NEW PROVIDENCE – The home team’s initial snap of the ball was so poorly executed that junior quarterback Owen Kovacs had to run backwards to fall on it at his own 10, resulting in a deflating 25-yard loss.
However, just about 150 minutes later New Providence couldn’t have drawn up and then produce a better result, one that concluded a marathon between undefeated division and Union County rivals.
It was a pass from Kovacs to senior tight end Joseph D’Anna in the right corner of the end zone on fourth-and-seven from the 23 that lifted the host Pioneers to their first 7-0 start in three years.
Against single coverage with the defender in front of him, D’Anna reached up with his right arm, brought the ball into his chest and then held on with both hands to come down with a touchdown pass that will be remembered in these parts for some time.
The score lifted New Providence to a 27-21 single overtime victory over Brearley in Friday night’s Mid-State Conference-Union Division clash at Lieder Field.
New Providence, which defeated Brearley for the first time since 2014, took over sole possession of first place in the Union Division at 5-0, while Brearley fell to 4-1. If the first tie-breaker is head-to-head, then New Providence just won the Union Division outright. Both New Providence (Belvidere home Oct. 26) and Brearley (South Hunterdon home Oct. 19) have one more Union Division game to go. The worst-case scenario for New Providence would be both teams finishing 5-1, but New Providence winning the Union Division based on its win over Brearley. Every other team in the division has at least two losses.
New Providence is also 7-0 overall for the first time since 2015, while Brearley fell to 5-1 overall.
D’Anna scored the game’s first touchdown on a seven-yard pass from Kovacs on a second quarter drive aided by a previous long completion.
Kovacs threw three touchdown passes and ran for a score.
Brearley sophomore quarterback Danny Ramos also threw three touchdown passes and then came up with an interception in front of his own end zone on the final play of the fourth quarter.
D’Anna described the game-winning touchdown catch as simply doing his job.
“We run that play always in practice,” D’Anna said. “I went up with one hand and was then able to secure it. I positioned my body so I could get to the ball.”
Kovacs remembered the hollow feeling of walking off Lieder Field after last year’s 29-28 loss to Brearley – which was New Providence’s third straight setback to the Bears – put the Pioneers at 0-7. Brearley scored the game’s final touchdown and then went for two points and got it for the victory.
“Last year was heartbreaking,” Kovacs said. “That makes this win even sweeter.”
An interception by New Providence senior cornerback Anthony Sidoli on Brearley’s fourth down pass attempt thwarted the visiting team’s first overtime possession. Sidoli also caught a 61-yard touchdown pass from Kovacs late in the third quarter to give New Providence its third lead and an advantage of 21-14.
On New Providence’s overtime possession, senior running back Jack Gertie ran for four yards on first down, zero on second and Kovacs for one on third. Kovacs rolled right on fourth down, threw the ball high in D’Anna’s direction, and hoped for the best.
“We were waiting for that call the whole game.” Kovacs said.
The play, described as “The Wheel”, is intended for success against single coverage.
“I trust Joey anytime I throw the ball his way,” Kovacs said.
“I thought the pass was going out of bounds,” New Providence second-year head coach Chet Parlavecchio, Jr. said. “It was tough for me to see. Joey made a great play.”
This back-and-forth contest saw both teams dominate in the trenches at times, while turnovers also played a big role.
To Brearley’s credit the Bears kept coming back and three times tied the game on Ramos touchdown passes.
Brearley reached New Providence territory – including first-and-10 on the 20 – the second, third and fourth times it had the ball, but could not reach the end zone.
New Providence had a chance to take a 14-0 lead, but a fourth down pass from the Brearley 11 went incomplete.
Brearley took its fifth possession and marched 89 yards in 13 plays to reach the end zone for the first time. Ramos, who completed four passes on the drive, threw a three-yard touchdown pass on the left side to junior wide receiver Antonino Principato with 5.6 seconds left before intermission.
Brearley senior lineman Dylan Santelli came up with the game’s first turnover, recovering a fumble by New Providence senior running back Jack Gertie with 5:55 remaining in the third quarter.
New Providence senior Mario Fuentes then intercepted a pass over the middle to give the Pioneers possession at their own 44.
On the very next play, Kovacs completed a pass over the middle to a wide open D’Anna, who caught the ball and was then bumped by Brearley senior back Vin Rappa. The ball was jarred loose and subsequently fell into the hands of Brearley sophomore linebacker Derek Graichen, quickly giving Brearley the ball back.
Graichen’s interception led to Brearley’s second score. Four plays later Ramos connected with junior wide receiver Sean Boyars for a 54-yard touchdown pass that tied the game at 14-14 with 1:34 left in the third quarter.
It took New Providence only one play- and the never next one from scrimmage – to take the lead for the third time. Sidoli beat single coverage and raced down the left sideline with 1:17 to go before the fourth to give the Pioneers their third one-touchdown lead.
Brearley lost a fumble on its next possession, recovered by New Providence junior end Aidan Donnelly with 7:29 to go. However, the Bears held New Providence and got the ball back.
This time Ramos got the pigskin to an open Chris Keith, with the senior wide receiver taking it all the way to the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown reception with about two minutes remaining.
Every time it appeared that Brearley was going down, the Bears came right back up.
“This game lived up to the billing, it was a slugfest,” Parlavecchio said. “It was back and forth and there were plenty of momentum shifts.
“That’s the type of rivalry it is between us and Brearley. “Last year’s game was incredible and so was tonight’s.”
Kovacs on 7-0: “we needed a lift and worked hard the whole off-season. We’ve gotten a lot stronger and we’re playing with a lot more confidence.”
BREARLEY (5-1, 4-1) 00 07 07 07 00 – 21
NEW PROVIDENCE (7-0, 5-0) 00 07 14 00 06 – 27
NEW PROVIDENCE – Joseph D’Anna 7 pass from Owen Kovacs, Owen Kovacs kick
BREARLEY – Antonino Principato 3 pass from Danny Ramos, Antonino Principato kick (7-7)
13 plays, 89 yards, 3:49 used
NEW PROVIDENCE – Owen Kovacs 1 run, Owen Kovacs kick (NP 14-7)
6 plays, 63 yards, 3:00 used
BREARLEY – Sean Boyars 54 pass from Danny Ramos, Antonino Principato kick
4 plays, 56 yards, 1:49 used
Brearley capitalized on a turnover – an interception by Derek Graichen.
NEW PROVIDENCE – Anthony Sidoli 61 pass from Owen Kovacs, Owen Kovacs kick
1 play, 61 yards, :11 used
BREARLEY – Chris Keith 70 pass from Danny Ramos, Antonino Principato kick
NEW PROVIDENCE – Joseph D’Anna 23 pass from Owen Kovacs (NP 27-21)
4 plays, 25 yards