BRIDGEWATER, NJ -- Multiple members of the Somerville High School and Hillsborough High School football programs played in the sixth annual Basilone Bowl at Bridgewater-Raritan on Thursday night.
Hillsborough’s Noah Quick, Charles Amankwaa, Matt Moore, Tyler Boatwright, Isaiah Black, and Ryan Wheaton and Somerville’s Hamza Akel, Ryan Hrabinski, Mike DeSarno, and Owen Booker all played for the Leather Necks, which defeated the Devil Dogs, 21-3.
The game was created in honor of Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone, a Raritan native who died on Iwo Jima. Basilone was a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient for his heroism during the battle of Guadalcanal in World War II.
Basilone helped his small group of 16 men fend off thousands of Japanese soldiers. Basilone manned two machine guns, fixed two more, crawled into hostile territory with bullets flying over his head and grenades exploding around him to get ammunition, and lastly finished off the Japs with his pistol.
Basilone was also awarded a Navy Cross, the military's second-highest medal given for valor in combat.
The sixth of 10 children to parents Salvatore Basilone and Dora Bencivenga, Basilone was born in Buffalo, N.Y. but the family returned to Raritan in 1918 where his five older siblings were born.
He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia near Washington D.C. The Navy is currently building a second ship in his honor, the USS John Basilone, in Maine.
“It was great. The troops came and that was interesting,” Boatwright said. “They motivated us before the game and we took everything to heart.”
Boatwright earned Most Outstanding Player honors for victors, rushing for 41 yards with a touchdown on a sweep off to the right side which capped the scoring and sealed the deal with 5:43 left in the fourth quarter.
“Coach, he wanted me to get one,” Boatwright said with a smile from ear to ear. “He drew that one up and end of story. ...I just wanted to have fun. It was the last time I was going to come out here with my teammates, so that was special.”
Boatwright returned the game’s opening kickoff, but a few players later, after a fumble which resulted in a good chunk of lost yardage, the Leather Necks were forced to punt. Then, with a short field ahead of them, the Devil Dogs struck first with a 26-yard field goal from Brian Puccio of Watchung Hills.
But that was all the scoring the Devil Dogs were able to muster.
“We stayed strong,” said the 6-foot, 175-pound Boatwright who played cornerback on defense. “Coach told us that they were going to get some plays and we going to get some plays. We knew that if we stuck with it, we were going (to stop them).”
The Leather Necks scored three unanswered touchdowns on the ground and Montgomery’s Chandler Turner went 3-for-3 on PATs. Ridge’s RJ Milligan carried 11 times for 112 yards and rumbled in for the first score on the ground from 32 yards out with 3:44 to go in the first.
DeSarno led the way on the offensive line for the first touchdown on the ground.
“It was awesome to be a part of that and help get the ball rolling for our entire team,” he said.
Sandwiched in between Milligan’s and Boatwright’s score was a 50-yard passing score from Delaware Valley’s Jared Pershyn to Ridge’s Ryan Gogerty in the second quarter.
DeSarno was glad he was able to not only participate in the game, but to win as well. He got to represent the 2017 Central Jersey, Group 3 champions.
“It was awesome being out there representing the Pioneers and being the only state champs on the field. It’s a real honor to be selected to play in a game like this.”
The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder lineman who is headed to Montclair State was also a captain as well, a moment and memory he will cherish forever.
“It was a great honor to be a captain along with Milligan. Throughout practice, head coach Bill Tracy (Ridge) chose the players he thought stood out as leaders and I was lucky enough to be chosen.”
Hrabinski, a 5-foot-11, 220-pound linebacker earned defensive MVP honors for the Leather Necks as well as he made a few tackles and almost grabbed an interception. Hrabinski will play football at Susquehanna while Boatwright will take his talents to Central Connecticut State University, which he says reminds him of Hillsborough.
“It’s great to have my last game with my (Hillsborough) teammates,” Boatwright said. “There’s no better feeling.”