PERTH AMBOY, NJ - Two touchdowns in the third quarter and stout defense throughout the game proved to be the keys for the South Plainfield High School football squad (1-0) as they narrowly defeated the Perth Amboy Panthers by the score of 21-7 on the road in Friday night’s season opener.
Sam Nieves broke a 7-7 tie early in the third quarter when he raced toward the sideline, turned the corner and displayed some nice moves before finally stepping into the endzone for a 24 yard touchdown run to give the Tigers the lead for good at 14-7.
It seemed as though Perth Amboy was destined to tie the game on the very next drive when Panther quarterback Tahjmere O’Neal completed a pass to tight end Mario Luna inside the South Plainfield 30 yard line, but then a pass broken up in the endzone and a sack moved Perth Amboy out of scoring range, and they eventually turned the ball over on downs.
South Plainfield would take over inside their own 20 yard line with 4:39 to go in the third, and after a series of Zachary Delvecchio runs, quarterback Charles Lovett heaved a deep ball into the hands of receiver Dondre Tate, who beat his man and raced down the sideline for another Tiger score to make it 21-7 with 1:19 to go in the quarter. The play was good for 75 yards.
The Tigers probably didn’t think they would need second half dramatics when they scored effortlessly on their first offensive possession of the season back in the first quarter. Delvecchio, a bruiser in the backfield, gained some steam and broke loose up the middle, scampering all the way for a touchdown from 42 yards away. An Ashwin Degroot extra point made the score 7-0.
But on the ensuing kickoff, Perth Amboy would shock the Tigers and tie the game when senior standout Tyler Jack faked a reverse and returned the kick all the way back for a Panthers touchdown.
The rest of the first half featured a battle for field position with neither side budging.
“We were sloppy, but the sign of a good team is that we were sloppy yet still came out on top,” the never satisfied head coach Gary Cassio said after the game of South Plainfield’s performance.
Cassio was proud of his defense for keeping the Panthers off the scoreboard while containing great athletes such as Jack, O’Neal and receiver Jeremiah Stevens. “We wanted to take away Tyler Jack and Stevens, and we took them away,” Cassio said. “We definitely took away their running game. In the second half their quarterback was scrambling a lot, but I’ll take him scrambling over him throwing the ball. If it wasn’t for the kickoff return the defense had a shutout.”
The deep ball from Lovett to Tate was what everyone was talking about after the game, and Cassio expects South Plainfield to go to the air more often if the opponent chooses to defend against the run.
“If they’re going to pack the box, we have to be able to throw a little bit. Something we’re going to learn tonight is we need to throw the ball a little bit more and get some more screens in there,” Cassio said. “I don’t think myself or the coaching staff did that great a job of play calling, I think we could have done a better job. We had a couple breakdowns on the line, but we should have thrown the ball a little bit more once they packed the box. Watching film and people running all over them, we thought with Delvecchio he was going to run all over them again, but unfortunately he got banged up,” he said.
“We came out with a win. That’s all I can ask for. The kids did a great job."