MOUNTAIN LAKES, NJ — This is high praise from a longtime mentor and just shows you how much a player will be missed.
“Matt Sims was one of the top two quarterbacks I’ve had here,” David Brearley High School head football coach Scott Miller said of his standout senior signal-caller. “He was a special player for us in so many ways.”
Sims, who played on the varsity all four years, led the Bears into battle in the North 1, Group 1 sectional state championship game at Wilkins Field against the host Mountain Lakes High School’s Herd on Saturday, Nov. 12.
Both teams competed in North 2, Group 1 last year, David Brearley falling as the sixth seed at third-seeded Boonton High School, 41-24, in the first round, while top-seeded Mountain Lakes got all the way to the final and lost at home to second-seeded Cedar Grove High School, 15-7, for the championship.
On Saturday, Nov. 12, David Brearley was seeking its first state championship since 2006; it would have been its sixth in the playoff era. Mountain Lakes was out for its first since 2014 and eighth overall.
Both teams scored touchdowns early on, Mountain Lakes first and David Brearley second on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Sims to senior wide receiver Brendan Fitzsimmons.
The combination of No. 10 Sims at quarterback completing a key pass to No. 2 Fitzsimmons at wide receiver will go down as one of the best pass-catch combos ever produced at the Group 1 school that hails from Kenilworth.
It would be justice to see Sims and Fitzsimmons competing in some kind of all-star game next summer.
“Matt always had the ability to throw the ball, and he kept on getting better,” Miller said. “The two of them, Matt and Brendan, forged a special relationship on the field.”
Mountain Lakes answered David Brearley’s touchdown with a second one as quarterback Ben Miniter was able to get the ball to wide receiver Gavin Ananian, who caught the ball and broke free for a 45-yard score.
Because Mountain Lakes made both of its 2-point conversions and David Brearley missed the one it had, the host Herd found itself ahead 16-6 at the break. David Brearley tried to cut the deficit to 7, but a 30-yard field goal attempt by Ryan Obiedzinski on the final play of the first half was kicked directly into the Mountain Lakes defensive line.
David Brearley drove deep into Mountain Lakes territory the first two times it had the ball in the second half, the first time reaching the Herd’s 4-yard line, before both drives were snuffed.
Mountain Lakes went on to win, 16-6, and advance to the first-ever Group 1 semifinals this weekend at Franklin against North 2, Group 1 champ Weequahic High School. The first Group 1 final will be played at Rutgers University the first weekend in December.
Despite not winning a state championship, David Brearley finished its year at 10-1 and got to 10-0 for the first time since the Bears last played in a state championship game in 2015.
The Bears went 6-2 with Sims behind center two years ago in the shortened pandemic season and 7-3 last year for a three-year total of 23-6. Sims led David Brearley to the state playoffs both opportunities he had as a junior and senior.
Against Mountain Lakes, Sims carried the ball 36 times for 144 yards to go along with his touchdown pass to Fitzsimmons.
“I thought we moved the ball well,” Miller said. “We just weren’t able to get it in the end zone when we needed to. Mountain Lakes is a good team with a strong defense.”
The one time it did dent the Mountain Lakes defense, David Brearley put together a drive that took 17 plays, went 71 yards and used up almost eight minutes. On third-and-7 from the Mountain Lakes 17, Sims briefly looked right and then moved left and fired the ball to Fitzsimmons.
The pass led Fitzsimmons, who was single covered, perfectly, as Fitzsimmons caught the ball and then ran with it into the left corner of the end zone for what turned out to be the only points David Brearley would score on the day. In an attempt to tie the game at 8-8, Sims had his 2-point pass intercepted on the right side by Mountain Lakes defender Kevin Gillespie.
That turned out to be the final touchdown pass Sims would throw, and it was fitting that it went to fellow senior Fitzsimmons.
“Sims is a heck of a player and we knew that going in,” Mountain Lakes head coach Darrell Fusco said. “If he was going to beat us, it was going to have to be through the air. I think our defense did an outstanding job and really came through when it had to.”
Another David Brearley senior who excelled, with his name being called by the announcer all game long after key tackles he was in on, including some fine solo ones, was No. 57, Bruce Harms.
“To say getting this far based on what we started with was an overachievement would be an understatement,” Miller said. “I thought we could win a conference championship, but the kids really came a long way.”
David Brearley outscored 10 opponents, including one the Bears beat by forfeit, by an impressive margin of 333-98, with shutout victories against Spotswood High School, 36-0, at home; Jonathan Dayton High School, 26-0, on the road; South Hunterdon Regional High School, 14-0, at home; and Highland Park High School, 32-0, on the road.
David Brearley outscored its first two playoff opponents by a combined score of 95-30, including home wins against fifth-seeded North Arlington High School, 50-16, and eighth-seeded Kinnelon High School, 45-14.
The Bears captured the Big Central Conference’s Freedom Gold Division championship outright at 4-0, beating Spotswood, Roselle Park High School, Jonathan Dayton and Highland Park. Three of those wins were by shutout, and the victory against Roselle Park was by the score of 46-26. Roselle Park, which finished 5-5, scored the most points against David Brearley this year.
North 1, Group 1 final at Mountain Lakes
No. 4 David Brearley High School (10-1)
00 06 00 00 – 06
No. 2 Mountain Lakes High School (10-1)
08 08 00 00 – 16
Mountain Lakes: Jordan Hernando 6 run, Jimmy Elliott run (ML 8-0).
12 plays, 80 yards, 1:45 used.
David Brearley: Brendan Fitzsimmons 17 pass from Matt Sims, pass failed (ML 8-6).
17 plays, 71 yards, 7:47 used.
Mountain Lakes: Gavin Ananian 45 pass from Ben Miniter, Jimmy Elliott run (ML 16-6).
11 plays, 80 yards, 4:09 used.
David Brearley (10-1)
A-David Brearley 34, Manville 20
H-David Brearley 36, Spotswood 0
H-David Brearley 46, Roselle Park 26
A-David Brearley 26, Jonathan Dayton 0
H-David Brearley 14, South Hunterdon 0
A-David Brearley 32, Highland Park 0
A-David Brearley 44, Middlesex 6
H-David Brearley over Dunellen by forfeit
H-David Brearley 50, North Arlington 16
H-David Brearley 45, Kinnelon 14
A-Mountain Lakes 16, David Brearley 6
Head coach: Scott Miller
Section: North, Group 1
Conference: Big Central
Division: Freedom Gold (4-0, champs)
North 1, Group 1: (2-1, second)
Points for: 333
Points against: 98
Photos Courtesy of JR Parachini