River Dell gets back on track with a 23-6 win over Bergenfield
Rallying from a 22-14 third-quarter deficit to taking a 28-22 lead over Nutley last week, it appeared as though the River Dell Golden Hawks(5-2) varsity team were on their way to a fourth straight win. However, in the flash of a couple of seconds, the good vibes swept away on an 85-yard kickoff touchdown return.
Eventually, River Dell fell to the Maroon Raiders 29-28. The silver lining in the clouds is that River Dell still went down with a fight and the opportunity to win the game in the closing seconds. Attempting to get a pass before the final whistle went off, junior quarterback Jake Sconza was hit and sacked by a host of Nutley defensive linemen to end the game.
Now the Golden Hawks had to shift their attention to a match-up against the Bergenfield Bears at Bergenfield High School on a warm and sunny fall day. Bergenfield entered the contest below .500 at 2-4.
River Dell senior wide receiver/defensive back Nolan Gilmour on the practices leading up to game day. "The practices were definitely intense, we were working hard and we wanted to go out there and win this game." "It was really important because we thought we had a shot at that last one(Nutley)." The coaches were fired up and gave a good speech that got us fired up.
Bergenfield received the opening kickoff, but the Golden Hawks defense made a statement immediately with senior defensive lineman Aidan Cochran sacking quarterback Andy DeLeon.
With 9:28 left in the first quarter, the River Dell offense wasted no time putting up the first points on the scoreboard. Facing a second and one at the Bergenfield 20 yard-line, quarterback Jake Sconza threw a touchdown strike to senior wide receiver down the middle of the seam with 7:38 remaining.
"We definitely come out every week with a strong first drive, move the ball down the field and set the tone right away," Jake Sconza explained.
On the ensuing possession for the Bears, the Golden Hawks defense made another significant impact with Nolan Gilmour intercepting an Andy DeLeon pass.
Inside the red zone with 7:33 to go, the River Dell offense primed to extend the advantage, but that opportunity fizzled out as Bergenfield linebacker Luis Perdomo picked off a pass thrown by Jake Sconza.
On second and ten at the 22-yard line, the Bears offense produced an electrifying play with quarterback Andy DeLeon launching a 78-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver John Kradenski Jr. with less than seven minutes left. However, the extra point was blocked.
An action-packed first quarter turned into a punt fest in the second quarter. The best chance for the Golden Hawks to reclaim the lead occurred with three and half minutes remaining. After a 24-yard punt, River Dell had the ball at the Bergenfield 44-yard line but could not advance the ball. The drive stalled out on an incomplete pass on fourth and four at the 37-yard line.
Jake Sconza, on the first half struggles, "We were not in our groove, we couldn't get any first downs and had a tough time with the run game." "Coach(DJ)Nimphius came up to me and told me that I needed to get all my things together and figure out a way to get it done."
Once the third quarter got underway, the momentum shifted drastically in favor of River Dell. With Bergenfield having to punt deep inside the territory, an errant snap resulted in the ball sailing over the punter's head and into the end zone. As the Bears' punter attempted to corral the ball, several Golden Hawks defensive players led by senior linebacker Nick Sybel tackled the punter for safety.
Aidan Cochran on the attitude amongst the players at halftime and start to the second half, "We talked about how everyone was down in the dumps and we got to start having fun playing football." "It's not supposed to be an upsetting game and we realized we have to take some seriousness out of it and make it more fun than just strictly business."
"I think Nick(Sybel) is wildly underrated, he is a really good football player and comes out hard and practices every day." "He just loves it, he's maybe five foot five and just goes out there and plays his tail off and it's an amazing thing and a really good kid off the field."
The River Dell defense dialed up the intensity even further, forcing Bergenfield quarterback Andy DeLeon into making an errant pass, with Nolan Gilmour in the perfect spot to swoop in for his second pick of the game. Gilmour returned the ball to the Bears 11-yard line.
"When you see the ball coming right at you know it's a good feeling and you have covered the play well and did your job," Nolan Gilmour noted. "You just got to make a play on the ball, we catch thousands of passes in practice and when I go out there and you perform it feels really good."
Aidan Cochran on Nolan Gilmour, "He's becoming a real impactful person on our defense, he makes a lot of downhill tackles for a safety and that is extremely helpful when we're not filling and hitting the gaps hard and he's learning how to make plays." "You certainly feel that experience he has gotten the last few years is really starting to be put to good use and another good secondary leader."
Facing third and five at the six after an offsides penalty assessed against the Bergenfield defense, Jake Sconza took the handoff and dropped back in the pocket. Firing a pass to wide receiver Kyle Case fell to the ground in the end zone with less than four minutes remaining.
"Kyle(Case) and I are very close friends, coming into this season I knew that it was going to be a big season for both of us," Jake Sonza remarked. "He's just been able to get the job done has 25 catches on the season and nine touchdowns." I wanted to get the ball in his hands; he is very effective, and you know he's going to make a play on the ball every time it's up for grabs.
The River Dell defense continued to wreak havoc all over the field, sacking Bears quarterback for a fourth time as the third quarter ended. "That's definitely huge, I have to give a lot of credit to the defensive line," Nolan Gilmour said. "The defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs are all working together and a team game and we love it."
Early in the fourth quarter, the Golden Hawks offense had the ball at their 40-yard line. Developing a rhythm with the passing game and receiving enough protection from the offensive line, Jake Sconza completed three consecutive passes to junior Max Froonjian that advanced the ball to the Bears 18-yard line.
"It's awesome having five or six guys out there that can make plays on the ball and are unstoppable," Jake Sconza stated. "You have guys that know what they're doing to get open, have great hands and running their routes and then being able to get the job done is an awesome connection."
Despite a holding penalty backing the River Dell offense to the 26-yard line, Sconza got the majority of yardage back on a 20-yard run. On first and goal at the six-yard line, Sconza took the handoff and rolled to his right before sprinting inside of the right pylon for the score with less than nine minutes remaining to seal the 23-6 win.
On Friday, the Golden Hawks turn the page to a critical final 2021 regular-season home game against Teaneck(1-6). It will also be Senior Night with 16 seniors playing their last regular-season game at River Dell High School and in a River Dell uniform.
Aidan Cochran on the emotions of the final regular-season and Senior Night, "We want to make it our best game, finish strong especially after four years of playing there and countless hours and games and we want to leave a good impact on our class of 2022 group." "We are starting to write notes to our parents' so we want to win now and hopefully get into the playoffs."
Nolan Gilmour on Senior Night, "It's definitely pretty emotional, I remember freshman year and looking at those kids thinking that's crazy and playing their last home game." "Time really flies by and that's why I want to emphasize to the younger kids out there not to take it for granted because honestly some of the best times of your life are the memories you make with the people around here and it's unexplainable and you love all the boys and coaches and it's just a great time."
Jake Sconza on playing one final regular-season game with the seniors, "I remember when I was a freshman, and they were sophomores and all of them are great kids." "I'm always going to remember this season me being their quarterback and hopefully them remembering me and it's going to be a good night." I hope we have a good week of practice and win for them in the last regular-season game at home.