NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - The ruling that the New Brunswick High School football team would have to forfeit its season-opening four victories did little to diminish the team's spirit on Friday.
Although the Zebras fell to host Sayreville, 7-0, coach Nate Harris was proud of his team's effort.
"You have two options when adversity hits," Harris said. "You fight or you fly. The kids decided to fight. We're all here, strong. We just want to continue on that."
The Zebras had a chance to tie or even take the lead after they recovered a fumble at the Sayreville 19-yard line with 3:10 remaining. After a series of plays, New Brunswick found itself in a fourth-and-long situation. Sayreville was able to sack the New Brunswick quarterback, take over on downs and run out the final 1:14.
It was a gutsy effort for the Zebras, especially considering the news that came down Tuesday.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association ruled that New Brunswick would be forced to forfeit its victories over Monroe, Dickinson (Jersey City), Edison and Piscataway. New Brunswick beat those teams by a combined 123-41.
Edison athletic director and Greater Middlesex Conference President Jeff DiCocco said that New Brunswick used an ineligible player in each of those four victories.
The ineligible player transferred to the school prior to the academic year, but had not produced a bona fide change of address. According to NJSIAA transfer rules, a player must sit out for 30 days.
When New Brunswick High School principal Ken Redler, who was on the sideline for Friday's game, was asked if the news had cast a pall over the school, he said, "I think for the most part, students are all encouraged that we're going to be fine."
Redler indicated that he had reached out to Harris and the team.
"Just in support," he said. "Whatever they need, we're doing. We brought a bunch of kids who wanted to go to the game.
When asked how he kept his team focused on the game and not on the situation off the field, Harris said, "They kept me focused. I got a great group of guys. (We faced) a lot of adversity. We had to fight through it. Despite coming out on the short end, we still made progress."
Jayvis Rayside scored on a nine-yard run with 40.1 seconds remaining in the first quarter with a run up the middle.
Sayreville threatened to score again in the final moments of the first half.
The Bombers had the ball inside the New Brunswick 1 with 5.2 seconds remaining. After a timeout, they lined up in a double-tight formation and tried to power the ball in up the middle. New Brunswick, however, got off the ball quickly and met the runner at the line of scrimmage. After several seconds, the play was blown dead and the Zebras had kept the score at 7-0.
That kind of effort is what Harris took away from the game.
When asked what he liked most about his team, he said, "The fight, the fight. I just thought the fight. We came up short, but we fought."