIC Final, next Friday night at Depken Field.
Rutherford advances to the final with a 41-14 victory over New Milford, setting up not only a rematch of last year’s NJIC championship game, but a battle of the defending North 1, Group 1 and North 1, Group 2 champions. The Aviators lost 14-7 in overtime in Rutherford last season, and now get a chance to gain revenge.
The Aviators took control of the game in the first quarter and never relinquished it. Following Minichiello’s kick return, both defenses settled in, as the Aviators forced Park Ridge to punt on the next two possessions without allowing a first down.
Following the second punt, the Aviators went on the second scoring drive, kicked off by a Spencer Lee to Ian Rinke pass for 13 yards putting the ball into Owl territory at the 42 yard line. Jasiah Purdie carried the ball for seven yards, Lee gained six on a quarterback keeper, putting the ball at the 29, Michael Robertson gained seven, before Lee hit Purdie for 10 and another first down at the 12.
After a two yard gain up the middle by Purdie, Robertson broke a run up the middle that was marked at the one inch line. A false start moved the ball back to the five, but Purdie got outside for a five yard (one inch) touchdown run and the Aviator led 13-0. Matthew Gwiszcz nailed his second extra point of the night to make the score 14-0 with 26 seconds remaining in the first half.
Park Ridge quarterback Vincent Pinto was finally able to pick up a first down for the Owls on the last play of the first quarter, going for 17 yards on a quarterback keeper. On fourth and seven, the Owls went for it, keeping the drive alive as Pinto hit Thomas Ryan for a 10 yard gain to the 37. But a costly delay penalty push Park Ridge back, to third and 15. Pinto hit Brendan Hughes for 11 yards, setting up a fourth and four at the 31.
The Aviator defense came up big, stopping Pinto for no gain, taking the ball on downs.
But the Aviator offense remained stalled, and the teams traded punts, with the Aviators taking over with 1:36 remaining in the first half. After Robertson gained four, Lee fumbled, with the Owls recovering the ball at the Hasbrouck Heights 39 with 56 seconds remaining in the first half. But the Owls could not generate any offense and the Aviators went into the half, leading, 14-0.
The Aviators looked like they were going to break the game open on their first possession of the third quarter, as a pass off a reverse from Purdie to Lee gained 27, putting the ball deep in Park Ridge territory. But the Owls defense stiffened, and stopped Purdie three inches short of a first down on fourth and four at the Park Ridge eight yard line.
Pinto, however, could not find any running room on two quarterback keepers, and on third and 12 was sacked through the back of the end zone by defensive end Chris Thibault for a safety, giving the Aviators a 16-0 lead.
Taking the ball after the free kick, the Aviators did put the game away. Taking over at their own 42, the Owls defense initially tried to keep Park Ridge in the game, pushing the Aviators backwards. But on third and fifteen, Lee hit Rinke for a 17 yard gain, keeping the drive alive. After Robertson gained 11 off the right side, to bring the ball to the 30 yard line, and then pushed the ball up the middle for another five yards. Purdie then took the ball around the left end, broke a few tackles and stepped down the sideline for a 25 yard touchdown run and a 22-yard with 1:14 remaining the third.
Robertson then rushed for the two point conversion off of a fake reverse for a 24-0 lead.
Cedar Grove finally got on the board in the fourth quarter, taking advantage of Aviator penalties and a defense that was trying not to get beat over the top. On fourth and five at the Aviator 8 yard line Pinto fielded a low snap and appeared to pick up the ball with his knee on the ground. But the play was not blown dead, and he was able to elude the Aviators defense for an eight yard scoring run, cutting the lead to 24-6. He then hit Justin Wagner with the conversion pass to keep the Owl with two scores, at 24-6.
Robertson would take care of the rest for the Aviators, as he would recover the onside kick at the Aviators’ 48 on the next possession. Then on first and 10, he broke through a hole on the right side for a 52 yard touchdown, The two point conversion failed, and the Aviators led 30-8 with 8:37 remaining in the game.
Park Ridge came out throwing,and was able to generate a second touchdown drive, with Pinto hitting Wagner for a 21 yard scoring pass with 4:58 remaining. The two-point conversion failed, and the score remained 30-14.
Once again, the Aviators recovered the onside kick, and this time the offense just ran out the clock as Robertson and Lee kept the ball moving down the field as the game wound to a close.
Hasbrouck Heights Head Coach Nick Delcalzo said that his team needs to improve if they are going to continue to win, now that it is late in the season.
“I thought we were a little sloppy early in the game,” Delcalzo said. “We had a few penalties and we normally don’t do that, but it has been a couple of weeks since we played. We have to clean that up.”
Minichiello's kickoff return to start the game was key, Delcalzo thought.
"Dom D'Amico runs our special teams on kickoffs, and he thought he spotted something in the films," Delcalzo stated. "Rocco took it to the house, we had some great blocks, and we did a great job there. It is a great way to start a game when you are playing a tough game."
NOTES: Robertson lead the Aviators on the ground with 16 carries and 127 yards. Purdie carried 11 times for 75 yards, while Lee carried seven times for 18 yards. Lee was 4-for-5 through the air for 49 yards, while Purdie was 1-for-1 for 28 yards. Rinke had two catches for 35 yards, while Lee had one catch for 28. Purdie had two catches for 14.
|HH - Minichiello 80 Yard Kick Off Return (Gwiszcz kick)|
|HH- Purdie 5 yard run (Gwiszcz kick)|
|HH - Pinto Tackled by Thibault in End Zone (Safety)|
|HH- Purdie 35 yard run (Robertson run)|
|PR - Pinto 8 yard run (Pinto to Wagner)|
|HH - Robertson 52 yard run (conversion failed)|
|PR- Pinto to Thomas 21 yard pass (conversion failed)|
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