By Andy Loigu
With the NFL shield logo displayed on the 50-yard line at MetLife Stadium (the home of the Jets and Giants since 2010) the Hackettstown Tigers played for the North Jersey Section 2 Group 2 championship on Thursday evening. The locals fell one touchdown short of winning the school’s first football playoff championship since 1981, when Ron Griffith coached the Tigers to a state title at Giants Stadium.
Many former HHS players were among the approximately 1,000 Tigers’ supporters and despite the loss, the game and season had a classy, dignified conclusion, with the Hackettstown congregation showing its appreciation for the players’ effort by standing and cheering and displaying good sportsmanship while the Tigers came off the field. Hackettstown finished with an 8-4 record, with the four losses all coming to playoff qualifiers. Newton and Lakeland played each other in another section final during the weekend.
Three fumbles by the Tigers made the difference in the 21-13 defeat. The Tigers gained more total yards but the winning Rutherford Bulldogs (11-0) did not turn the ball over. Hackettstown’s triple-option offense with lots of ball fakes and play-action, outrushed Rutherford 219 yards to 127 and despite only throwing the ball six times, the Tigers gained 66 yards through the air.
Gaining large chunks of yardage on option-pitch plays that went to the outside and runs up the middle that were set up by the man-in-motion making the defense over commit to the edge, the Tigers answered two early Rutherford touchdowns and trailed 14-13 at halftime. Hackettstown got the first down on four-of-seven third down plays.
Rutherford appeared to make the right adjustments on defense in the second half. A team can practice defending an option offense, but can not simulate the speed with which coach CJ Robinson’s squad executes the plays. Once the Bulldogs faced the quick and deceptive Tigers on the field and got burned a few times, they stepped up their defensive game. That’s how good teams win.
Quarterback Nick Gagliardi and tailback TJ Sciaretta scored rushing touchdowns for the Tigers. Christian Maciak was the Tigers’ leading rusher with 64 yards on eight carries and caught a 23-yard pass. Sciaretta gained 59 yards on five carries and hauled in a 32-yard pass. Brandon Kuehner gained 50 yards on 10 carries and Matt Castro produced 46 yards on six totes.
Matt Macaulay caught a 22-yard pass and made a sack on defense. Tim Ervey caught a 12-yard aerial to keep a drive going.
Alan Hatten sacked the quarterback twice and Eddie O’Melia kicked a point-after conversion. His second try hit the goal post and bounced the wrong way.
Robinson’s teams have improved in each of his five seasons at the helm and the fans are hopeful that the best is yet to come.
Skyland Conference Honors
Several athletes from Belvidere and Warren Hills were honored on Skyland Conference All Star teams in cross country, field hockey, soccer, and volleyball by vote of the coaches last week.
In Mountain Division cross country, Braden Keenan of Belvidere was chosen to the first team. In the Valley Division, William Carroll and Alexa Westley of Warren Hills were named to the first team and Taras McBriar of the Blue Streaks made the second team.
Vivian Beaudoin of Warren Hills was named first team in Raritan Division volleyball, and her teammates Hailey Ford and Advika Thandoni were accorded second team and honorable mention, respectively.
In field hockey, the following Belvidere players earned first team honors in the Mountain Division: forwards Abby Bronico and Maddie Call, midfielders Melanie Clark and Mallory Keenan and defenders Samantha Dultz and Samantha Bittenbender. Second team honors went to forwards Angie Santini and Olivia Zymewski, defender Kinsey Lockard and goalkeeper Anya Logan.
From New Jersey Group 3 finalist Warren Hills, the following earned first team honors in the Raritan Division: forwards Rebecca Sigman and Samantha Dugan, midfielders Tali Popinko and Mikayla Dugan, and defenders Ashley and Sydney Moskal. Second team honors went to forward Alyssa Appleby, midfielder Rebecca Lezon and defenders Kate Fenner and Jessica DeSanto.
In boys soccer, Matt Tubens of Warren Hills earned first team honors in the Raritan Division, and Hunter Iverson and Sean Soosa made the second team.
From the Belvidere Big Red, Matt Gallagher, Kevin Stahl, Joe Casterline and Tim Toth all were chosen to the first team in the Mountain Division. Ed and Lou Turner made the second team.
In girls soccer, Andrea Egerer of Warren Hills earned first team honors in the Valley Division, and goalkeeper Angela Accetturo made the second team.
From Belvidere, Sierra May and Niya Tartaglia earned first team honors in the Mountain Division. and Taylor Beaumont and Nicole Gubitosi made the second team.
Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.