GLEN RIDGE, NJ - In a game that marked the debut for transfer quarterback Tom Sharkey, it was Verona's struggles defending the spread option offense of Glen Ridge that cost them Saturday. For head coach Lou Racciope, it came down to not making enough big plays. Speaking on a hot Hurrel Field after the game, he said "Glen Ridge kids made (plays) all game, and we didn't make them and that's why they won and we didn't."
From the opening snap the Ridgers seemed to get the edge on runs with relative ease, jumping out to a 14-0 first quarter lead before the Hillbillies rallied. Two first half fourth down pass attempts in Glen Ridge territory came up short, the second on a long toss from Sharkey to Jake McConnachie in the North end zone. McConnachie appeared to have the ball originally before it was knocked from his hands while going to the ground.
Still, the freshly out of wraps signal caller Sharkey showed off some of his skills, hitting C.J. Lavery on a deep heave after scrambling outside the pocket. Lavery, who had served as the team's primary quarterback while Sharkey sat out the transfer period, beat the defensive back and scampered down the sideline for a 67-yard score, making it 14-7.
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Here Verona made one of their best defensive stops of the day, but a stalled series of their own on the ensuing possession ended with a partially blocked punt. Glen Ridge was set up with great field position and churned away on the ground towards another score, leaving the Hillbillies trailing 21-7 with eight minutes left in the half.
After kicking the ball out of bounds to set up the next drive, Verona went on the move, heavily targeting the explosive McConnachie who after one long completion, drew a personal foul penalty for unnecessary roughness. This set up what ultimately was the key play of the game, as mentioned earlier when McConnachie nearly made a leaping grab in the end zone on fourth down.
Glen Ridge was able to flip the field with a long completion of their own, ultimately scoring again to increase their lead to 28-7. Still, Verona refused to go away quietly, as Sharkey responded and hit Lavery across the middle for a big gainer.
On third and long McConnachie snagged a TD, tightening things up with little time left in the half at 28-14. It was Sharkey's second long TD completion of the day. Playing his first game since transferring from Bergen Catholic and waiting out the mandatory 30-day period, coach Racciope was to the point concerning his performance, "he did some good things but he's got a long way to go, i think he's a better QB than he showed today."
The backbreaker came when Glen Ridge set up a reverse on their kick return and made it 35-14 with just 1:36 left in the second quarter.
In the second half, Verona's offense struggled to show the same spark they had earlier, although McConnachie did bring life to the sideline when he sprung a long kick return in the third quarter. All game linebacker Jake Milmoe and defensive back Christian Dionisio showed toughness and good instincts on inside runs.
As coach Racciope said, he'd have to watch the film to get a better sense of the game overall. He commented about players on his defense continuing to fight to the final whistle, saying "young kids playing hard is a good thing for us, we got a lot of young kids and the ones that continue to play hard will continue to impress us."
The next chance for the youthful Hillbillies (1-4) to do just that will be this coming Friday night at 7 p.m., when they hit the road to face North Warren Regional (2-3).