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Second Half Defensive Surge Helps River Dell Stay Unbeaten



Heading into their highly anticipated match-up at Matty Certisimo Field in Oradell last Friday the Mahwah Thunderbirds and River Dell Golden Hawks were both undefeated at 7-0. Mahwah had posted four consecutive shutouts, so something had to give. River Dell also was seeking its first Big North Patriot title since 2012.

Down 17-7 at halftime, things were not looking good for the Golden Hawks. On the Thunderbirds opening drive of the game, senior quarterback James Cilento, who has amassed 22 touchdowns on the season, broke down the right sideline and cut back to the middle for a 64-yard score. River Dell’s defense stepped up the intensity on Mahwah’s next series where senior Jake Choi batted a Ciliento pass into the air and caught the rebound returning the ball to the Thunderbirds 35-yard line. Golden Hawks senior quarterback Dylan Connolly 1-yard TD tied the game up at 7-7 with 2:38 left in the 1st quarter.

In the 2nd quarter, Cilento engineered a 13-play drive that took 5:20 off the clock resulting in a 27-yard field goal from junior placekicker Patrick Cowan. After forcing River Dell into a three-and-out, Cilento went back to work gaining 12 yards on a 3rd and 3 at the Golden Hawks 44-yard line. Senior running back Zayjay-Colon Carrero ripped off a 43-yard run moving the ball down to the 1-yard line. Ciliento barreled straight ahead for his 2nd score of the game.

“I was not real happy at halftime but there was no yelling or screaming,” said River Dell head DJ Nimphius. “I said this is what we have in front of us and we have to go out and play. The emotion of the game comes from making plays.”

That is certainly what River Dell did in the 3rd quarter forcing Cilento into throwing a pick to senior Matt Coppola on 3rd and 8 that was returned by Coppola to the Mahwah 4-yard line. Connolly busted through the hole on 1st and goal for his 2nd score of the game cutting the Thunderbirds lead down to 17-14. The Golden Hawks defense kept up the pressure on Mahwah’s ensuing possession stripping the ball away from junior tight end Jack Wood on a completed pass from Cilento with River Dell senior Nick Brown recovering the ball.

However, on 2nd and goal at the 10, junior Alec Lanza coughed up the ball. Lanza atoned for his mistake sacking Cilento on back-to-back plays pushing the Thunderbirds into a 3rd and 35 at their own 1. The turning point  came when Cilento decided to air out a deep pass that junior Nick Sirico picking off and returning it 41 yards for the touchdown giving River Dell their first lead of the game at 21-17 with 3:56 left in the 3rd quarter. The Golden Hawks iced the game away in the 4th quarter marching 75 yards on an 11-play drive taking 6:33 off the clock as Alec Lanza powered through for a 6-yard score giving the Golden Hawks the Big North Patriot crown.

“I just saw the ball go up and started running down the sideline,” said Nick Sirico. “The defense stepped up and offense capitalized when we needed to. We came together in the locker room at halftime saying we have to step up and we fired on all cylinders.”

“We played high mistake football in the 1st half and we knew that,” said Dylan Connolly. “In the second half we played pretty resilient and have to get a big stop on defense to get the momentum back. We played hard defense and hang our hat on that” “When you have a goose egg in your loss column, you are playing pretty good football. We wanted to find our identity and we did that in the second half.”

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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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