Jake Sconza accounts for 4 TD’s in River Dell’s 31-20 win over Westwood


Coming off a tough 20-7 loss at West Essex the previous week, the River Dell Golden Hawks returned to action. Facing archrival Westwood in the 2021 regular season home-opener at River Dell High School as well as the 41st meeting in the 'Bird Bowl' with the winner of the game hoisting up the 'Bird Cage' trophy.

Both teams had split the series, each winning 20 games apiece. The Golden Hawks controlled the edge in the series, winning the last five games.

Initially scheduled for a 6 p.m. kickoff on Friday, the game was shifted to an early 11 a.m. start on Saturday. A hot day with temperatures hovering in the 80's with a mixture of sun and clouds. A solid turnout of students, parents, and fans in the stands and behind the fences.

Changing up their usual routine of walking down the pathway to the field, the River Dell varsity football team bursting through a banner held by the cheerleaders on the field to the crowd's applause and music from the marching band.

Senior Aidan Cochran on the week of preparation for the game, "This week of practice was very good, our first day of practice was with just helmets but we practiced like it was full pads." "When we got a new week, we knew it was going to be different than last week." We wanted to get back from the loss and make a difference out of it.

"We were all excited, we wanted to come that we were all awake even though we got there pretty early in the morning." "Everyone was juiced up, our first game at home since last year and we didn't even have the student section and amazing environment to play on our home turf and show the community what we're about."

The Golden Hawks received the opening kickoff to start the game. Immediately the offense swiftly moved the ball down the field. Once inside the red zone, the Cardinals' defense dialed up the pressure. Facing a fourth and eight at the 11-yard line, an incomplete pass from junior quarterback Jake Sconza resulted in a turnover on downs.

The River Dell defense matched that intensity forcing Westwood into a quick three and out on their first offensive series. A short punt placed the ball at the Cardinals' 40 yard-line. Sconza completed a pair of passes that advanced the ball down to the 18-yard line.

However, the drive stalled out at that point, with Jake Sconza throwing three consecutive incomplete passes. Faced with whether to either go for it or kick the field goal, Head Coach Dj Nimphius sent out the field goal unit. Making his kicking debut, junior Alejandro Carballeda displayed ice water in his veins booting home a 34-yard field goal with less than two minutes remaining.

"Alejandro(Carballeda) wasn't our kicker the first two weeks, he came out there and hit the 34-yard field goal," Aidan Cochran explained. "I think we found our kicker that kick those distances."

After the defense forced a second straight three and out, the Golden Hawks offense was back out on the field early into the second quarter. Jake Sconza spread the ball around to different wide receivers and utilized his speed running the ball. Inside the red zone for a third time, Sconza ran the ball three consecutive times, culminating in a one-yard plunge with less than nine minutes left on the clock.

"Coming into the game we had a good week of practice, I was excited it was my first (Bird Bowl) trophy game and we wanted to defend the cage," Jake Sconza described. "We were moving the ball on them throughout the game and the offensive line did a phenomenal job and they gave me all day in the pocket and let me get the job done." Chris McHale got his first start, did a great job, and was very productive as well. Coach (DJ) Nimphius came up to me and said, you better get in the endzone, and I got it.

The River Dell defense continued to wreak havoc as they forced the Cardinals into punting the ball away again. Getting the ball back with seven minutes in change, Jake Sconza orchestrated an effective drive by completing three passes, plus a pass interference penalty moved the ball into Westwood territory.

A seven-yard loss on a running play coupled with a false start pushed the ball back even further, appearing as though the Golden Hawks were on the verge of extending their advantage. Facing a third and long at the 35-yard line Jake Sconza attempted to squeeze a pass into tight coverage, but Westwood defensive back Jack Dugan stepped in front of a mass of players and returned the ball to the River Dell 26-yard line.

Three plays later, the Cardinals cashed in on the turnover with quarterback Rob Carcich scoring on a 13-yard touchdown run with three and half minutes left. However, the extra point attempt was botched. The Golden Hawk's offense steamrolled down the field on the ensuing offensive possession with ample time left in the first half.

Jake Sconza completed a fourth and long play to keep the drive alive. Once in the red zone, a running play resulted in negative yardage that stymied the drive. With a fourth and seventeen at the 20-yard line situation, the field goal unit came onto the field, but Alejandro Carbadella's field goal was no good as River Dell held a 10-6 advantage at halftime.

Once the second half commenced, both teams exchanged punts early on. On their second offensive series, Westwood started at their 48-yard line. Quarterback Rob Carcich completed three straight passes, including a 23-yarder to Jack Dugan. The Golden Hawk's defense clamped down to force a fourth and nine at the 19-yard line. Gambling on fourth down paid off for the Cardinals, Carcich prancing around in the pocket, he fired a pass to wide receiver Colby Laughton as he stretched the ball across the goal line for the score with less than six minutes remaining.

Sensing a shift in the game's momentum, River Dell was searching for a much-needed spark and occurred in a split second. On a third and ten from the 31-yard line, Jake Sconza rolled out of the pocket this left and spotted wide receiver Kyle Case behind the secondary. Displaying his arm strength, Jake Sconza launched a strike to Case in stride as he sprinted into the endzone.

"As soon as they scored, I was like I don't want to lose this game," Jake Sconza stated. "When I was scrolling out left, Kyle Case was all the way down the field and he scored on the 69-yard touchdown." The lineman came up to me, and that gave us our momentum, and the whole game changed.

With time winding down in the third quarter, senior Colin Quinn returned a punt to the Westwood 35-yard line. In the fourth quarter, the Golden Hawks offense faced a second and fourteen at the 20-yard line. Jake Sconza looking for a big play, tossed a pass that Cardinals defensive back Dan Sirois picked off.

Just when it seemed Westwood might capitalize on the turnover, the River Dell defense rose to the challenge forcing running back Joey Giordano into coughing up the ball as junior defensive back Max Froonjian recovered the fumble.

"The kid fumbled, I know I had to get the ball for us to secure the win," Max Froonjian said. "We just knew that we had to come back out in the second half and play the best we could and stop them and put up as much points as we could."

Working with a short field, the Golden Hawks wasted no time widening the lead. Jake Sconza rolled out slightly off the pocket, and balance lofted a touchdown passed to senior wide receiver Ryan Gillies on a first and goal at the Cardinals six-yard line. Gillies returned to the lineup after missing a game due to an injury, increasing the lead to 24-13 with less than ten minutes to go.

"Ryan's one of my good friends and this game was going to be huge for him to get under his belt and confidence back," Jake Sconza mentioned. "As soon as he scored that touchdown, I felt so good and that just made him feel ten times better." He knows everything about offense and defense; he helps me out sometimes and is an excellent leader.

The River Dell defense kept bringing the heat, forcing the Westwood offense into a three and out. Back in business at the Cardinals 43-yard line with eight minutes on the clock, the Golden Hawks running game picked up some chunks of yardage led by junior running back Andrew Spano gaining 18 yards.

Facing a second and one at the 22-yard line, Jack Sconza topped off an impressive starting debut at home, slinging his third touchdown pass of the game and second one to Kyle Case just inside the left pylon of the end zone with 6:24 left that expanded the advantage to 31-13.

"Coach(John)Budka came up and told me the safety were coming down hill so I told him let's run this play," Jake Sconza remarked. "Colin Quinn did a great job of making the safety cover him leaving Kyle one on one and as soon as I saw him I threw the ball to his back shoulder and he got his foot in bounds and felt very good."

Westwood refused to throw in the towel as they marched down the field on their ensuing offensive possession. The Cardinals offense employed a pound and ground game, advancing the ball rapidly into the red zone. On a second and four at the eight-yard line, quarterback Rob Carcich barreled into the end zone with four minutes remaining. Not hesitating at all attempting an onside kick, the Westwood special team's unit successfully recovered the ball.

On first and ten at the River Dell 38-yard line, Rob Carcich aired out a pass down the right hash marks. Backpedaling on the play, Colin Quinn trailed the ball perfectly with a spectacular over-the-shoulder interception.

Still, plenty of time left on the lock. The Golden Hawks running backs duo of Andrew Spano and senior running back Cavan Hughes amassed 31 yards that kept the Cardinals offense from returning to the field and sealed the River Dell 31-20 victory and sixth consecutive Bird Bowl win.

Aidan Cochran on the win and keeping the Bird Cage trophy, "It was amazing to keep it home and come out in the second half and we played strong." "We were all just excited, we fought hard pretty much the entire and good ending to the game for us."

"As soon as that buzzer went off, I was excited to be with all my teammates and friends," Jake Sconza said. "I know a ton of people were watching and who played in the past and that's a big thing to them when they were in high school."

Max Froonjian on the win, "It's a big moment to get that trophy back for us, the series was tied 20-20 and we have winning streak."

River Dell(2-1) continues a three-game homestand this Friday, squaring off against Northern Valley Demarest at 6 p.m. The Norseman enter the game with a 1-2 record.

"We just have to start out with a good win, it's a tough league but we should be able to win most of the games," Aidan Cochran noted. "Once we finish the league strong we're going to be rolling for the playoffs."

Jake Sconza on the keys to a victory over Northern Valley Demarest, "They have a pretty good program but it's just going to take a good week of practice, we're going to have to work hard and know our assignments." "We're going to have to fixes right from the Westwood game, come in with confidence and hopefully get off to a better start."

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