SCOTCH PLAINS / FANWOOD, NJ — Perhaps instead of Group 1 football, it should be called Adversity Football. The combatants at Tyson Field on Saturday, Sept. 11, visitor Highland Park and host Dayton, sure have seen their share.
Jonathan Dayton High School’s turf field was flooded and deemed unplayable for Friday night’s scheduled Big Central Conference–Division 1B contest, which was Dayton’s season opener and the second game of the season for Highland Park.
The game was moved to Saturday afternoon at Scotch Plains–Fanwood’s turf field, with Dayton coming away with a convincing 34-0 triumph.
The loss was the 27th straight for Highland Park, which opted not to play last season. In 2018, the Owls were limited to five games because of player shortage. Their last win was on Nov. 24, 2016, the season finale in a 6-4 campaign, which was the last time the Owls finished better than .500.
First-year head coach Shawn Harrison had his team ready to play on Saturday, despite having only five substitute players on the sidelines behind him in uniform.
“I give Highland Park credit,” second-year Dayton head coach Mike Abbate said. “They hung in there.
“We know what it’s like to be in that position. We’ve been there before here at Dayton.”
Dayton got only three games in last year, going 1-2. The Bulldogs came close to beating New Providence in their only home game, falling 34-28 to the Pioneers on Oct. 23, in what turned out to be their final 2020 contest. New Providence went on to produce an 8-1 record last season, closing with a four-game winning streak.
Dayton last had a winning season in 2010, when the Bulldogs finished 9-2 after reaching the North 2, Group 1, semifinals. Since then, the closest Dayton has come to finishing better than .500 has been 5-5 records in 2011 and 2015.
Dayton last won consecutive games in 2016, when the Bulldogs closed a 3-7 season with a two-game winning streak.
The Bulldogs will attempt to win two in a row for the first time in five years, when they play at division rival South Hunterdon next Friday night.
Dayton was not able to get a scrimmage in this preseason, so Saturday was the first time in nearly 11 months that the Bulldogs had a game against another team.
“It gets stale when all you do is practice for so long,” Abbate said. “The two things I was most happy with today was our possession of the ball to shorten the game, and we limited our mistakes. Obviously, we have so much more work yet to do to get better.”
Senior quarterback Logan Solomine, a first-year starter under center, scored two touchdowns on 25-yard runs and completed two touchdown passes to fellow senior Justin Carrier, all in the first half.
“We’ve faced adversity and even so this week,” Solomine said. “This was the first time we were able to get out and hit someone in a different color. Once we got our first hit, I knew the game was over.”
South Hunterdon evened its overall record at 1-1 and moved to 1-0 in Division 1B with a 21-14 division home win against Belvidere on Friday, Sept. 10.
On Friday, Sept. 17, South Hunterdon will play its third straight home game. The Eagles went 4-4 last year, closing with three consecutive victories.
“We have to get right back at it in practice on Monday, hit the weight room and continue to trust our coaches,” Solomine said.
Solomine is also a starter on defense at cornerback.
“Our goal is to win our conference,” Solomine said. “To do that, we need our line to block like it did today, tackle better and take advantage of big plays.”
Dayton produced its first shutout since closing 2015 with a 36-0 consolation home win against Bergen County school Bogota.
“I dedicate this game to my Aunt Corinne,” Solomine said.
Dayton last played South Hunterdon in 2019, winning 20-7 at home. The teams clashed in South Hunterdon in 2017, with the host Eagles coming out on top 38-16.
Photos by JR Parachini