Connect with us

High School Sports

River Dell Snaps Three Game Playoff Losing Streak Against Sparta



After dropping the last three state playoff games against Sparta, the River Dell Golden Hawks (10-1) survived a furious fourth quarter rally by the Spartans, winning 28-21 at Matty Certosimo Field in Oradell. The Golden Hawks advanced to North 1, Group 3 championship game next Saturday at MetLife Stadium where they will face against Ramapo.

Trailing 7-0 with just under eight minutes to go in the second quarter, River Dell junior Alec Lanza broke free through the line and blocked a Sparta punt giving the Golden Hawks the ball at the Spartans 26-yard line. Senior quarterback Dylan Connolly completed a 10-yard pass on fourth-and-5 at the 21 keeping the driving alive. On 1st and 10 at the 11, senior running back Charlie Connell blasted straight through the middle of the line for the score tying the game up at 7-7.

“90 percent of the time you block a punt, you are going to win,” said River Dell head Coach D.J. Nimphius. “We had a return phase on the play but thought we could come free on that play.”

After forcing the Spartans into a three-and-out sophomore Dave Estevez 45-yard punt return set the Golden Hawks up at the Sparta 25. On 2nd and 8 at 23, Connell flashed his speed bursting through an open hole in the line for the touchdown putting River Dell in the lead at 14-7 with 3:39 remaining in the 2nd quarter.

River Dell received the opening kickoff to start the 2nd half and marched down the field in 13 plays and 65 yards chewing up 7:17 off the clock. On 4th and 1 from the Sparta 29, Connolly churned out 3 yards to gain the 1st down. Faced with a 3rd and 9 at the 25, Connolly completed a 13-yard pass to senior Aiden Murrell and Connell added a 10-yard run. On 2nd and goal from the 1, Lanza barreled through for the score extending the lead to 21-7.

“Coming out in the 3rd we need a River Dell drive,” said D.J. Nimphius. “Alec got one and he’s one heck of a high school football player doing the job upfront.”

The Golden Hawks defense continued its dominance forcing Sparta into another punt. Connolly’s punt return gave River Dell good field position at the Spartans 41. Connolly utilized his speed gaining 25 yards on the ground plus a personal foul on Sparta moved the ball down to the 7. From there Connolly took over again, sprinting into the end zone on 1st and goal putting River Dell up 28-7 with 1:09 left in the 3rd quarter.

“Unfortunately we turned the ball over a couple times in the 1st half but good to know my teammates had my back and were able to make plays,” said Dylan Connolly. “Our offense is a bunch of meticulous preparers and were able to read out our keys and play to the best of our ability in the 2nd half.”

However, Sparta responded quickly on their ensuing possession moving the ball swiftly down the field and on 4th and goal at the River Dell 1, junior running back Alex Milliken dove ahead for the score cutting the lead down to 28-14 with 9:21 left in the 4th quarter. The Spartans attempted an onside kick but were flagged for offisides. Their second attempt proved to be successful with senior Al Falco recovering the ball after it deflected off two Golden Hawks players.

Starting out at midfield, Milliken ripped off a 30 yard run moving the ball to the River Dell 11. On 2nd and 10, junior quarterback Matthew Maute found senior tight end Dean Gennat in the right flat and from there darted into the end zone trimming the margin down to 28-21 with 7:39 left.

“You knew that was coming with a fast break team that is coming fast and throws a couple of dunks at you,” said D.J. Nimphius. “You got to understand it was a dunk and will be another play but I’m not surprised.”

The Spartans defense forced the Golden Hawks into a quick three-and-out. With the ball at their own 19, Sparta managed to move the ball into River Dell territory but on 4th and 4 at the 39, confusion ensued on the play allowing senior defensive lineman Zac Bousada to make the tackle on Maute. Connolly sealed the victory gaining 5 yards on a QB keeper.

“They had our number for the past couple of years and I’m pretty speechless right now,” said Dylan Connolly. “The fact we were able to get by them and make the plays when we needed to says a lot about this team. It just feels good to put the final nail in the coffin at the end in the 4th because we have been on the opposing end past 3 years. Going back to MetLife Stadium is a great experience and last 2 or 3 times have not gone too well for us but we have 2 weeks of hard preparation and film study.”

“We needed to get over the hum and did that,” said D.J. Nimphius. “The perfect script is to win one more. When we took over in 2004 it was not that easy and we could have gone into the tank but the kids stuck it out and proud to be their coach.”

The following two tabs change content below.

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.
Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

More in High School Sports