River Dell Golden Hawks Varsity Football Team pulls off a stunning fourth-quarter comeback, shocks Ramapo 28-27
The River Dell Golden Hawks varsity football team was looking to wipe out the bad taste from a 45-6 loss to Northern Valley Old Tappan at River Dell High School, dropping their record to 2-3 on the season.
However, getting back to the .500 mark would not be an easy task facing a rival in Ramapo. The Raiders were sporting a potent offense that had tallied 40 plus points in their first four games despite coming off a 29-26 defeat to Northern Highlands but still posting a 4-1 record.
When the teams faced off against each other two years ago at Ramapo High School, the Golden Hawks ended Rampo's 26-game undefeated winning streak.
On a cool and crisp fall night at Ramapo High School, pre-game festivities would have a different vibe honoring the late and legendary head coach Drew Gibbs and renaming the field in his name.
Fire trucks lined up on the hill with banners for Drew Gibbs, the American Flag, and Ramapo Raiders. Several people spoke, including Drew Gibbs's son Brian Gibbs an emotional moment with a plaque presented to the Gibbs family.
The length of the ceremony forced the kickoff to be pushed back to 7:30 p.m. Both teams had a half-hour to forty-five minutes to warm up for the game.
River Dell senior quarterback Jake Sconza commented on rebounding from the loss to Northern Valley Old Tappan, the upcoming matchup-against Ramapo, and the late kickoff.
, "It was a very tough loss; we knew from the day after we would have to grind and get everyone on board and work off what we did wrong in that game. "It was a big statement game for us and we had a shot at these guys and we knew we had to come out and play our game of football because we knew they were a tough team."
"We arrived at Ramapo around 6:30 and we were not allowed to go out onto the field until 6:45 and it got a little chilly in the parking lot and we trying to keep ourselves warm and not interrupt the ceremony." "Once we got out onto the field it was a different warm-up because we put our pads on right away than we usually do and warm-up up to get our bodies loose."
Once the game got underway, the Raiders got the ball first and quickly drove down the field. The Ramapo offense had the ball at the River Dell ten-yard line when quarterback Jack Grusser attempted a pass to a wide receiver. Still, Golden Hawks senior defensive back Max Froonjian stepped in front for the interception and sprinted up the field deep into Raiders territory.
Max Froonjian on the pick, "That was a huge confidence booster because they were probably going to score on that drive." "Being able to pick that ball, getting our team read and everyone excited gave us the confidence."
Even with the terrific field position, the Golden Hawks' first drive ended in a turnover on downs. The teams exchanged three and outs on their ensuing offensive possessions.
With four and half minutes left in the first quarter, Ramapo was backed up deep in their territory, but quarterback Jack Grusser managed to complete a 30-yard pass to wide receiver Ben Robinson on third down.
On the next two plays running back Ethan Moran churned out yards on the ground. River Dell's defense pushed the Raiders' offense backward due to sacks from senior linebackers Nick and Scott Sybel. Facing third and 18 at the Golden Hawks' 44-yard line Grusser completed a 28-yard pass.
After Scott Sybel sacked Grusser for a second time on second down that set up third and six at the 22-yard line, Grusser took the snap, rolled out of the pocket, and lofted a 22-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Will Scordato with 46 seconds remaining.
The Golden Hawks' offense went to work starting late in the first quarter that carried into the second quarter. Bolstered by a solid kickoff return from sophomore Chris Kelm to the 35-yard line.
An essential play occurred early in the drive, with Jake Sconza gaining 16 yards on a QB keeper on a third and six at the 39-yard line. The River Dell offense benefitted from a pass interference call to move deeper into the Raiders' territory.
After Sconza ended up getting sacked, forcing a third and 13 at the 25-yard line, Sconza completed a 15-yard pass to Max Froonjian. On second and goal at the six-yard line, Sconza took the snap, rolled out to his right, and then raced to the right side, scooting just inside the endzone pylon for the score that capped a 12-play 65-yard drive that chewed up almost seven minutes of the clock.
"That was a great job, we took so much time off the clock, and that was our goal the whole game," Jake Sconza explained. "We wanted to take the ball nicely and slowly and drive it down the field." The offensive line had one hell of a drive there, every single play; they were hitting someone, and fantastic to see how much better they've gotten all year and how everyone trusts and has relationships with them, and it has grown significantly.
Ramapo got the ball back at their 38-yard line on the offensive possession. Just when it seemed running Ethan Moran was on the verge of a big running play, Max Froonjian charged in at full speed and ripped the ball out of Moran's hands.
"Our defense did an incredible job on that, we had six guys on top and Coach(DJ Nimphius) always talks about playing smart football," Max Froonjian described. "Instead of me going for the tackle I'm trying to get the ball out and I was able to get it but wouldn't be able to get do it without all of those guys."
The Golden Hawks defense continued to apply the heat on Raiders quarterback Jack Grusser with Nick Sybel recording his second sack.
Once the second half got underway, River Dell received the ball first and picked up where they left off in the first half dominating the time of possession.
The Golden Hawks' offense to a ball control scheme resulted in shaving six minutes off the clock. Eventually, being forced to punt the ball away turned into a miscue, with Raiders Will Scordato partially blocking the punt.
Ramapo did not waste any time re-taking the lead as Jack Grusser tossed a pass to wide receiver Ben Robinson in the flat, and Robinson burst down the right sidelines for a 42-yard score.
River Dell's offense responded with another impressive time-consuming drive. Jake Sconza completed a 20-yard pass to wide receiver Jack Carey, pushing the ball to midfield. Mixing up the running and passing game proved to be the perfect ingredient for the Golden Hawks.
Facing a fourth and one at the Raiders' 17-yard line Sconza plowed through the line for the first down. Early in the fourth quarter, on third and ten at the 16-yard, it appeared River Dell had gained a first down on a pass play, but a penalty backed up the Golden Hawks' offense. On fourth down, Sconza completed a pass to Jack Carey but was short of the first down marker resulting in a turnover on downs.
Ramapo quarterback Jack Grusser got ample time to survey the field on passing plays and effective blocking from the offensive line, completing a 37-yard pass to Ben Robinson that moved the ball to near midfield.
After an Ethan Moran run, Grusser locked in and completed four consecutive passes that advanced the ball to the River Dell five-yard line. On first and goal, Grusser handed the ball off to Moran, who surged forward, standing up into the end zone for the score with nine minutes left. However, a two-point conversion attempt was no good, leaving the score at 20-7.
Instead of feeling dejected and uncertainty creeping in, the Golden Hawks offense answered back decisively. Jake Sconza completed a critical 17-yard pass to Max Froonjian in third and 16 at the River Dell 32-yard line.
After a bunch of running plays, Sconza completed a pass to Jack Carey. An unsportsmanlike penalty against the Ramapo defense pushed the ball down to the 17-yard line. On first down, Sconza fired a pass to Max Fronnjian along the left sidelines. Froonjian shook off a defensive back and lunged headfirst into the end zone, culminating in a 10-play, 80-yard drive that needed just a little over three minutes to complete.
"That was a really good drive by us," Jake Sconza noted. "It was a great play by Max(Froonjian), he got the defender off him and into the end zone."
When it appeared the Golden Hawks had recaptured the momentum, Raiders kickoff returner Zach Scnorrdbusch returned the subsequent kickoff to the River Dell 48-yard line.
Ramapo would need one play to extend the advantage to double digits again. Running back Ethan Moran took the handoff from Jack Grusser, exploded through the line of the players, and galloped to the end zone for the score.
Getting the ball back with five minutes to go and the season was hanging in the balance, the Golden Hawks offense humming on all cylinders mustered another response. A six-play 70-yard drive with the highlight reel plays in Jake Sconza launching a 54-yard bomb in stride to Max Froonjian. Initially, the referees were unsure if the touchdown came around to ruling it a score.
"Me and Jake(Sconza) work hard out on the field for hours, running routes and translates to the games," Max Froonjian cited. "We were setting that play up the whole game when Jakes was in the huddle, he looked at me, and I knew right away what we were running, and he made a beautiful pass, and I was able to get it." We're always on the same page, talking and seeing what we can do better."
"It was a game changer that got the sidelines bumping and loud," Jake Sconza remarked. "Max(Froonjian) made a great catch and got into the end zone." Our defense had to get a three and out and the ball.
Jake Sconza(15 for 19, 195 yards) delivered a masterful passing performance in the fourth quarter, completing 8 of 11 passes for 129 yards. On the flip side, Max Froonjian(11 receptions for 162 yards) hauled five catches for 116 yards.
Special teams played a pivotal role in this game as well. River Dell senior placekicker Alejandro Carballeda drove the ball on the kickoff to the Raiders' 15-yard line.
The Golden Hawks' defense needed to come up with a defensive stop and provided that with grit and fortitude by forcing a quick three-and-out. Things would get even more interesting as the Raiders' punt traveled only seven yards.
The River Dell offense presented with a gold opportunity ran into a brick wall, a one-yard gain on a running play, and a couple of incomplete passes. Facing a crucial fourth and eight at the 21-yard line, Sconza dropped back into the pocket, rolled to his left, and fired a bullet pass to Max Froonjian along the left sidelines.
"I was not fazed at all and another opportunity for us to go win this game," Jake Sconza remarked. "On first down I didn't gain much yards, second down I go over to Coach Nimphius and said what we are going to do and we had a designed play for Max(Froonjian) and threw it over his head and bad play for me." "I go over to Coach and say what we are going to do and he's smiling and says run it again."
"I throw the ball, and it's a little hot, and Max dropped it." "Going back over to Coach Nimphius, and he's smiling even more again, and we run it." Max made an excellent play on the ball and got out of bounds." The crowd was bumping, and I could feel the field shaking and said wow, this is unreal, and what a situation to be in and got to complete this or unless I'm going to be real upset.
With 40 seconds remaining, Sconza ran the ball two plays in a row, advancing the ball to the four-yard line. On third and goal, Sconza took the snap and snuck behind many players across the goal line with eight seconds left. There was hesitation at first whether Sconza scored, but the referees did signal touchdown setting off a frenzy on the sidelines and in the stands.
"I saw they were clogging up they're A gaps, and bunched up inside," Jake Sconza said. "I kind of went around the offensive guard and then all of a sudden, Max(Froonjian) shoves, and I'm across the goal line." I looked up at the score and was oh my goodness, we just tied this game.
Alejandro Carballeda made all three of his extra point attempts, but this kick would be the most significant attempt of the game and his career, which he calmly did, drilling the kick straight through the uprights to put the Golden Hawks up 28-27.
"As soon as Jake(Sconza) got that ball across the goal line into the endzone, the PAT team was ready," Alejandro Carballeda explained. "We knew to have to do our job, and we practice every day and week and day in and out to get the job done." A lot goes into the kick, a good snap and hold, and a great block and get the ball off the ground, and it's something a lot of people don't look at and just the result of the play. Jack Carey is the long snapper, and Vin Doornheim is the holder.
Ramapo had one last attempt with Jack Grusser airing out a Hail Mary pass that fell incomplete, resulting in euphoria in the stands with family and fans as well as players and coaches on the field and the student section storming the field in a jubilant celebration.
Jake Sconza on the win, "There's no better feeling and can't believe this is happening." "I was with Coach Nimphius and then I see the whole student section rushing the field."
Max Froonjian on the victory," It's a huge one, especially after a couple of losses." "They're(Ramapo) a pretty good team, and it's always a good game." To win the game and get all the previous players texting us and saying congratulations is cool.
Alejandro Carballeda on the significance of the win for the senior class and support from the student section, "The seniors have been putting in a lot of work and means the world to us." "These games against are with us the rest of our lives and go down in history and the program." The freshmen are watching the seniors and whoever is playing on the field.
"It gives them motivation to go out and play for River Dell with passion." "The seniors want to go out as best as they could and make sure the future for the underclassmen and they have a good role model to follow."
"The storming of the field after the last play of the game ended was kind of seeing a TV show or a movie." "We really appreciate the guys and girls that come out and support and they're busy too and have their own sports and them coming out means the world to us."
A favorable schedule awaits River Dell with the final two remaining regular season games at home. Both are trophy games starting on Friday, October 14th, against Pascack Valley, with kickoff set for 6 p.m., followed by Paramus on Friday, October 21st.
"We're going to need a great week of practice and preparation and prepare the same we did for Ramapo," Jake Sconza described. "We can't have any steps back and have to put this game behind us and just know that we can play with anyone." I love our class of seniors; we have the best ones, and they're all great guys. We all got a close bond, and just awesome going out there every week and battling and going and winning games.