Old Tappan Gives North Jersey its First Group Champion
Photo by Anthony Ferrara (@af.visualsss)
The game most believed would be the best of the weekend did not disappoint. The Delsea Crusaders and Old Tappan Golden Knights are two of the state’s heavyweights, and they met on the grandest stage of them all in the Group 3 Championship at SHI Stadium on Rutgers’ campus in Piscataway. The Crusaders came in the favorite, rolling through their schedule. Old Tappan had some things to say about that, pulling out of the back and forth battle in the fourth quarter and securing North Jersey their first championship.
The first half was full of running, both in play calls and time on the clock. Both quarters flew by, with Old Tappan’s Aidan Heaney and Delsea’s Wayne Adair and Jared Schoppe controlling the game on the ground. Delsea started the game with the ball, making a gutsy decision to go for it on fourth-and-inches around their own 30 yard line. Quarterback Jimmy Reardon got the first down, but Old Tappan forced a fumble on the next play. The Golden Knights were then faced with a fourth down, and also converted on a six yard run from Heaney. Quarterback Tommy Caracciolo found wide receiver Jack Diggins for 23 yards on the next play to move to the one yard line. Caracciolo would take the QB keeper up the middle for the yard gain and put the game’s first six points on the board. Old Tappan took the 7-0 lead on the extra point attempt.
Delsea would respond with a touchdown of their own in the second quarter after some drives of back-and-forth. The Crusaders forced a fumble and took over in Old Tappan territory. Adair and Schoppe would pick up subsequent first downs to get to first and goal, followed by a menacing run from Wayne Adair with a stiff arm inside the five yard line to get into the end zone.
The most interesting drive I have ever seen in my time watching football, amateur and professional alike, then took place. Caracciolo had the green light to air the ball out, and he went right up the field on big passes to Diggins and Evan Brooks. Caracciolo would then take a designed quarterback run for 15 yards to get inside the 10. What happened next? Pure madness. A few plays and penalties later, it was 2nd and goal. Delsea’s Joel Anderson came off the edge like a missile and dropped Caracciolo in the backfield. He followed it up with a huge tackle for loss on a shovel pass behind the line. This set up a 3rd and goal from the 31 yard line. Old Tappan completed a pass to the 10 yard line, but an offensive holding would send them to 3rd and goal from the 45. With 45 yards in front of them, Caracciolo got the ball to Brooks on the 13. Kicker Nico Ottomanelli proceeded to drill a 28-yarder, but a roughing the kicker penalty reset the downs and allowed Caracciolo to find Heaney on a slant from six yards out. Old Tappan would carry this 14-7 lead into halftime.
Delsea would tie the game with the lone score of the third quarter, with their run game moving them completely down the field. Adair took a swing pass in the backfield 16 yards to the 38 yard line. Some shorter rushes moved them past midfield until Schoppe turned on the jets from the Old Tappan 42 yard line all the way to the 3. He ran the score in himself and knotted the game at 14. The Golden Knights would respond, going 60 yards down field on 15 plays in 7:28. They could not find the endzone but Ottomanelli nailed a 46 yard kick that sailed just past the crossbar. Ottomanelli’s automatic leg and long range would give Old Tappan a 17-14 lead. They were not done yet, as defensive back Andrew Pinkus picked off Reardon to give the Golden Knights the ball back right outside of the red zone. They would not even need to get into the red zone, with Evan Brooks making a great catch and extension to the pylon for the score. The game would be decided on a stop by the Old Tappan defense. They had plenty of contributors throughout the night, with Diggins and Brooks racking up 13 and 9 tackles respectively. Defensive backs Andrew Pinkus and Tim Clune would make a difference on the last few drives as Delsea started to pass the ball in desperation. With the 10 point lead, Old Tappan would hold the Delsea offense and get a huge tackle for loss on fourth down to ice the game and crown themselves champions of Group 3 football.