Editor's Note: This article has been updated with additional photos provided by Michele Casey.
CEDAR GROVE, NJ - For five years Caldwell has gotten the best of Cedar Grove, but this year it was the Panthers chance to shine. Not only did they win the game, but the Panthers stopped Caldwell on every opportunity at the home game Friday night.
Before the national anthem, the night started on a sad note. Two years ago, Cedar Grove high school graduate Brian Topoleski was tragically killed and there was a moment of silence in his honor. The crowd wore purple in his memory and the Panthers wore purple socks and the cheerleaders wore purple bows.
“We had a lot of energy. We knew we had to play for Brian,” said Cedar Grove senior running back Matt McManus.
“Everybody knew him. He was a great kid. The town does as well and they embraced that,” added Cedar Grove Head Coach Ed Sadloch.
Special teams started out strong for Caldwell, returning the opening kickoff to the 13-yard line. However, Cedar Grove’s defense would remain strong and hold Caldwell to just a field goal. After that, Caldwell surprised Cedar Grove with an onside kick and recovered it at Cedar Grove’s 45-yard line, but missed a field goal at the end of the drive.
Cedar Grove would go on to drive down the field, capping it off with a rushing touchdown by Dominick Ferrara that putting them up 7-3 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Cedar Grove forced a turnover on downs and took over on their own 25-yard line. On third at 10, McManus ran 34 yards to get Cedar Grove to the other side of the field and continue the drive, ultimately leading to a Panther touchdown that also happened to be a fumble recovery in the end zone by Sean Foster.
Fumbles would be a problem for Cedar Grove, as one by Ferrara set up a field goal for Caldwell to make it a 14-6 game going into halftime and they would fumble again in the opening drive of the second half. Fortunately, this did not cost the Panthers, as their defense forced a 3-and-out.
“Our defense did a heck of a job,” said Sadloch.
The Panther offense would reward the efforts of the defense, as an 80-yard rushing touchdown by McManus put Cedar Grove up 21-6 and really sealed the deal for Cedar Grove.
“Our blocking was great. I saw a hole and I kept going,” said McManus.
Cedar Grove would add some insurance with a 50-yard run setting up a 19-yard touchdown pass from Nick Zecchino to Joe Rufo that putting them up 27-6. The Panthers gave up a late interception to give Caldwell some garbage points, but still won the game easily 27-12.
For the Panthers, this game got the monkey off their back, with their first win over Caldwell in five years. “We talked about the five years they’ve run the gamut on us and we felt that we had a shot to beat them and break the streak,” noted Sadloch.
At 2-1, the road is only going to get harder from here. “It’s going to be a battle every week,” added Sadloch. “It doesn’t get any better for us.
The Panthers will stay home next Friday night at 7 p.m. to take on Newark Central.