ROSELLE PARK, NJ — Prior to the opening kickoff, Jonathan Dayton High School senior Logan Solomine made a bold prediction to one of his teammates.
“I told Justin Carrier that if I receive the kickoff, I’m going to take it to the house,” Solomine said.
Solomine fielded Roselle Park senior Mateo Perez’s kick at his own 25 and initially ran straight ahead, until he saw bodies coming together.
“In practice, we work on returning the ball in the middle of the field,” Solomine said. “I then cut over and saw an opening. I’m not sure who it was, but one of my teammates made a block that took two guys out.”
Solomine then raced down the left sideline for what turned out to be a game-opening 75-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, immediately putting visiting Dayton in front.
Solomine’s “take it to the house” meant running all the way to the far end zone, which is closest to the high school.
The standout senior’s first-ever kickoff return for a touchdown also turned out to be the game-winning points, putting the Bulldogs ahead for good.
Dayton scored the game’s first three touchdowns and held on to defeat Roselle Park 18-13 on Saturday, Oct. 23, in the Big Central Conference crossover clash at Roselle Park High School’s Herm Shaw Athletic Field.
Dayton snapped a three-game losing streak, two of the losses by 1 point and one by 6, to improve to 3-4. Roselle Park fell for the fifth time in a row, two of those losses by 6 points or less, to slip to 1-5.
For Solomine, who also scored Dayton’s third and final touchdown on a 1-yard run, returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown proved that Dayton was ready to go right out of the gate.
“I always wanted one of those,” Solomine said of the kickoff return for a touchdown.
Dayton also scored the first time it had the ball from scrimmage, when, on the third play of the drive, senior running back Joe Lucarello burst through a hole and then found running room along the right sideline for a 62-yard touchdown run.
Dayton then capped a nine-play, 63-yard drive, when it scored on the third play of the second quarter, Solomine going in the end zone from the 1-yard line to give the Bulldogs a three-touchdown advantage. However, the score remained 18-0 after Dayton failed to execute a 2-point pass play.
Roselle Park, held to just four plays for positive yardage total on its first two possessions, two of them runs of 13 and 15 yards by diminutive junior tailback William Peay, was finally able to move the ball down the field following Dayton’s third score.
Starting from his own 35, Peay began the drive with a 15-yard run to the 50. Peay had a solid game for the Panthers, leading all rushers with 121 yards on 20 carries and one touchdown. As a team, Roselle Park rushed 43 times for 215 yards.
Perez hit junior tight end Ted Gregoire for an 11-yard gain, and then, on fourth down, junior running back Manuel Faxas ran for a first down.
Faxas also carried the ball 7 yards for the next first down on the march to get the ball to the Dayton 34. After a 1-yard loss on first down, Roselle Park executed a reverse right about as best as a team could.
Roselle Park junior back Elijah Ignacio took the second handoff, followed his blockers around right end and ran all the way to a 35-yard touchdown. Perez’s point after pulled the Panthers to within 18-7 with 4:17 left before intermission.
Momentum increased in Roselle Park’s favor when Ignacio recovered a Bulldog fumble to give the Panthers the ball back on Dayton’s 27-yard line with 1:16 remaining.
On the final play of the first half, Dayton junior linebacker Jacob Griffith came through the line and blocked a 26-yard field goal attempt by Perez to keep the score 18-7 in favor of the Bulldogs.
Roselle Park received a better-than-average kick return from Peay to start the second half on the Dayton 45. The Panthers then proceeded to march down field and get as close as the Dayton 10 before a 16-play drive that took 10:07 off the clock was halted on an incomplete pass on fourth-and-goal from the Roselle Park 18.
Dayton finally got the ball but was able to run, after being offside on first down, only two offensive plays before the third quarter ended.
After gaining two first downs on runs by Dayton sophomore running back Alex Altemus, who also had his share of key tackles from his defensive back position, Dayton lost the ball on a first down fumble, with Roselle Park sophomore defensive back Adrian Palacios there to recover for the Panthers on their own 47.
Roselle Park had a run of 19 yards on first down and then another for 18 yards, plus a penalty on Dayton for half the distance to the goal line that gave the Panthers a first-and-10 at the Bulldog 11.
Three plays later on fourth-and-1 from the 2, Peay was pushed forward and then stretched his body just over the goal line. The official from the left sideline called the play a touchdown, as he felt Peay got the ball to break the goal line.
Roselle Park attempted to pull to within three on a running play for the ensuing 2-point conversion but was stuffed. Dayton led 18-13 with 5:20 to go.
Roselle Park did well to stop Dayton on a three-and-out and force the Bulldogs to punt. Carrier got off a good one, on fourth-and-3 from his own 39; his kick went all the way to the Roselle Park 14 for no return and a net gain of 47 yards.
Roselle Park, beginning the drive with just 2:14 remaining and two time-outs left, had no luck moving the ball and was pushed backward after recovering its own fumble on first down and then getting called for a holding penalty.
Then, on fourth-and-16 from his own 8, Perez threw a desperation pass that Dayton senior defensive back Antonio Powanda intercepted, with Powanda returning the pick to the Panther 17.
Two plays later, Dayton took a knee to come away with the hard-fought road victory.
Roselle Park deserves a lot of credit for not giving up after being down 18-0. What hurt the Panthers was not scoring any points after Dayton’s first turnover in the second quarter and not coming away with any points on their long, time-consuming drive that took up almost all of the third quarter.
“Yeah, not scoring any points there at all on that drive in the third quarter was tough,” Roselle Park head coach Greg Dunkerton said.
Dayton had the ball for only 11 plays in the second half and gained just 27 yards, all on the ground. However, the Bulldogs came up with several big stops on defense throughout the course of the game to take this win into the big crossover contest at 6-2 Brearley on Friday, Oct. 29.
The Bears did not play on Thursday, Oct. 21, at home because Dunellen had a COVID-19 situation. Brearley is 4-2 on the field but will receive forfeit wins against Roselle Park and Dunellen because their opponents had COVID-19 issues that warranted canceling the contests. Brearley was not able to find teams to replace Roselle Park or Dunellen on the weeks those games were canceled.
“It’s always fun playing Brearley,” Solomine said.
Dayton has twice lost by 6 points and once by 1 point. This time, the Bulldogs closed on the positive end of a 5-point clash.
“There are always three or four plays that help determine the outcome, and they went in our favor this week,” Solomine said.
“We have a young team that is still learning to put the whole thing together,” Dunkerton said. “In a close game, the importance of details comes to light. You work and you grind out and you learn the importance of the little things that are needed to come out on top.”
Peay carried the ball 11 times for 69 yards in the first half, finding running room at the left and right sides of the field. He gained 52 on nine in the final two quarters.
“He’s definitely a tough kid,” Dunkerton said. “Although he’s undersized, he makes up for it with his toughness. He has good vision, so we’re trying to develop a trust for him to see where the openings are.”
NOTES: Lucarello paced Dayton in rushing, with 77 yards on six carries. Solomine completed two-of-two passes for 58 yards, both in the first half. Brandon Berknoph caught one for 50 yards and Carrier the other for 8.
Dayton rushed for 97 yards on 14 carries in the first half and, for the game, for 124 on 25.
Perez completed two-of-eight passes for 25 yards and one interception. Gregoire caught one pass for 11 yards and Peay the other for 14.
Roselle Park is next scheduled to host conference-crossover foe Belvidere (3-3) on Saturday, Oct. 30, at 10:30 a.m.
Photos by JR Parachini