SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - The fall sports season was truly a wild ride for South Plainfield High School’s athletic programs. The Tigers’ past four months have featured upsets, comebacks, letdowns, glory, and everything else you could see in sports.
The young men who make up South Plainfield’s male athletic teams certainly had their fair share of drama. Here’s a look back at how the season unfolded for them.
The South Plainfield football team truly had to fight to make something out of their season this year, and in the end they most certainly did. The Tigers overcame injuries to key players, mid-season setbacks, and more, to earn an 8-4 record and a spot in the Central Jersey Group 3 state championship game.
The Tigers started their 2016 campaign in strong fashion, as they ran through Perth Amboy 33-14 in their season opener, and strung together four straight conference wins. The elusive speed and athleticism of junior quarterback Charles Lovett was a huge source for success for South Plainfield in those opening games, as he ran for 311 yards in the four game span, while picking up six touchdowns. A high ankle sprain Lovett suffered in his team’s first loss of the season, to St. Joseph’s Metuchen, put him, and seemingly his team’s chances of a good season, on the sideline.
The team went on to loss a tough game to Colonia 20-28, but the team bounced back in a big way when they notched a hard-nosed 10-0 win against a previously undefeated Carteret team. The Tiger defense, led by senior leader MLB Dillon Harris, earned a shutout, while sophomore rusher Zach Delvecchio picked up 120 yards and backup quarterback Ryan Marston kept his team in the game throwing 6 of 12 on 60 yards. The win earned the team a playoff berth, which the Tigers made the most of.
When Lovett returned, head coach Gary Cassio utilized him and Marston as a dual threat attack which helped the team string together the three wins they needed to earn a spot in a state championship game against Rumson-Fair Haven.
The Tigers entered the championship game at High Point Solutions Stadium as a significant underdog to a historically dominant Rumson-Fair Haven program that now featured an 88-player roster that consists of one way players.
Even with the odds against them, the Tigers took the field and gave it their all. At one point the Tigers led by 14-0, but eventually the talent of their opponents caught up to them. Although the Bulldogs took over the game, the Tigers fought till the end in a close 27-22 loss that ended with the Tigers fighting on a last drive.
Marston led the team in passing completions, attempts, and yards, on the season as he connected on 52 out of 94 attempts while picking up 728 yards and five touchdowns. DelVecchio was the leading rusher with 1068 yards and 11 touchdowns, and also led the team in total points with 72. In receiving, Jean Sapini made 34 catches with 147 yards and five touchdowns. Harris led the team in tackles with 113, while Austin Fritze recorded seven sacks, and Michael DeAngelis picked off four passes.
Even though 2016’s South Plainfield’s boys soccer team fell short of matching the tournament success of last year’s team, the Tigers still put together an impressive season that in many ways matched the success of previous years.
Early injuries, including one to midfielder Jacob Hoffman, caused the Tigers to open the season with a rocky start. The leadership and offensive ability of senior captain and midfielder Jacob Villacres was a huge factor in his team being able to overcome that 1-3 start, and then go on a 10 game-winning streak. The impressive streak saw them notch wins over various conference rivals like North Brunswick, Sayreville and Edison, and was eventually ended with a 4-0 loss to a formidable Westfield squad that went on to end the season as the state’s 14th best team. The streak-- which saw the Tigers outscore their opponents 29-4-- helped them earn the GMC White Division title.
Wins over Piscataway and East Brunswick got the team to the GMC tournament semifinals. The team fell short of replicating last year’s feat of being GMC co-champions as they were knocked out by 2016’s eventual champions North Brunswick just before getting back to the finals.
The Tigers entered their last tournament of the year, the Central Jersey Group 2 state tournament, as the top seed. Goals from Hoffman and Villacres got the team past their first round opponent Delaware Valley. The quarter final match saw them withstand ninety minutes of thrilling back and forth action with a surprisingly able ninth-seeded Holmdel squad. The tight match ended in regulation with a 2-2 scoreline and then went to penalty kicks, where the Tigers suffered a heartbreaking upset loss.
The Tigers finished this year’s campaign with a 15-6-1 record. Senior goalkeeper Nick Plate finished the final year with 87 saves. Villacres led the team and the division in goals with 17, and assists with 9, while Hoffman had the second most team goals with 10.
Boys Cross Country
The boys cross country team ran their way to a 2-1 regular season. Senior Kyle Sookhu notched South Plainfield’s best 5,000m mark of the season, and a personal record, when he ran an 18:14.5 at the NJSIAA Central Jersey Sectional championships.
Fellow senior Angel Ruiz and sophomore Keith Lehman also hit their personal records at the sectional meet, as Ruiz ran an 18:34.7, while Lehman recorded a time of 18:38.8. The Tigers finished the team sectional competition in 13th place with a score of 3.