Fourth-quarter offensive outburst propels River Dell to 39-26 North 2, Group 3 Quarterfinal Playoff Win over Vernon
Fresh off a 42-7 shellacking of Paramus in the 2021 regular-season finale at Paramus High School, the River Dell Golden Hawks (8-2) varsity football team shifted their attention to an important North 2 Section, Group 3 Quarterfinal playoff match-up vs. the Vernon Vikings (6-4)
River Dell entered the game on a three-game winning streak, outscoring their last three opponents 114-13 and scoring 30 plus points in five of their nine games. Meanwhile, Vernon won their previous three out of four games and tallied 30 plus points in five of their nine games.
On the upcoming playoff game, Golden Hawks senior offensive/defensive lineman, "We got to play it one game at a time and go one and zero." "We didn't have the playoffs last year, many of the guys on the team weren't even playing on varsity and everyone is getting their first shot." We want to keep going, don't want to lose, and play as though it could be our last.
"This is the tightest group of kids I've ever seen on a football field together." "There is really no arguments at all between each other and we have a lot of special talent and pieces that we feel can make use of in the playoffs like having Will (Fletcher) back and he has really never played a full game this year." Special wide receivers in Colin Quinn and Ryan Gillies, Jake(Sconza) at quarterback, and good depth in the offensive line.
"The playoff preparation for us is completely different than the regular season especially when we are going against a good opponent in Vernon." "We have to be attentive and ready for this game and it's completely different vibes."
On a cold and crystal-clear night at River Dell High School, the stands packed on both sides for River Dell and Vernon. There were plenty of fans standing on the outside perimeter of the fence as well. The Golden Hawks walked down the pathway and eventually rushed onto the field with a green flag.
Once the game got underway, an early turnover by the Vernon offense led to River Dell getting the ball at the Viking's 37-yard line. Facing a fourth and six at the 33 yard-line, an incomplete pass by junior quarterback Jake Sconza led to a turnover on downs.
After the Golden Hawks defense forced a three-and-out, Jake Sconza threw a pass picked off by Vernon middle linebacker Aidan Duffy near midfield. Vikings quarterback Derek Lazier aired a deep ball that wide receiver Jon Kowalski hauled inside the ten-yard line. On first and goal at the four-yard line, running back Gage Moskovitz plowed straight ahead into the end zone for the touchdown with 6:21 left.
River Dell looked to change the complexion of the game in the second quarter. The Golden Hawks special team's unit stepped up to the plate with senior Kyle Case preventing the Vernon punter from getting the kick away and a host of Golden Hawks defensive players making the tackle.
Initially, in the red zone, Jake Sconza was sacked, leading to a 13-yard loss. Facing a third and fifteen at the 23-yard line Sconza completed a 13-yar pass to senior wide receiver Nolan Gilmour. A crucial fourth and five at the 10-yard line, Sconza zipped a pass to senior running back Will Fletcher for an eight-yard gain.
Lined up in shotgun formation on first down, Sconza took the snap and went to his right before cutting back left, finding a clear running lane into the end zone with 8:47 remaining. Junior placekicker Alejandro Carballeda drilled home the extra point to make it 7-6 River Dell.
"It was a tough start for us, I know that we needed to get some points on the board before halftime," Jake Sconza explained. "We had a great play from Kyle Case on special teams getting in the punter's face so he couldn't get the punt off, Will (Fletcher) had a nice run then I was able to get in the end zone."
After the teams exchanged punts, Vernon got the ball back at their 25-yard line. A substantial gain from running back Gage Moskovitz combined with a personal foul facemask penalty assessed against the Golden Hawks defense advanced the ball into River Dell territory.
Vikings quarterback Derek Lazier completed another deep pass to wide receiver Jon Kowalski moving the ball down inside the fifteen yard line. On first and goal at the two-yard line, Kowalski lined up under center and took the snap barreling straight through into the end zone with two minutes in change to go.
Initially lined up for the extra-point attempt, the Vernon players lined up in an offensive formation, Kowalski lined up in shotgun formation and took the snap tossing a pass to tight end Franco Luna extending the Vernon advantage to 14-7.
Still, with plenty of time remaining on the clock, Sconza completed a pass to senior wide Colin Quinn. A personal foul called against the Vernon defense moved the ball to the Viking's 39-yard line.
Facing a fourth and one at the 19-yard line, Will Fletcher took the handoff from Sconza and attempted to surge ahead for the first down but ended up stopped short of the marker as Vernon took a 14-7 lead into the locker room.
The Golden Hawk's offense quickly got back into gear after receiving the second-half kickoff. After a holding penalty pushed the ball back to the 50-yard line, thus resulting in a second down and thirty at midfield, Jake Sconza took the snap and rolled out of the pocket, firing a pass to junior running back Max Froonjian.
Once with the ball, Froonjian sprinted down the right side of the field while evading Vikings defensive players and eventually striding into the end zone with ten minutes left. However, the Vernon defense blocked the extra block attempt.
Jake Sconza, on the scoring pass to Max Froonjian, "Max's first touchdown on the offensive side of the ball and I felt great for him." "He dropped an early pass on the drive, and I knew he was going to come back and make play." I went right back to him to get his confidence back up.
Max Froonjian on the touchdown, "It definitely meant a lot to score especially after the big drop I had right before." "All week we were working on one on ones against the linebackers and I had the opportunity to do so, and I won the battle and it was great downfield blocking I was able to get into the end zone." Jake is a big leader and worked hard all off-season.
The Vernon offense got the ball back at their 20-yard line with less than ten minutes left. First converting a critical third and one at the 29-yard line followed by Gage Moskovitz ripping off a 30-yard run and a trick pass on third and three at the River Dell 28-yard line led to a 16-yard gain.
A 13-play drive that consumed over six minutes of the clock came down to a pivotal fourth down and six at the eight-yard line. Quarterback Derek Lazier forced out the pocket, and before Lazier could complete a pass, Will Fletcher sacked Lazier leading to a turnover on downs.
Feeding off the adrenaline of the play, Jake Sconza completed a deep pass to wide receiver Colin Quinn that moved the ball to the Viking's 42-yard line. On second and five at the 37-yard line, Sconza dropped back in the pocket and lofted a pass in stride to Colin Quinn for the touchdown with two and half minutes remaining.
Once again, the Viking's defense blocked the extra point attempt. "That was an awesome drive, we got down in three plays and Colin(Quinn) got into the end zone," Jake Sconza noted.
With 2:29 left, Vernon got the ball back at their 14-yard line. Quarterback Derek Lazier engineered an 11-play drive that chewed up 3:44 of the clock—culminating early into the fourth quarter with running back Logan Pych taking the handoff from Derek Lazier and crashing through the line into the end zone. A two-point conversion attempt failed as the Vikings led 20-19.
An impressive kickoff return resulted in the River Dell offense starting at their 45-yard line. Facing a third and one at the 46-yard line, Jake Sconza lined up in shotgun formation, took the snap, and launched a bomb down the middle of the seam to a wide-open Kyle Case for the 54-yard score with 9:38 to go.
"First I have to give all the credit to the offensive line, they gave me all day back there and got together at halftime and said we are not losing this game," Jake Sconza described. "I knew Kyle was going to beat his man one-on-one and as soon as he caught it I knew nobody was catching him and scoring."
The Golden Hawks defense continued to apply the pressure forcing a quick three-and-out. A short punt by the Vernon punter resulted in the River Dell offense starting at the Vikings 45-yard line.
On first down, Jake Sconza, in shotgun formation, took the snap and heaved the ball downfield with senior wide receiver Ryan Gillies leaping high in the air to snag the ball on a highlight reel play at the Vernon three-yard line.
Ryan Gillies on the spectacular play, "We were looking to take some deep shots during the second half, I just saw the ball and went up there and got one." "We started exploiting different passes with Jake's arm, we started completed passes and moving down the field."
Jake Sconza on Ryan Gillies catch, "He made a phenomenal catch on the ball, jumped up there and boxed out the kid." "That was one of the best catches this season." We needed to get down there and score another touchdown.
Facing a fourth and goal at the three-yard line, Sconza lined up under center, took the snap, and tossed a pass to Will Fletcher in the end zone with less than six minutes left. Going for the two-point conversion, Sconza zipped a pass to Nolan Gilmour, just breaking the plane of the goal line widening the margin to 31-20.
Nolan Gilmour on the two-point conversion catch, "That was a great feeling, Coach (DJ Nimphius) has trust in me and I have trust in Jake and knowing that I can go up and get the ball." "I was just waiting for the signal to whether I was in or out."
The River Dell defense forced a fourth and ten play at the Vernon 42-yard line on the ensuing Vikings offensive possession. Scrambling out of the pocket, quarterback Derek Lazier hoisted a long pass down the field, but Ryan Gillies picked off the key. "They took some pretty good deep shots on us but I saw the ball in the air and able to make a play on it," Ryan Gillies stated.
With the ball at the 48-yard line and a little over five minutes remaining, the Golden Hawks ran seven out of eight plays. On third down at the eight-yard line, senior running back Cavan Hughes capped off the playoff win, bursting through a sea of players into the end zone with 1:19 to go.
The victory marked Head Coach DJ Nimphius's 150th as River Dell Head Coach, and the Golden Hawks' 15th consecutive season has reached the semifinals in the state playoffs.
Aidan Cochran on the program's accomplishment, "It's a program rich with a lot of good history and we didn't want to be the first team not to make it into the semifinals and huge game for us."
Max Froonjian on the win, "It means a lot knowing that this wasn't our last game with those seniors." "It definitely means a lot to play for Coach Nimphius, he is the greatest coach, and I couldn't ask for anyone better and means a lot to play for River Dell."
Nolan Gilmour on Head Coach DJ Nimphius, "We're all so grateful, you don't get coaches like this, and he is a great person." A funny guy, he understands the kids so well, and that is so important."
On Friday, November 13th, River Dell hosts the Sparta Spartans in the North 2, Group 3 state playoff semifinals at River Dell High School, with kickoff set for 6 p.m. Currently, the Spartans are 7-3 and coming off a dominant 56-33 win over Warren Hills Regional.
"It's a huge game, they're a really good team and got a lot of good players," Aidan Cochran said. "We have to be prepared and have a better week of practice."
Jake Sconza, on the upcoming semifinal game against Sparta, "Another big semifinal game as a program but it's going to take a great week of practice, everyone being focused and knowing what their assignments are." "Going out there playing the way we did in the second half against Vernon and it's going to be hard to stop us if we play our game of football."