HILLSIDE, NJ -- Amid a cascade of cramped calves and an ocean of penalty flags, the Bernards football team lost a physical and emotionally charged opening day contest against its Union County nemesis, Hillside, 20-7, on Saturday afternoon.
With countless play stoppages for both heat-related injuries on the field and more than 300 yards worth of penalties incurred by both teams combined, the hard-hitting game took three hours and 11 minutes to complete.
It was Bernards' third loss to Hillside since the beginning of the 2018 season. Hillside defeated Bernards, 23-13, in the regular season and 21-3 in the second round of the Section 2, Group 2 playoffs last season. Bernards has not lost to any opponent other than Hillside since the middle of the 2017 campaign.
Bernards had the momentum after one quarter and the lead by early in the second quarter, when quarterback Teddy Gouldin kept for a 1-yard touchdown to close out a nine-play, 59-yard drive and Steven Lopez kicked the extra point.
But, from that point on, the Mountaineers had just one first down until the middle of the interminable third quarter, which lasted nearly an hour. Hillside (2-0) began to wrest the momentum for itself midway through the second quarter after taking over on its 37-yard line following a Bernards punt. Gavin Melendez completed a 33-yard pass to Nahree Biggins and, one play later, James Louis darted off left tackle and ran 23 yards for a TD. But the Comets missed the extra point, leaving Bernards ahead, 7-6, with 6:40 left in the first half.
A 48-yard bomb from Melendez to a wide open receiver was the big play on Hillside's next possession, which brought the Comets down to the Bernards 2-yard line. Louis scored from the 2 on the next play and Melendez ran for the two-point conversion, giving Hillside a 14-7 lead.
Although Bernards flaunts ample speed, Hillside was quick enough to keep the Mountaineers from getting to the perimeter on offense, and they also kept the pressure on Goulding, frequently keeping the talented junior QB from having ample time to set up and scan the field for receivers, who were usually well covered.
Late in the third quarter, with Bernards facing a fourth down and one from its own 27-yard line, head coach Jon Simoneau elected to go for the first down deep in his own territory when trailing by a touchdown. Gouldin started the play sequence in shotgun formation, appeared to be attempting to draw Hillside offside, and then the QB quickly moved up under center, took the snap and tried to sneak forward the the yard needed to continue the drive. But the measurement showed Bernards to be about 4 inches shy of the first down.
Now, with Hillside in business at the Bernards 28, the Comets took advantage of their good field position with a 10-yard run, a personal foul penalty against Bernards and then a 7-yard scoring run by Melendez with 2:33 left to extend the Hillside lead to 20-7.
Bernards best offensive showing of the last three quarters came on its next possession, which saw junior slotback Joey Billotti gain 32 yards on a running play and 29 yards on a long pass from Gouldin down the right sideline to the 5-yard line. But Gouldin's next pass on first down glanced off the fingertips of a receiver at the goal line, and, on fourth-and-goal from the 8, his pass over the middle was intercepted to end the drive.
Gouldin finished with 12 completions in 27 attempts for 121 yards. He also was Bernards' leading rusher with 43 yards on 12 carries.
BERNARDS (0-1) 0 7 0 0 -- 7
HILLSIDE (2-0) 0 14 6 0 -- 20