By Andy Loigu
The Hackettstown Tigers and Kittatinny Cougars each scored four touchdowns in their football game in Augusta on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Conversions proved to be the difference in a 28-25 Hackettstown victory. The win keeps the Tigers’ playoff hopes alive as Hackettstown prepares for the 91st meeting with their traditional rivals, the Blue Streaks, scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff on Nov. 4 at Warren Hills.
Hackettstown has a 4-3 season record and the cutoff for state playoff qualification is a team’s first eight games, so there is something on the line at Warren Hills in addition to possession of the Beater Board.
With 8:21 left in the game, quarterback Matt O’Brien scored from 29 yards out on a keeper from the triple-option, for a 26-25 lead. Then, the Tigers went for two, as O’Brien pitched the ball to Christian Maciak, who found a hole and made the lead 28-25.
O’Brien completed 8-of-19 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown. He also carried the ball three times for 32 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner. Maciak also had a big game on defense, making eight tackles.
After the first quarter ended with no scoring, Zach Mafaro scored the first of his four rushing touchdowns of the day, giving the Cougars a 7-0 lead. Mafaro gained 196 yards on 22 carries and was a hard man for the gang-tackling Tigers to bring down all afternoon.
A Hackettstown fumble incubated the 60-yard Kittatinny scoring drive. Scoring on their eighth play of the drive, the Cougars went from a Wing-T formation into the Power-I when they got close to the goal line.
When the Tigers got the ball back, the Kittatinny defenders crowded the line of scrimmage, daring the run-first Hackettstown offense to pass. After powerful Tiger fullback Matt Castro got a first down on a toss sweep, the Tigers took a couple of long shots downfield which fell incomplete and had to punt.
With their offensive line firing hard off the ball and Mafaro shedding tacklers, the Cougars marched downfield and Mafaro finished the drive from the three, giving the Cougars a 13-0 lead.
A fumble recovery by senior defensive end Anthony Gonzalez gave the Tigers a needed spark. Despite being set back by penalties on their first two snaps, Hackettstown drove 66 yards in eight plays. The Tigers scored through the friendly skies, as O’Brien connected with junior wideout Matt Macaulay in stride in the flat for a first down and then fired a 17-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Gallagher, who knocked over the pylon in the left corner as he crossed the goal line with five seconds left in the half.
After the slow start, the Tigers picked up steam in the third period. Good pursuit kept the Cougars’ running game from turning the corner and the Tigers stuffed a third-down trap play, forcing a punt.
With lead blocks from Castro, the Tigers marched toward the end zone, with O’Brien sneaking in from one yard to tie matters at 13-13.
With the Tigers’ flexible 3-5 defense, Hackettstown put on a strong pass rush, while pursuing hitch passes and screens the way tigers in the wild pursue antelopes and gazelles.
After receiving a punt in good field position, a strong run by Maciak produced a first down and then, on the next snap, senior running back Zach Nesheiwat scored on a 16-yard sweep. Eddie O’Melia booted his second extra-point kick for Hackettstown’s first lead.
However, Kittatinny was not done yet, with Mafaro scoring on runs of five and 70 yards, setting up O’Brien’s late heroics.
Kittatinny made one last drive, going into speed-up mode running plays from the shotgun formation. Senior defensive end Kyle Connelly made a big sack for a four-yard loss and the Tiger defenders accounted for everybody on quarterback keepers and reverses, as the Cougars went deep into their playbook.
Into the final minute, the Cougars were running sets with four wide receivers, but the Tigers adjusted and Nesheiwat made a big interception with 39 seconds left.
The Tigers took a knee twice and it was over.
In addition to the game-saving interception, Nesheiwat made seven tackles in the game.
In the traditional game with the Blue Streaks, Washington/Warren Hills leads the all-time series 44-41-5.
Joseph H. Firth Youth Center Honored
At the 7th Annual Warren County Hall of Fame Recognition Dinner at Hawk Pointe Golf Club in Washington on Saturday evening, the Joseph H. Firth Youth Center in Phillipsburg was honored with a special recognition award. The dinner was presented by the Warren County Community College Foundation.
Since opening its doors in 1954, the center has been the home to many area sports organizations’ games and special events. Generations of Warren County children have found the place to be a second home, where they have made many positive friendships, over the years.
The center is a non-profit organization run by an all-volunteer board of directors. Although not an official municipally owned facility, the center has accepted support from the Town of Phillipsburg with great appreciation and gratitude.
Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.