A Student's Perspective: NJSIAA public state finals at Rutgers University
The Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan football team celebrates its 24-14 win over Delsea in the NJSIAA Group 3 state final with its fans at Rutgers' University's SHI Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey on Saturday, December 3, 2022. Ryan Fuhs/D2 Sports Network
D2 Sports Network's latest series, "A Student's Perspective," offers an inside look at a sideline reporting standpoint from the eyes of a high school student. This week, Jacob Girnius, a student at Cherokee High School, provides his thoughts on last Saturday's NJSIAA public state final matchups at Rutgers University's SHI Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey:
Mountain Lakes vs. Woodbury
The first game of the day matched up Mountain Lakes (11-1 record) from North Jersey against Woodbury (11-2) from South Jersey. Many Mountain Lakes fans positioned themselves along the edge of the stands closest to side lines on the northwest side of SHI Stadium in Piscataway, NJ. Meanwhile the Woodbury fans showed up in bunches as well, with the majority of them choosing to stay dry beneath the awning towards the concourse on the southeast side of SHI Stadium.
As the wind was blew and rains poured, media members could be seen with just about anything they could find being used to cover their cameras- t-shirts, hoodies, trash bags.
Both teams got at it, with both defenses looking strong in the first half.
It took both offenses a minute to get rolling, but eventually with 8:32 left in the second quarter, Mountain Lakes running back Nico Dunn capitalized on a 17-yard run for the first touchdown of the afternoon. This went on to be the only score of the first half. both teams headed back to their locker rooms with roaring crowds.
After the halftime show was performed by the Woodbury cheerleaders, the teams stormed back out of the locker room to the sounds of fans screaming as loud as their bodies would let them.
The Thundering Herd absolutely took over in the second half.
Woodbury started off the third quarter with a quick 19-yard touchdown pass to Ibn Muhammad less than four minutes into the quarter, cutting the deficit to the 7-6. Another score came when Anthony Reagan Jr. darted for an eight-yard touchdown, giving the Thundering Herd a 12-7 lead. Woodbury fans were ecstatic as their team took their first lead of the day.
Flashing to the fourth quarter, with just over seven minutes left, Reagan, Jr. added his second touchdown of the afternoon on a one yard run to establish an 18-7 lead. Next, Wilson Torres came up big with a 33-yard interception return touchdown to give Woodbury a 24-7 advantage. Derron Moore finished off the contest with a one-yard touchdown.
All in all, this was a huge defensive game on both sides, with Woodbury's defense proving to be the stronger of the two. The Thundering Herd were crowned the first ever public-school state champions in New Jersey history.
Old Tappan vs. Delsea
The second kickoff of the day placed Old Tappan (12-1) against Delsea (12-1 record).
The stands were packed and loud.
As the winds slowed and the rain tapered off, more and more fans flocked to SHI Stadium to watch their respective team's attempt at the state title.
The Golden Knights' defense went right to work by forcing a turnover. This provided their offense with the opportunity to score, and they did just that. Tommy Caracciolo ran for the one-yard touchdown to help establish a 7-0 lead.
It took a little while for Delsea to come up with an answer, but just over four minutes into the second quarter Wayne Adair answered with a six-yard touchdown run.
The Delsea Regional High School student section cheers on its team in the NJSIAA Group 3 state final at Rutgers' University's SHI Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey on Saturday, December 3, 2022. Ryan Fuhs/D2 Sports Network
The Golden Knights showed no signs of discourage as Caracciolo found Aidan Heaney for the seven-yard touchdown pass to increase the lead to14-7 with 2:06 left in the half. Both programs entered the locker rooms at intermission with fans cheering as loud as artillery cannons.
The story of the second half: Old Tappan take-over.
With 2:10 left in the third quarter, Delsea capitalized on an 11-play, 80-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run by Jared Schoppe. The lone score of the quarter tied the contest at 14-14.
The fourth quarter also had a relatively slow start, but Old Tappan eventually scored on a 46-yard field goal kicked by Nico Ottomanelli to stretch the lead to17-14. In under a minute, the Golden Knights had the ball back in their hands, thanks to an interception by Andrew Pinkus. They capitalized on the turnover with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Evan Brooks to establish a 24-14 lead.
Overall, Old Tappan prevailed in its underdog story and proved its worth by becoming the first ever New Jersey Group 3 state champion.
Northern Highlands vs. Millville
The third match-up of the day placed Northern Highlands (9-4) against Millville (12-2).
Surprisingly, this game appeared to have the smallest fan attendance. As winds started to pick back up, and temperatures dropped, viewing conditions grew unbearable.
Millville's offense got right to it with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Jacob Zamot to Lotzeir Brooks. Zamot showed how lethal he can be as a passer when awarded time in the pocket.
In the second quarter, Danny Smiechowski was found open in the endzone by Northern Highlands quarterback J.R. Wally for a 10-yard touchdown pass. The score helped establish a 7-6 lead for the Highlanders. Wally followed up his first touchdown with a seven-yard strike to Luke Saturn to increase the lead to eight points.
Millville worked its magic later in the quarter, covering 73 yards in just eight plays capped by an eight-yard touchdown run by Na'eem Sharp. The final score of the first half cut the Thunderbolts' deficit to two points.
The players from both teams came back out after halftime looking ready for war. The fans grew louder, and tensions were high with 24 minutes left in the competition.
Zamot found Freddie Lavan III for a two-yard touchdown pass into the end zone to give Millville an 18-14 lead.
All in all, this was a balanced game, offensively and defensively, for both teams. The Thunderbolts ended up having the upper hand and being crowned the Group 4 state champions.