ROSELLE PARK – Belvidere’s ability to convert three fourth-down plays in the first half – including two for touchdowns – and two huge defensive efforts by lineman Jonathan Wolfinger in the second half offset Roselle Park’s big-play execution on a night where it seemed as if every action was magnified.
Belvidere took the lead for good with 50 seconds remaining before halftime and hung on for a hard-fought 24-20 triumph over Roselle Park in Friday night’s Mid-State 38 Conference-Union Division clash at Roselle Park High School’s Herm Shaw Field.
Roselle Park produced first half touchdowns on plays of 88 (pass) yards and then 90 (kickoff return).
With about a minute to go and Roselle Park now at the Belvidere 38 after an over-the-shoulder catch by Dilon Camilo for 38 yards and a five-yard run by David Forstenhausler, the Panthers – seeking to spike the ball to stop the clock rather than use their final timeout – mishandled the snap, with the ball coming loose and Wolfinger there to recover the fumble for Belvidere.
On the first play of Roselle Park’s previous possession which followed a Steven Karas interception on a play where Forstenhausler at linebacker blitzed and applied heavy pressure on Belvidere quarterback Jake Thornton, Wolfinger sacked Karas, also Roselle Park’s QB, for a seven-yard loss that pushed the Panthers back to their 16 and ultimately denied them a first down during the important fourth-quarter possession.
“Jonathan has a motor that never stops,” Belvidere head coach Josh Costantino said.
Forstenhausler also put Roselle Park in a position to win the game when, on another blitz, he quickly got to Thornton and knocked the ball away from him, with Roselle Park’s Abel Crespo recovering the fumble with 2:07 remaining.
Thornton, a three-year starter at signal-caller who led Belvidere to the North 2, Group 1 semifinals the past two seasons, ran and passed for a score.
“It came down to big plays and it came down to big plays in the fourth quarter,” Thornton said. “Luck came our way. We got lucky.”
In a battle of undefeated and unscored upon squads, Belvidere continued its mastery over Roselle Park. Since the Mid-State formed in 2009, Belvidere is now 6-0 in the regular season against Roselle Park, with the teams not facing each other in two seasons. Belvidere also defeated Roselle Park in last year’s North 2, Group 1 playoffs.
“We knew it was going to be a battle and that they were gunning for us,” Costantino said. “We knew it was going to be like a street-fight.”
Both teams left everything they had on the field, with each performer playing their hearts out. While Belvidere prevailed to remain undefeated at 3-0, Roselle Park, now 2-1, can hold its head up high for the way it competed right until the very end.
It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, with both teams turning the ball over at crucial moments. After a penalty-free first quarter, both teams also suffered penalties that set them back.
After Roselle Park held Belvidere to one first down on its first possession, it took the Panthers only three plays to become the first team to score on the County Seaters. On third-and-two from its own 12, back Carlos Vasquez took the handoff from quarterback Steven Karas and found end Enzo Brutus open on the right side.
Brutus caught the pass at the 26 and then reversed field, cutting across to the left side and down the sideline past the lone Belvidere defensive player that had a chance to get him. Karas then tossed a shovel pass left to Vasquez, who found his way into the end zone on the two-point conversion.
Just like that Roselle Park was up 8-0.
Belvidere immediately answered.
The County Seaters marched 70 yards in seven plays, with a drive that lasted just over four minutes concluding when quarterback Jake Thornton ran up the middle for a 22-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-one.
Belvidere took a 10-8 lead early in the second quarter on a 34-yard field goal kicked by lefty Nick Rosania. He was also perfect on his three extra-point attempts.
The game’s third lead change came instantly after Rosania’s field goal when Vasquez returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. Vasquez found a hole, burst right through it and then proceeded to sprint past everyone and into the end zone for six points.
Belvidere drove to the Roselle Park 10 following Vasquez’s kickoff return, but on second down the County Seaters mishandled the snap this time, with Roselle Park recovering the fumble with 4:11 to go in the first half.
Just when it appeared that Roselle Park escaped a go-ahead Belvidere TD before intermission, the Panthers were unable to run the clock out. After allowing one first down, Belvidere got the ball back at the 50 with 2:16 left and no timeouts remaining.
The first big play on the drive – which was good for 27 yards – came when fullback Zach DeLuca caught a short pass, broke two tackles and reached the Panther 23. Two Belvidere penalties that followed put the ball back to the Roselle Park 40.
On third-and-27 from the Roselle Park 40, Thornton produced a 14-yard run to the Panther 26. Then on fourth-and-13 with the clock running now under a minute, Thornton found wide receiver Brandon Bruckman open on the left side for a 26-yard touchdown pass.
“The whole game was big momentum shifts,” Thornton said.
After preventing Roselle Park from gaining a first down on its first possession of the second half, Belvidere struck again and for the last time. The County Seaters drove 55 yards in nine plays, with junior running back David Kinney capping the drive with a five-yard touchdown run.
Roselle Park came right back with what turned out to be its best possession. The Panthers marched 68 yards in eight players to reach the end zone for the third and final time. This time it was Forstenhausler going in from the one for his fifth TD of this 2016 campaign.
On Roselle Park’s final scoring drive, Karas completed passes of 14 and 22 yards to Vasquez and one of 28 to Brutus, who made a fine, two-handed, over-the-shoulder catch against single coverage to give the Panthers a first-and-goal at the Belvidere 1.
“For 48 minutes the fans saw nothing but non-stop action,” Costantino said.
“We battled hard and just came up short,” Roselle Park head coach Terry Hanratty said to his team moments after the game. “We know that we can’t take any plays off. We have to be ready every play.”
Leading tacklers for Roselle Park included Darius Zayas, Vinny Figueredo, Vasquez and Crespo. Linemen Jawahn Gasque and Sean Matthews also applied heavy pressure.
NOTES: Belvidere moved to North 1, Group 1 for this year.
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE-UNION DIVISION
BELVIDERE (3-0, 3-0) 7 10 7 0 – 24
ROSELLE PARK (2-1, 2-1) 8 6 0 6 – 20
ROSELLE PARK – Enzo Brutus 88 pass from Carlos Vasquez,
Carlos Vasquez pass from Steven Karas (RP 8-0)
3 plays, 96 yards, 1:25 used
BELVIDERE – Jake Thornton 22 run, Nick Rosania kick (RP 8-7)
7 plays, 70 yards, 4:15 used
BELVIDERE – FG Nick Rosania 34 (B 10-8)
4 plays, from the Roselle Park 13 to the Roselle Park 18, 1:03 used
ROSELLE PARK – Carlos Vasquez 90 kickoff return, run failed (RP 14-10)
BELVIDERE – Brandon Bruckman 26 pass from Jake Thornton,
Nick Rosania kick (B 17-14)
6 plays, 50 yards, 1:26 used
BELVIDERE – David Kinney 5 run, Nick Rosania kick (B 24-14)
9 plays, 55 yards, 4:44 used
ROSELLE PARK – David Forstenhausler 1 run, kick failed (B 24-20)
8 plays, 68 yards, 4:19 used