ROSELLE PARK – Many times goals are met because a game plan was put in place, with the team sticking to it from day one.
Roselle Park made great strides last season and the Panthers were not about to let all of that hard work go by the wayside.
So the Panthers worked even harder this year to get to where they wanted to be.
“We started in April with agility drills,” said veteran leader and standout senior Frank Schneeberger, who excels on offense at tight end, on defense at linebacker and on special teams as Roselle Park’s punter and placekicker. “The team has really come together.”
In order to cement its first state playoff berth in 11 years, Roselle Park had the task Friday night of beating a Dayton team that features one of the best players in the state in all-purpose Rutgers-bound senior Anthony Cioffi.
Rushing for a touchdown and scoring the game’s initial points on just the fifth play from scrimmage and then in the second quarter catching and throwing touchdowns, Cioffi proved to be very difficult to deal with at times.
However, the host Panthers – in front of a nice size home crowd – found a way to contain Cioffi in the second half and produce just a bit more, scoring the game’s only second-half points following a halftime deadlock.
When senior Juan Carmona scored his second touchdown with five minutes left in the third quarter, it proved to be the difference as Roselle Park held on for a hard-fought 28-21 Mid-State 38 Conference-interdivision triumph over Dayton at Herm Shaw Field.
For the Panthers – who improved to 5-2 and who won five games and beat Dayton both for the first time since 2007 – the victory put them into the North 2, Group 1 playoffs, despite whatever happens next Saturday at New Providence’s Lieder Field.
After not qualifying for the playoffs the last 10 seasons (2002-2011), Roselle Park will be participating in the North 2, Group 1 field for the first time since 2001. In two weeks, the Panthers will be seeking the program’s first playoff win since 1993.
“It’s amazing, this means the world to me,” said Schneeberger, who successfully kicked all four Roselle Park extra points in addition to making a key catch over the middle for an 18-yard gain and a first down during Roselle Park’s winning touchdown drive. “We brought the tradition back. We have a new attitude.”
“Frank is a great leader and a guy who has been here since day one,” Roselle Park first-year head coach Terry Hanratty said. “He helped me make a fresh start. He got the locker rooms painted and organized the seniors.”
After losing to Dayton by the decisive scores of 31-7 in 2011, 32-0 in 2010, 34-6 in 2009 and 24-7 in 2008, Roselle Park defeated the Bulldogs for the first time since a 34-6 win at home on Sept. 28, 2007.
The last time Roselle Park won a fifth game was that same 2007 season when on Thanksgiving the Panthers ended their season with a 28-14 win at Roselle to finish 5-5 after beating the Rams for the fifth straight year.
Roselle Park has not defeated Roselle or even scored a point against the Rams since, which is another streak the Panthers will attempt to snap in less than a month.
For Dayton, the Bulldogs lost a second straight close game and fell to 3-5. Dayton received additional bad news when Secaucus ended up scoring the game’s final 10 points – all in the fourth quarter – en route to a huge 24-14 win at Group 2 Lyndhurst Friday night.
Couple that with Metuchen’s expected victory Saturday at 0-7 Mater Dei and Dayton may end up ninth in the power points in North 2, Group 1, with Secaucus seventh and Metuchen eighth, those schools garnering the section’s final two playoff berths.
Dayton struck first Friday night after Roselle Park rushed for zero yards on each of its first two carries and then had Schneeberger quick kick on third down.
After a first down pass play that also pushed Dayton back 15 yards because of a clip, Cioffi took the handoff from the 50, lowered his head into a number of players and then escaped to run free down the left sideline for six points.
Cioffi carried 12 times for 50 yards and one rushing touchdown. He gained 52 yards on seven carries in the first half and minus two on five in the second.
“One of the keys was tackling and containing him,” Schneeberger said.
“They came out running the ball well and made some big plays,” Hanratty said.
Cioffi also completed nine-of-13 passes for 94 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
“I’ve seen just about all of the top players in the county and he’s right there with them,” Hanratty said. “We had him in our grasp several times and he still got away. There’s a reason he’s going to Rutgers on a scholarship.”
Roselle Park immediately answered Dayton’s first score by driving 80 yards to reach the end zone the first time itself. Carmona completed a seven-play march by bulling his way up the middle for a 13-yard touchdown run.
In addition to being the monster he is at linebacker – Carmona also produced two sacks Friday night – he ended up carrying the ball nine times for 49 yards and his two scores.
“We said that we were going to let him go today,” Hanratty said. “He’s a very aggressive player and the toughest linebacker I’ve ever seen.”
Roselle Park quickly took its first lead at 14-7 on a solid defensive play. Junior defensive back Brandon Pugliese came up and hit Dayton junior running back Jerrod Fletcher, jarring the ball loose from him. On the spot to pick the ball up was junior defensive back Jordan Andre, who carried the pigskin 35 yards down the left sideline to paydirt.
Fletcher only carried the ball in the first half, three times for minus four yards.
“In practice that’s the scoop and score drill,” Hanratty said. “Pugliese made a nice play on their option.”
The Panthers upped their lead to 21-7 when standout junior running back Brian Matthews capped Roselle Park’s third first-half possession with a 20-yard touchdown run down the left sideline that saw him dive forward with the ball into the end zone.
Matthews, new to the Roselle Park program this year after transferring from Brick Township, had another solid game for the Panthers. He carried 18 times for a game-high 182 yards and his score.
“You need good players and he’s been great,” Hanratty said. “Brian runs hard and he also catches the ball well.”
To Dayton’s credit the Bulldogs did not fold and – instead – managed to tie the game right before halftime. Dayton immediately answered Roselle Park’s third touchdown with its second.
Cioffi found fellow quarterback Andrew Lashuk – this time lined up as a wide receiver – and got him the ball down the right sideline for a 53-yard touchdown pass. Lashuk, a sophomore, added his second of three extra points to pull Dayton to within 21-14.
Three possessions later, the Bulldogs began on their own 39 on a drive that commenced with just 50 seconds remaining before halftime. Cioffi completed a 43-yard pass to senior wide receiver Mike Saladino to put the Bulldogs at the Panther 18. After Cioffi completed a nine-yard pass to sophomore end Mike Iuliano, he carried for five yards and a first down at the Roselle Park four-yard line.
Following a Dayton timeout, Cioffi got the ball to Saladino again, this time just inside the end zone and with only three seconds to go before halftime.
“We answered their big plays in the beginning, took the lead,
but we still ended up giving the momentum back to them,” Hanratty said.
With the score even 21-21 at intermission Dayton had a small edge in total yards from scrimmage. The Bulldogs rushed for 74 yards and passed for 131 in the first half for 205. The Panthers rushed for 135 yards and passed for 49 for 184.
What was the difference going to be in the second half?
“It was all preparation,” Schneeberger said.
Roselle Park’s first second-half drive proved to be the difference as far as the margin of victory was concerned.
Matthews ran for one yard on first down from the Roselle Park 20 and then junior quarterback Andre completed his pass to Schneeberger that gave the Panthers a first down on their own 39. Andre completed three of five passes for 67 yards and no interceptions.
Matthews then broke free down the left sideline for a huge 48-yard gain to the Dayton 21.
Carmona, behind excellent blocking from his offensive line, found room up the middle and followed with gains of eight and two yards. After Richie Johns was stopped for no gain on first-and-goal from the three, Carmona succeeded with a three-yard touchdown run up the middle to give Roselle Park its second lead and the advantage for good.
Dayton’s final drive, which was its third possession of the second half, took the final minute of the third quarter and the first nine of the fourth before it stalled at the Panther eight-yard line.
Included in the march was a sack of Cioffi for a 10-yard loss by Carmona, a roughing-the-kicker call against Roselle Park on Cioffi punting the ball, back-to-back 15-yard penalties against Dayton including a clip and also a call against first-year head coach Steve Trivino, a 15-yard pass interference call against Roselle Park, and an eight-yard run by Cioffi that also included a 15-yard penalty on the Panthers for a late hit.
On fourth-and-three from the Roselle Park eight-yard line with just over three minutes to go, Cioffi just missed connecting with Iuliano for the tying touchdown. Iuliano tried to come down with the pass as he positioned himself at the very back of the end zone. However, Iuliano was just not able to come down with the throw, with the Panthers taking over.
Roselle Park ran the remaining 3:06 out, sparked by a 35-yard Matthews run for his team’s 10th and final first down.
As the clocked winded down, Roselle Park was about to realize that it was going to be playing a playoff game for the first time since November of 2001. The Panthers had to settle for playing in sectional consolation games every year since 2002.
“Our first goal was to win the Hills Division, but we couldn’t get past South Hunterdon, so it ended up in a three-way tie,” said Hanratty, who in his first six seasons as the head coach at Governor Livingston (from 2004-2009) guided the Highlanders to the playoffs each time, including one state championship game. “Our next goal was to make the playoffs.
“Sometimes it’s hard to tell the kids in the beginning that if they work hard they will get results. The kids are excited and happy about accomplishing the goal of making the playoffs.”
NOTES: Members of Roselle Park’s undefeated 1979 squad were honored at halftime. That squad was coached by Geoff Hill, with John Wagner an assistant coach on Hill’s staff.
Roselle Park went 9-0 that season, winning all nine regular season games – including its annual Thanksgiving contest against Roselle – and outscored the opposition 296-53.
Because Roselle Park was the only team in North 2, Group 1 to have a record of .500 or better that year, the Panthers ended up capturing their first state championship in the playoff era without playing a playoff game.
In 1980, only Roselle Park and Glen Ridge qualified in North 2, Group 1, with top-seeded Glen Ridge defeating second-seeded Roselle Park 20-6 in the title game at Glen Ridge.
Roselle Park won its second and third state championships in the playoff era in 1992 and 1993 when the Panthers won back-to-back North 2, Group 1 crowns with consecutive 11-0 records.
This is Roselle Park’s 12th playoff season, with the Panthers owning a 6-8 playoff mark. In addition to winning two playoff games in 1992 (both on the road) and 1993 (both at home), Roselle Park won single playoff games in 1985 and 1986 when it reached the North 2, Group 1 finals in those years, losing to Brearley both times.
Roselle Park’s last playoff game was a 38-7 loss at Cedar Grove in the 2001 North 2, Group 1 quarterfinals.
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE-INTERDIVISION GAME
AT HERM SHAW FIELD
DAYTON (3-5) 7 14 0 0 – 21
ROSELLE PARK (5-2) 14 7 7 0 – 28
DAYTON – Anthony Cioffi 50 run, Andrew Lashuk kick (D 7-0)
2 plays, 65 yards, :54 used
ROSELLE PARK – Juan Carmona 13 run, Frank Schneeberger kick (7-7)
7 plays, 80 yards, 3:17 used
ROSELLE PARK – Jordan Andre 35 fumble recovery, Frank Schneeberger kick
ROSELLE PARK – Brian Matthews 20 run, Frank Schneeberger kick
6 plays, 80 yards, 2:47 used
DAYTON – Anthony Cioffi 53 pass from Andrew Lashuk, Andrew Lashuk kick
3 plays, 52 yards, 1:21 used
DAYTON – Mike Saladino 4 pass from Anthony Cioffi, Andrew Lashuk kick
5 plays, 61 yards, :47 used
ROSELLE PARK – Juan Carmona 3 run, Frank Schneeberger kick
7 plays, 80 yards, 4:37 used