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No controversy this time as Westwood football topples Rutherford for sectional title

TOWNSHIP OF WASHINGTON – No doubt on this one.Westwood quarterback Robbie Carcich threw three touchdown passes, all on fourth downs, as the Cardinals got by Rutherford, 20-7, Friday night in a battle of unbeaten teams for the North 1, Group 2 title.Westwood (11-0) intercepted a pass on the second play of the game and jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and limited the Bulldogs offense.“We just wanted to get a ring,” Carcich said. “We didn’t care how it was done.&rdq...

TOWNSHIP OF WASHINGTON – No doubt on this one.

Westwood quarterback Robbie Carcich threw three touchdown passes, all on fourth downs, as the Cardinals got by Rutherford, 20-7, Friday night in a battle of unbeaten teams for the North 1, Group 2 title.

Westwood (11-0) intercepted a pass on the second play of the game and jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and limited the Bulldogs offense.

“We just wanted to get a ring,” Carcich said. “We didn’t care how it was done.”

The same two teams met in the sectional final last year with Westwood winning 21-20 in a game decided on the final play, a disputed two-point try by Rutherford stopped at the goal line.

Check out the photo gallery, then continue reading.

What it means

Westwood will host Bernards (12-0) in the Group 2 state semifinals next Friday night. The Mountaineers beat Lakeland, 23-17 in overtime, in the North 2, Group 2 sectional final.

The Cardinals lost in the Group 2 semifinals last year to Caldwell.

“Last year ended the way we didn’t want it to, and our overall goal is to be the best team in Group 2, but we take it one week at a time, as boring as that sounds, that’s our mentality,” first-year Westwood coach Bobby Guy said. “We focus on our opponent, we don’t look ahead. We don’t look behind. Our guys did a tremendous job of preparing for this week.”

Rutherford won the NJIC title for a record third straight year and ends the season at 10-1.

Pleading the fourth

Steve Klein intercepted the first Rutherford pass of the game, but the Cardinals initially struggled to move the ball, facing a fourth-and-17 at their own 37-yard line. It was too far to kick a field goal, so Westwood went for it and Carcich launched a perfect pass to Joe Klein in the back of the end zone for the first score.

Later in the first quarter, the Cardinals faced a similar situation. Facing a fourth-and-7 at the Bulldogs' 25-yard line, Carcich connected with Thomas Bussanich for the score.

Those two scores were enough.

“It just happened to be this week, it was the Klein brothers, next week it could Bussanich, we have so many guys that we have trust in,” Carcich said. “That’s what happens when you have faith in every guy in red − or black in this case − to do their job Friday night, we will be one successful team.”

Carcich connected with Michael Rinaldi for a 5-yard TD pass late in the third quarter, also on fourth down, to make it 20-0.

I Spy

Rutherford kept Carcich in check running the ball, leaving their linebackers and standout Ryan Ward to watch him in the pocket.

“First play, I dropped back to pass and [Ward] wasn’t even rushing, he was giving me one of those death stares, like don’t come over here,” Carcich laughed. “He’s a great player, our defense did a great job shutting them down today. Rutherford is definitely the best team we played this year. We are just so happy to be on the winning side of this.”

Carcich’s longest run of the night went for 12 yards. He completed 18 of 28 passes for 217 yards.

They said it

“Coach Hard did me a favor and left me a really good football team,” said Guy, talking about former Cardinals coach Dennis Hard, who stepped down after last season. “I can’t thank him enough for all the mentorship he has given me. I was with him for nine years and I learned a lot. Its really all about toughness, play hard, play tough, play physical and those things still resonate."

St. Mary football makes triumphant return to playoffs amid best season since 2015

For 22 consecutive seasons, St. Mary of Rutherford was a fixture in the NJSIAA football playoffs.Then longtime coach Mike Sheridan retired in 2016, and although a few postseason appearances followed, the Gaels endured a 4-15 stretch from 2020-22.Friday night in Wayne, St. Mary returns to the playoffs after a three-year absence. The No. 6 seed in Non-Public B visits defending champion and No. 3 seed DePaul.The odds are long for the Gaels (6-4). Yet they’ve clinched their first winning season since 201...

For 22 consecutive seasons, St. Mary of Rutherford was a fixture in the NJSIAA football playoffs.

Then longtime coach Mike Sheridan retired in 2016, and although a few postseason appearances followed, the Gaels endured a 4-15 stretch from 2020-22.

Friday night in Wayne, St. Mary returns to the playoffs after a three-year absence. The No. 6 seed in Non-Public B visits defending champion and No. 3 seed DePaul.

The odds are long for the Gaels (6-4). Yet they’ve clinched their first winning season since 2015, and third-year coach Paul Johnsen has them trending in the right direction.

“The last time we were over .500, I was on Coach Sheridan’s staff as an assistant,” Johnsen said Tuesday. “I’ve dealt with a lot of different teams going into the state playoffs. I’ve dealt with teams that didn’t believe they could win when they could have won – they were just intimidated for some reason.

“The first thing is, the kids have got to believe,” he said. “And then we’ve got to play our best game, make sure that we execute our game plan well and see what happens.”

In the midst of the COVID pandemic, the St. Mary roster was down to 17 players. The number is now back up to 30, and rather than having players transfer out, a few have transferred in and become key contributors.

Entering last weekend’s 40-0 win over Albertus Magnus (N.Y.), Gaels running back Nasir Owens already had surpassed 1,000 yards rushing for the season.

“He transferred in from St. Joe’s last year, and he means a ton to the team,” Johnsen said of Owens. “Not only with his running style – he’s a physical runner – but his leadership in the locker room.”

Owens switched from outside to inside linebacker last season and is among the team leaders in tackles. The only senior on the roster is East Orange Campus transfer Jahsaii DeGrassi, who starts at cornerback.

“Last year [3-6 record], we were mostly freshmen and sophomores,” Johnsen said. “Now, we’re still a young team of mostly sophomores and juniors. So, it was just building it and letting them go through the tough part of growing pains.

“We’re not exactly where we want to be, but almost where we want to be.”

The next logical step forward would be contending for the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference title. The NJIC tournament began the year after St. Mary’s last winning season, and the school has yet to qualify.

But getting back into the state tournament is a good sign of progress. Many other key players are juniors, including QB Bradley Higgins, “elite wide receiver” (in Johnsen’s words) BJ Cunningham and jack-of-all-trades Kazier White, who has played Wildcat QB, fullback receiver and outside linebacker.

The NJSIAA brackets are not quite as friendly to smaller non-publics as they were back in the days of three-group alignment. DePaul, an SFC United Division stalwart, is not only a much larger school but also has been tested by sterner competition.

Yet Johnsen knows that facing such a challenge could benefit St. Mary in the long run.

“If we don’t win the game, we get to see where we measure up moving forward against some of the best teams in the state,” he said.

Freshman goes from ball boy to starting QB for NJIC champions in three weeks | Cooper

PARK RIDGE – Myles Balchan’s record as a starter for the Rutherford freshman team this year?1-1-1.His record as the Bulldogs varsity starter?1-0.Rutherford earned its record third straight NJIC football title with a dominating win over Park Ridge, 26-7, on Friday night....

PARK RIDGE – Myles Balchan’s record as a starter for the Rutherford freshman team this year?

1-1-1.

His record as the Bulldogs varsity starter?

1-0.

Rutherford earned its record third straight NJIC football title with a dominating win over Park Ridge, 26-7, on Friday night.

It rained hard, harder and ridiculously hard at times. Somehow the 14-year-old Balchan never looked bothered.

Check out the photo gallery, then continue reading.

His numbers weren’t super flashy – he completed four of six passes and he split time with Cole Goumas and Ryan Ward at quarterback − but the story Friday night was the freshman wearing No. 8 and a pinch-me grin.

“Not really, to be honest,” Balchan said when asked if he could believe he was here. “This is just crazy.”

Balchan was the ball boy, not even in uniform, when junior starting quarterback Chris Gioia suffered an injury against Pompton Lakes.

“There was a lot of stuff going on when it happened,” Balchan said. “A lot of stuff going through everyone’s head, not just me, but our defense, everyone was in a tough spot. Everyone had to step up.”

The job of solving the problem fell to Rutherford offensive coordinator Sean Ryan.

As a Group 2 school – albeit a good one – varsity quarterbacks aren't just walking around the hallways waiting to be put in. Ryan knew he could use Goumas in spots, but that would hurt the Bulldogs' running game. He knew he had Ward, a North Carolina commit, but making him the full-time QB would leave a void at receiver/tight end.

So the idea became: why not use all three?

“It took us a little bit against Hawthorne [in the NJIC semis] to find the recipe,” Ryan said. “But Myles is a great freshman who is going to have a great career here. He’s playing way beyond his years as a freshman. He has a lot of poise and he did some really good things and moved the ball down the field for us today, and most importantly, he was protecting the football.”

In an effort to miss the rain, the game was pushed up by an hour to a 6 p.m. start. It didn’t help. The rain came in waves in the first quarter, and so did Rutherford. Ward scored on a Wildcat sneak on the Bulldogs' first drive. Goumas scored on a 5-yard run on Rutherford’s second drive.

It was 13-0 before Park Ridge got a first down.

Balchan the had his moment, connecting with Matt Scheibe on a quick slant – not the easiest of throws in the rain – and Scheibe racing 62 yards to the Owls 8-yard line. Goumas scored from there to make it 20-0.

Balchan said he only had about 20 plays in his playbook, but he made a big one when it counted.

“We talked to Myles and he was very nervous,” Rutherford coach Steve Dunn said. “I expected him to take care of the ball and put us in position to win. We didn’t expect him to win the game. We wanted the other kids to step up because it wasn’t going to be on the freshman to win the game in his first-ever start. I think everyone stepped up around him and put him in position to make plays.”

Rutherford (8-0) followed the same script that has made them the power in the NJIC since it was formed. The Bulldogs were better up front and they had speed outside. They were resilient. They've now played in five title games and won four crystal footballs, the most of any team in the conference.

Moving on, things will only get tougher for Rutherford. Group 2 is not easy. Westwood looms. The two schools played a classic last year in a sectional final that came down to a final, disputed play near the goal line.

Balchan is a three-sport athlete whose dad played wide receiver at Rutherford. He moved to Rutherford when he was in first grade, bypassed flag football and became a quarterback. He loves the game and he’s going to be a big part of Rutherford’s near and distant future.

“He was a kid coming in that we knew would be real special,” Ryan said. “He was having a great freshman year with that squad, and he’s come here and embraced the challenge. He feels confident in himself and the guys around him. We feel real good with him moving forward.”

Hanover Park baseball storms past Rutherford to win sectional championship

EAST HANOVER − Nothing was going to get the 12 seniors of Hanover Park baseball off the field.Nothing but the incoming lightning, that is.An abbreviated celebration on the field spilled into the school's auxiliary gym, and pictures were taken under a basketball hoop instead of near home plate. Regardless of the change in scenery, the Hornets enjoyed one more victory at home on Friday, a 10-0 win over Rutherford in the North 2, Group 2 baseball sectional final.Despite the big margin, it was actually s...

EAST HANOVER − Nothing was going to get the 12 seniors of Hanover Park baseball off the field.

Nothing but the incoming lightning, that is.

An abbreviated celebration on the field spilled into the school's auxiliary gym, and pictures were taken under a basketball hoop instead of near home plate. Regardless of the change in scenery, the Hornets enjoyed one more victory at home on Friday, a 10-0 win over Rutherford in the North 2, Group 2 baseball sectional final.

Despite the big margin, it was actually small ball that put Hanover Park ahead early on.

In each of the first two innings, the Hornets had a leadoff hitter reach base, get sacrificed over to second base and come around to score. Mark Ruccio scored on a sacrifice fly for the first run, while Jack Massarano scored on a wild pitch that gave the Hornets a 2-0 lead through two innings.

"We work on bunting all the time," coach Doug Wear said. "We will bring out the machine and gas it up to about 85 or 90 and just work on bunts. People don't like to bunt anymore, but we knew if we were gonna beat a team like Rutherford, we would need to do the little things and do them right."

In the bottom of the fourth inning, Hanover Park broke through, batting around to score five runs and drive Rutherford starter Sam Kelly out of the game. With one run home and the bases loaded with two away, consecutive two-RBI doubles by Alex Cheringal and Joe LoPinto gave the Hornets a 7-0 cushion.

LoPinto did the rest on the mound, coming in during the second inning to relieve starter Toby Smith on a low pitch limit. LoPinto threw 66 pitches across 3⅓ innings, getting Hanover Park through the fifth inning with a commanding 9-0 advantage.

What it means

It's the second title in three years for Hanover Park. But despite returning 12 seniors, the preseason outlook was not great after losing last spring in the sectional final.

The Hornets entered the season without some impactful players, but the current group of upperclassmen made an impact as the team went undefeated in the NJAC Liberty division and did not lose a single home game all season.

As for what is next, Hanover Park moves on to Monday's Group 2 semifinals to face Pascack Hills with a trip to the next weekend's Group 2 final at stake. In their final game on their home field Friday, Wear reflected upon the impact of his senior class.

"They're part of an era," Wear said. "It's the last game they'll ever play on this field so when they ever come back here, they'll know they left with some hardware."

Key play

Rutherford threatened all afternoon, leaving 13 runners on base without being to plate any of them. The greatest threat came with the bases loaded in the top of the third inning, trailing 2-0. Junior Cole Goumas laced a ball to right-center field but senior Charlie Rafanello was playing the shift and was able to slide for an attempt at the catch.

"My glove is really old, so I couldn't feel if it was in my glove at first," Rafanello said. "When I saw that it was there, I got hyped."

Rafanello's sliding grab kept the Bulldogs off the scoreboard and preserved the Hanover Park lead. Rutherford did not have another batter reach third base again until the sixth inning.

"It's so euphoric," Rafanello said. "It's an individual moment and you don't know at the time how big it's going to be in terms of the entire game."

Game ball

Senior Joe LoPinto was going to be handed the ball on Friday, but got it a little earlier than expected as Smith was unable to fend off fatigue. A Canisius commit, LoPinto faced Rutherford for the first time since last season's sectional semifinals, when he struck out 11 and held the Bulldogs to two runs on seven hits in a complete game.

LoPinto stabilized the game and and let the Hanover Park offense stand up, allowing four hits in 3⅓ innings, striking out four and keeping Rutherford off the board to earn the win in relief.

"Joe is our strike thrower," Wear said. "He threw in the Group 2 final for us two years ago as a sophomore and we have been fortunate to ride him and Toby as a 1-2 punch for three years now."

LoPinto also laced a two-run double to cap off a five-run inning for the Hornets to put the game out of reach in his final home game. LoPinto was quick to rank this game atop his accomplishments in Hanover Park.

"It's gotta be No. 1," LoPinto said. "I've been playing with some of these guys since we were 6 years old, so to do this with them, there's nothing like it."

They said it

"It's very emotional. There's no words. It's hard to explain what these guys mean to me." − Hanover Park senior Joe LoPinto.

"Our team is so bonded. We don't leave the diamond and stop being friends. We're best friends everywhere. It's great to win anywhere, but it's special to do it in your home town with your best friends." − Hanover Park senior Charlie Rafanello.

HS Volleyball: Rutherford Drops Hasbrocuck Heights

By TAPinto Hasbrouck Heights/Wood-Ridge/Teterboro StaffRUTHERFORD, NJ – Priscilla Escamilla had 13 assists, eight digs, and four service aces, but it was not enough has Rutherford defeated Hasbrouck Heights, 25-19, 25-14 in an NJIC non-divisional girls volleyball match in Rutherford Friday afternoon.Cate Finan had 13 assists and 11 digs to lead the Bulldogs, while Cecelia Davidson had 18 service points, including two aces.Samantha Russo had five kills and five digs, while Mackenzie Riordan had fou...

By TAPinto Hasbrouck Heights/Wood-Ridge/Teterboro Staff

RUTHERFORD, NJ – Priscilla Escamilla had 13 assists, eight digs, and four service aces, but it was not enough has Rutherford defeated Hasbrouck Heights, 25-19, 25-14 in an NJIC non-divisional girls volleyball match in Rutherford Friday afternoon.

Cate Finan had 13 assists and 11 digs to lead the Bulldogs, while Cecelia Davidson had 18 service points, including two aces.

Samantha Russo had five kills and five digs, while Mackenzie Riordan had four kills and three digs for the Lady Aviators.

Hasbrouck Heights falls to 0-2 with the loss, while Rutherford improves to 1-1

Hasbrouck Heights (0-2) 19 14 0 0
Rutherford (1-1) 25 25 0 2
Hasbrouck Heights Kills Blocks Digs Assists Service Points Aces
Priscilla Escamilla 0 0 8 13 4 0
Anna Lisse Vasquez 3 0 2 0 3 0
Samantha Russo 5 0 1 0 2 0
Daniella LeConte 0 0 5 0 3 1
Mackenzie Riordan 4 0 3 0 4 1
Lauren Fausette 0 0 1 0 0 0
Vienna Skye Dates 0 0 6 0 0 0
Totals: 12 0 26 13 16 2
Rutheford Kills Blocks Digs Assists Service Points Aces
Mackenzie Vellis 7 2 7 0 3 0
Cate Finan 1 0 11 13 5 0
Janina Barna 0 0 1 0 0 0
Maya Forte 0 1 0 0 0 0
Tessa Davidson 4 1 2 4 4 1
Abigail Moller 2 0 1 0 0 0
Elena Struble 4 0 4 0 0 0
Cecelia Davidson 0 0 3 0 18 2
Totals: 18 4 29 17 30 3

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