River Dell Golden Hawks varsity football team puts forth a valiant effort in a 28-26 loss to Bergenfield
The River Dell Golden Hawks varsity football team(0-2) hosted the Bergenfield Bears(1-1) at River Dell High School in Oradell, New Jersey. River Dell was coming off a 27-7 loss to Parsippany Hills in the 2023 regular-season and home opener.
Initially, the sun peaked through cloudy skies and became overcast as nighttime fell and kickoff approached. A special occasion with Alumni Night as members of past Golden Hawks varsity football teams were honored.
River Dell received the opening kickoff as junior kickoff returner Chris Kelm electrified the home crowd with a dazzling 53-yard return to the Bergenfield 40-yard line.
Golden Hawks sophomore quarterback Zion Yoon made his first start under the center. "I worked hard this offseason and hoped to get a shot on varsity," Zion Yoon explained. "At the end of the day, I thank God for the opportunity provided for me to play for the school and with coaches and teammates."
River Dell managed to advance the ball down to the Bears' 17-yard line as Yoon completed a couple of passes combined with a nine-yard run by sophomore running back Cain Lanza. However, the drive ultimately stalled out, and Yoon stopped short of the first down marker on fourth and three, resulting in a turnover on downs.
The Golden Hawks got the ball back at their 18-yard line with three and a half minutes remaining in the quarter. Zion Yoon completed a 23-yard pass to junior wide receiver RJ Weiss, providing much-needed breathing space. The offensive line clearing out room enabled the running game to churn out yardage.
Once inside Bergenfield territory, River Dell continued to pound and ground and drove the ball further down the field. On first and ten at the 22-yard line, Zion Yoon took the snap in shotgun formation, then dropped back in the pocket and fired a pass to RJ Weiss on the right side of the field. Weiss evaded one defensive player and plowed his way into the end zone for the touchdown with five seconds left. The extra point was no good, as the score was 6-0.
"We always work on pass protection every single day of practice," Zion Yoon described. "We watch film on how the opposition attacks the line of scrimmage then the offensive line is able to protect me and give me enough to get the passes off." "It's awesome to have a teammate(RJ Weiss) you can trust and give them the ball and it was a really great run by him."
In the second quarter, the Bears controlled the ball for much of the time. Holding the ball for almost five minutes, Bergenfield bulldozed its way to the Golden Hawks six-yard line.
However, the River Dell defense dug a line in the trenches and forced the Bears into settling for a field goal attempt that ended up in a botched snap, and the Golden Hawks took possession of the football.
The Bergenfield offense got back in rhythm after the River Dell offense had a quick three-and-out on their offensive series. Quarterback Gabe Perez showcased his running abilities with a 15-yard scamper and then busting out for a 56-yard jaunt that pushed the ball down to the Golden Hawk's one-yard line.
The Bears offense again sputtered as miscues with the snaps backed the football up. Bergenfield had to settle for another field goal attempt, but this time, a success as kicker Josh Hur belted home a 27-yard field goal, making it 6-3.
River Dell got the ball back with 1:55 remaining, but Mother Nature decided to have a say in the game's flow as lightning and thunderstorms halted play and forced the teams back to their respective locker rooms and fans to evacuate the field and find shelter.
A two-hour prolonged delay ensued before the game could resume. First, the second quarter had to finish before the second half commenced. Most fans have left for good, but many people, including the River Dell student section, still stuck around.
Zion Yoon, on the lengthy weather delay, "We didn't take a break, only physically but mentally we were getting ourselves prepared and talking about how we could adjust on offense and defense." "Coach(DJ Nimphius) told us not to take our mind off the game because it was a mental battle and lock in and stay in it."
The Golden Hawks adhered to that message once play was underway. Benefitting from a pair of personal foul penalties assessed against the Bears' defense allowed the River Dell offense to proceed near the red zone.
A false start penalty and a couple of incomplete passes forced a critical fourth and 15 at the 21-yard line. Zion Yoon took the snap, then dropped back in the pocket and lofted a high-arching pass towards the right side of the end zone as RJ Weiss battled the defensive back and backpedaled and reeled in the catch for the touchdown as the home crowd erupted in unison. The extra point attempt could have been better as the Golden Hawks led 12-3.
"RJ's a very reliable target that I trust very much," Zion Yoon noted. "We always practice those routes and at the end of the day it came down to our fundamentals and how we have been always running things and were able to execute that on the field."
Bergenfield should have spent more time responding to the River Dell score. On a third and eight at the 30-yard line, quarterback Gabe Perez took the snap in shotgun formation, then rolled out of the pocket to his right and unleashed a 70-yard strike down the middle of the seam to Josh Hur as Hur sprinted to the end zone. The Bears trimmed the Golden Hawks advantage to 12-10 early in the third quarter.
The back-and-forth action picked up in earnest as River Dell benefitted from an excellent starting field position as Cain Lanza returned the kickoff to the Golden Hawks' 43-yard line.
Zion Yoon spread the wealth on passing plays, connecting with senior Nick Kelly and junior Tyler Datz, who moved the ball down to the Bergenfield 31-yard line. On first down, Yoon took the snap in shotgun formation, faked the handoff, then broke loose through a sea of players into the clear and scooted 31 yards to the house. Nick Kelly hammered home the extra point that extended the River Dell lead to 19-10 with nine minutes in change to go.
"We practice that play during the week and executed it perfectly," Zion Yoon stated. "It just showed how hard we worked on that play and just as a team together."
The Golden Hawks' defense came up with another big play as Nick Kelly registered his second pick and returned the ball to the Bears' 42-yard line. Those good vibes were short-lived as River Dell coughed up the football on a pass play from Zion Yoon to Tyler Datz, and Bergenfield recovered a fumble at their 30-yard line.
With less than three minutes left in the third quarter, the Bears had the ball at their 23-yard line. Quarterback Gabe Perez orchestrated a substantial 11-play 77-yard drive that stretched into the fourth quarter, culminating in Perez taking the snap in shotgun formation and keeping the football as he barreled his way through a maze of players and dove into the end zone for the touchdown narrowed the gap to 19-17.
River Dell had the ball at their 29-yard on the ensuing offensive possession, which would be in a blitz as Zion Yoon's pass along the right side of the field ended up with Bergenfield defense back Aaron Cruz intercepting the ball and returning it for a touchdown. The Bears went for the two-point conversion as Gabe Perez took the snap and then rolled to his right before cutting back up the middle into the end zone, making the score 25-19.
The Golden Hawks appeared to have tied the game up spectacularly on an 86-yard bomb from Zion Yion to Chris Kelm, but an illegal man downfield penalty wiped out the game-changing play and forced a punt. However, the defense stepped up in the clutch, forcing a fumble with junior Nick Berbarian recovering the football at the Bergenfield 31-yard line.
Working with a short field aided the River Dell offense. Zion Yoon connected on a 21-yard pass to Nick Kelly, advancing the ball to the 12-yard line. On second and goal from the 11-yard line, Zion Yoon took the snap, then dropped back in the pocket and heaved a pass to the right corner of the end zone to his favorite target, RJ Weiss, as Weiss corralled the ball while falling backward to the ground for the sensational touchdown. Nick Kelly split the uprights on the extra point that put the Golden Hawks back in front 26-25 with 5:36 remaining.
The Bears' offense started at their 23-yard line with 5:28 left on the clock. Quarterback Gabe Perez completed a critical 24-yard pass to wide receiver Francisco Valdez on second down and 15 at the 18-yard line.
Facing another crucial down on third down at the 45-yard line, Perez relied on his speed to gain meaningful yardage as he darted for a 23-yard gain. Bergenfield slowed the tempo by running the ball as minutes and seconds melted away.
With time winding down and one second remaining on the clock, the Bears attempted a 27-yard field goal. Despite a high snap, kicker Josh Hur booted home the game-winning field goal as the Bergenfield sidelines celebrated with the Bears fans. Bergenfield emerged victorious 28-26, dropping River Dell to 0-2 on the season.
"It was a tough loss, but we improved a lot since our first week and trying to build off that," Zion Yoon said. "I'm really confident in the team we have, and our coaches see that." "We're going to get better week after week and we know what we're capable of and the expectations."
"Obviously we should have won this game, but it didn't end up that way." "These first two losses are really going to motivate our team and our confidence has not wavered." "There's no doubt we're going to bounce back from this."
The Golden Hawks wrap up their three-game homestand in the annual "Bird Bowl" against Westwood Cardinals. Westwood has dominated this season as they're undefeated at 3-0 and have outscored their opponents 114-19. On Thursday, September 14th, at River Dell High School, Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
"We're going to stick to our offense, and nothing is going to change," Zion Yoon cited. "We're not going to back down from the challenge and we know how good they are and not going to stop us from executing what we do on the field."