ROSELLE PARK – You would have thought the season was on the line for both visiting New Providence and host RosellePark the way the two arch rivals battled.
Although both were assured of North 2, Group 1 playoff berths once again, the winner of Friday night’s Mid-State 38 Conference-interdivision game was going to be home for next week’s quarterfinals as opposed to having to get on a bus and travel to someone else’s field.
So what we got was one heck of a game, one that could be considered one of the best this season in UnionCounty.
In the end it was RosellePark that hung on to prevail by a 15-13 score. Both teams are now 6-2.
You know a contest borders on a classic when there are so many plays that could be described as game-altering.
Here are some:
New Providence’s Matthew McCann returns a first-quarter interception of a tipped pass for a touchdown to provide the Pioneers with the game’s first points.
RosellePark gets on the scoreboard in the second quarter as the result of a safety when New Providence snaps the ball out of bounds.
RosellePark then takes the lead for good in the third quarter and is the first team to score on offense when the Panthers receive a big 20-yard touchdown reception from senior tight end Donald Picciano. Taking the throw over the middle from senior quarterback Jordan Andre, Picciano leaps and comes down with a two-handed catch vs. double coverage. The 14-play, 82-yard drive that consumed almost eight minutes was extended when RosellePark drew New Providence off sides on fourth-and-three from the Pioneer 38.
Then RosellePark adds to its lead by scoring the next time it has the ball following a short punt. This time it’s a one-yard touchdown run by senior running back Brian Matthews that follows a 42-yard reception by Joey Fulinello, who made a fine grab just moments after not holding on to a two-point pass following Roselle Park’s first touchdown.
Not showing any signs of quitting, New Providence comes right back and scores with 10:04 to go after junior running back Ibn Nash finds room on the left side and sprints 34 yards to the end zone.
The Pioneers then go for two to tie the game, but RosellePark senior lineman Nick Muccia is there to bat down a pass intended for the middle of the end zone.
With less than six minutes to go and New Providence driving again in RosellePark territory, senior safety Brandon Pugliese manages to take the ball away from New Providence running back CJ Kliesch and then falls on the loose ball for a huge strip-fumble recovery.
“My mission is to always make a play and go after the ball,” Pugliese said. “As a captain and a senior I felt I had to make a play there.”
With just over three minutes left, New Providence’s Joseph Ciarrocca produced the same kind of standout defensive play when he took the ball away from Matthews after the game’s leading rusher gained another 15 yards in Pioneer territory.
New Providence then managed to get the ball to the Roselle Park 21 following a straight-on tackle made by Panther safety Bobby Vail. The Pioneers got the clock down to just three seconds to set up a last-play field goal.
With a chance to win it, David Gelormini’s 37-yard field goal attempt on fourth-and-eight from the Panther 21 sailed wide left. That meant RosellePark had a third straight win over New Providence after last year snapping a 10-game slide vs. the Pioneers.
As a result, RosellePark may be in line to host Brearley (5-4) and New Providence may be going to Secaucus (6-3) in next weekend’s N2, G1 first round.
RosellePark reached the playoffs last year for the first time since 2001 and won two home games to get to MetLife Stadium vs. Hoboken.
“Playing at home last year was a big help for us and now we’ll get to do it again,” Pugliese said.
“It’s nice to be home,” said Terry Hanratty, who now in his second season at the helm of the Panthers has guided Roselle Park to four playoff games, three of them at home.
Down 7-2 at the half, Hanratty felt his team might have more success throwing the ball in the second half.
“We knew they wanted to stop Brian (Matthews) so we tried to open it up a bit more,” Hanratty said.
New Providence did not score an offensive touchdown until the fourth quarter. That’s from a team that scored no fewer than 34 points in six of its first seven games.
“Defense wins championship games,” Hanratty said. “We ran a 50 this week, which is something New Providence is not used to. A good defense can spark the offense and get it going.”
Producing key tackles throughout the entire game for RosellePark were Pugliese, Matthews, Vail and fellow senior Peter Hilburn.
NOTES: Matthews finished with 96 yards on 24 carries and one touchdown.
At halftime, the 1992 and 1993 RosellePark teams that finished 11-0 and captured back-to-back North 2, Group 1 championships were honored at midfield.
The head coach of those squads, 1969 RosellePark graduate John Wagner, was presented with a plaque for his service. Wagner is the winningest head coach in RosellePark history, surpassing Herm Shaw. Wagner won 150 games in 25 seasons as the head coach from 1981-2005. He was an assistant on head coach Geoff Hill’s staff from 1976-1980.
Among the players there was 1994 graduate John Schinestuhl, who was the quarterback, a defensive back and kicker on those 1992 and 1993 championship squads.
It was Schinestuhl’s field goal that defeated New Providence 10-7 in overtime in the 1993 North 2, Group 1 championship game at Herm Shaw Field.
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE-INTERDIVISION GAME
NEW PROVIDENCE (6-2) 7 0 0 6 – 13
ROSELLE PARK (6-2) 0 2 13 0 – 15
NEW PROVIDENCE – Matthew McCann 67 interception return, David Gelormini kick (NP 7-0)
ROSELLE PARK – Safety, ball snapped out of end zone (NP 7-2)
ROSELLE PARK – Donald Picciano 20 pass from Jordan Andre, pass failed (RP 8-7)
14 plays, 82 yards, 7:49 used
ROSELLE PARK – Brian Matthews 1 run, Bradley Carle kick (RP 15-7)
2 plays, 43 yards, :37 used
NEW PROVIDENCE – Ibn Nash 34 run, pass failed (RP 15-13)
4 plays, 68 yards, 1:48 used