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Ground game carries Park Ridge to NJIC Patriot Division Title

Park Ridge (5-0) Head Coach Tom Curry IV said afterwards the goal was to get the ball in the hands of Vincent Pinto and Justin Wagner. “They are our bread and butter and go down with the best I have”

They faced off against the Emerson Cavaliers (5-1) for the NJIC (North Jersey Interscholastic Conference) Patriot Division Title and a spot in the NJIC Playoffs. It was a cold and blustery night at Park Ridge High School on Friday night, and Pinto and Wagner definitely lived up to the billing.

After the Owls defense forced a turnover on downs on Emerson’s opening drive to start the game, Pinto engineered a 12-play 57-yard drive that chewed up over six minutes of the clock, capped off by Pinto lofting a 17-yard touchdown pass to Wagner on fourth and 15 in the left corner of the end zone.

However, the Cavaliers rallied in the second quarter with Frankie Savino picking off a Pinto pass. With excellent field position at the Park Ridge 36-yard line, Emerson displayed some trickery on the first play, utilizing the flea flicker with Savino pitching the ball to Nick LaForge. Laforge then tossed the ball back to Savino who aired out a pass to a wide-open Tyler Reisnner for the score with 10 minutes left.

The back and forth action continued as it took just six plays and 65 yards for Park Ridge to answer back as Pinto raced untouched into the end zone on a 18-yard touchdown run. With just six and a half minutes left, Park Ridge lined up for an extra point attempt, which was no good. Emerson had a golden opportunity to tie up the contest late in the first half with Savino picking off a Pinto pass for the second time.

Starting out at the Cavaliers 30-yard line, Savino went to work via the air and on the ground, pushing the ball down to the Park Ridge 30-yard line. However, the Owls defense held, forcing Savino into a pair of incomplete passes to end the first half.

“Offensively we kicked ourselves too many times, shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times and had some uncharacteristic turnovers and fumbles, said Curry IV. If we had maintained those drives, we could have put up more points on the board. Defensively we were outstanding besides that trick play on the touchdown and we pride ourselves on playing defense and running the ball and did one of them very well tonight and one of our trademarks”

Dominating the time of possession in the second half, the Park Ridge offense had a couple of opportunities to extend the advantage. The drives ended with Pinto short of the first down marker and fumbling the ball. With Emerson getting the ball back at the five-minute mark, Owls defensive back Matthew Manning stepped in front of a Savino pass for yet another interception.

Relying on playing smashmouth football, Park Ridge kept the ball on the ground with Pinto and Wagner churning out one play after another. On second and goal at the Cavaliers eight-yard line, despite being injured on the previous series, Pinto barreled ahead for his second score of the night with a minute left. The Pinto to Wagner connection was not finished, connecting on a two-point conversion that sealed the 21-7 victory. It also sealed the NJIC Patriot Division Title and a spot in the NJIC Playoffs where the Owls will take on Cresskill. Pinto carried the ball 27 times for 200 yards while Wagner finished with 63 yards on 11 rushes as Park Ridge ended up with 266 yards on the ground. Meanwhile the Park Ridge defense limited Emerson to 140 yards of offense.

“We have so many play makers on offense but the defense does it every game and only letting up 21 points all season long and can’t thank them enough honestly, said Pinto. The offensive line are just workhorses, I told them this is the game and you just have to drive your feet and be relentless. We just kept fighting and our coaches do the same thing because we want to play in bigger games. I started playing in fourth grade, best friends’ with all these seniors and spend all day together and do anything for these guys and to get it on a night like is amazing”

Tom Curry IV on the victory; “When we got down a couple of times last year we came roaring back. I tell them never look at the scoreboard and it’s 0-0. They took us out of what we like to do, we are vertical passing team and we took what we could. Being there last year(NJIC Playoffs) we a little taste of it and see if we can make that next jump in the NJIC. Cresskill will be a very tough opponent and team we have seen many times and will have our guys ready”

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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