By Andy Loigu
You can’t win them all, if you don’t win the first one.
Warren Hills, Hackettstown, and Belvidere all were winners in the first football weekend of the season. How’s that for openers?
In a 22-10 win at Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Warren Hills was led offensively by a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Cooper Gabrich to Bryce Kastra. They also connected on a pair of subsequent two-point conversions.
With a 6-3 lead, Gabrich threw a 13-yard scoring pass on a fourth down play. His second touchdown pass, of 19 yards, extended the lead to 22-3.
The Blue Streaks went on a nine-play, 69-yard scoring drive on the game’s opening possession. Talk about breaking the ice. Sean Morris, a sophomore, finished the drive with a 24-yard rushing score.
A Scotch Plains drive in the first half that went to the Blue Streaks’ 10-yard line was pushed back, and the Raiders settled for a 24-yard field goal by Max Toll. The Raiders did not score again until 39 seconds remained in the contest, when Alex Oslislo plowed in from the three.
Kyle Salazar and Matt O’Brien scored first-half touchdowns and combined for 232 rushing yards out of the triple-option offense, as the Hackettstown Tigers won at Dover by a 22-13 score. Salazar led the Tigers with 126 rushing yards in only nine carries.
O’Brien, the quarterback, opened the scoring in the first quarter with a 61-yard run.
It is typical for a triple-option team to score early. Teams may practice defending the tricky offense during the week, but really cannot simulate the speed with which an experienced team executes their plays, and since it is option based, they really don’t know what is coming from one snap to the next.
As the game goes on, the defense will make adjustments, but by then major damage has been done.
O’Brien finished with 106 yards on six carries and also completed 5-of-12 passes for 111 yards through the friendly skies.
Hackettstown’s flexible and athletic 3-5 defensive alignment was effective against Dover’s spread offense.
With an abundance of experienced players returning, the Hackettstown Tigers and Warren Hills Blue Streaks look forward to successful football seasons in which they will contend for conference and sectional titles.
Belvidere’s Jake Thornton scored three touchdowns, on runs of 53, five, and 20 yards, as Big Red routed visiting Jonathan Dayton from Union County, by a 42-0 score. Big Red scored 21 points in each half.
Thornton carried the ball 10 times and gained 122 rushing yards. He also completed a 45-yard pass in his only throw of the game.
David Kinney rushed four times and gained 51 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown in the second period. He also scored a touchdown on a 58-yard punt return.
Ryan Kokawski scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery in the end zone. Nicholas Rosania was good on all six of his extra-point conversion kicks.
The Tigers and Streaks play their home openers Friday night, Sept. 16. Hackettstown hosts the Wallkill Valley Rangers and Warren Hills faces the North Hunterdon Lions, both with 7 p.m. starts.
The Tigers’ fourth-year head coach C.J. Robinson has eight two-way starters returning, hoping to improve on a 4-6 season that ended with a North 2 Group 2 playoff loss at Lenape Valley.
Coordinated blocking is essential in the triple-option, and senior guard Kyle Connelly and juniors Joe Andes and Max Cash are being counted on to be the mainstays of the offensive front. Other contributors on the o-line are seniors Mike Newkirk and Matt Karnis. Senior Gavin Fezenko is also in the offensive line mix.
Defensively, Connelly applies pass rush pressure from the defensive end position.
Having five linebackers who are mobile, agile, and hostile, is the key to the 3-5.
In the newly aligned North Jersey Super Conference Red Division, the Tigers’ primary competition for the top spot should come from Lenape Valley, who Hackettstown will host on Oct. 14.
Other division foes will be Lakeland (home Sept. 30), Kittatinny (away Oct. 29), rootin tootin Newton (home Oct. 21), and Wallkill Valley (home Sept. 16).
Non- league games will be at North Warren (an old Skyland Conference rival) on Sept. 23, at Mount Olive on Oct. 7, and (of course) the 91st meeting against Warren Hills, in Washington on Nov. 4, to finish the regular season.
The Blue Streaks’ football family has a dedication to honor the memory of Evan Murray which has brought the team closer together than ever before, said ninth-year head coach Larry Dubiel. The team grieved last season following the tragic death of their quarterback, and Dubiel said the players will never forget the lessons in leadership they learned from number 18.
Warren Hills returns 12 starters from a 5-5 team, as it hopes to compete for the Mid-State Raritan Division title and a sectional championship in North 1 Group 4. Most of the team’s graduation losses came on the line.
On the offensive line, Mark Formicelli is the only returning starter. Sophomore tackle Nick Galka will bring some needed size, along with junior Anthony Fischer and seniors Ryan Beckler, Connor McCormick and Kyle McShea.
Defensively, senior starters McCormick and Rashon Wade-Taylor anchor the linebackers. Also in the mix are senior Mike Balaney, junior Jake Webber, and sophomores Zach Hamilton, Garrett Koch and Dylan Stiles.
The Blue Streaks have a hard stretch of games from Sept. 24 to Oct. 14, when they play three out of four games away.
Warren Hills visits Summit on the 24th (1 p.m. kickoff), and Somerville on the 30th and Montgomery on Oct. 14 in 7 p.m. starts. Those games are sandwiched around a home game at 7 p.m. Oct. 7 against mighty Immaculata.
Hunterdon Central visits Warren Hills at 7 p.m. on Oct. 21 and then the Blue Streaks close the regular season with games involving their most spirited neighborhood rivalries, at Voorhees (7 p.m. Oct. 28) and the Tigers a week later.
Placekicker Kenny Kane, a sophomore from Belvidere, set a personal record by kicking seven extra points for the Moravian College Greyhounds in a 55-27 victory over visiting McDaniel, from Maryland, in a college game on Saturday.
Also, in cross country, Brian Spolarich won the boys race in a personal best time of 16:36 to spark Warren Hills to the B Division team title at the Randolph Invitational last weekend. North Hunterdon won the A Division championship.
Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.