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Northern Highlands vs Wayne Valley
Game Of The Week

Northern Highlands scored a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter to defeat Wayne Valley, 28-14, Friday night.

The Highlanders scored what proved to be the winning score on a 1-yard plunge by senior quarterback Charlie Ratner with 7:56 to go in the game.

Ratner’s touchdown ended a 15-play, 79-yard drive that consumed 7:59 off the clock.

“It just shows the strength of our offense and our will power,” said Ratner. “To be able to put together a drive like that you have to have a lot of endurance, you have to have a lot of focus and you have to have a lot of willpower. That goes to show our offensive line. In the trenches is when it gets tough. They’re the ones doing the dirty work.”

“When Charlie came into the huddle he told everybody to ‘calm down, we got this, guys,’” said senior running back Mario Agyen. “And we just went out there and executed.”

Northern Highlands scored an insurance touchdown with 2:02 to go on a 1-yard run by Agyen. Agyen gained 40 yards on five carries and Ratner hooked up with Agyen with a 26-yard pass play. “Being able to get up by seven,” said Highlands coach Keith Migliorino, “and then finish the game off by running the ball to get a score is something we’re searching for to finish off games. That was a good sign for us today.”

After a scoreless first quarter the two teams combined for 21 points in the final five minutes of the second quarter. Highlands drew first blood when Ratner connected with senior Gabe Robles for a 31-yard TD. On the play Robles out-leaped an Indians defender and tumbled into the end zone with the ball.

“That was just our wide receiver Gabe Robles making a play,” said Ratner. “He does that a lot. I have a lot of confidence in him throwing him the ball on one-on-one coverage. When you have a player like that it makes the quarterback’s job easier because you can be more confident throwing the ball into coverage.” On Wayne Valley’s next offensive possession Highlander junior defensive back Liam Roy cut in front of an Indians receiver to intercept a pass at the 40-yard line. Roy headed toward the end zone, made a move away from a tackler at the 20 and ran the ball down to the Valley 8-yard line.

One play later Agyen scored and the Highlanders led, 14-0, with a little more than three minutes to go in the first half. But Valley put together a 6-play, 73-yard drive to get on the board in just over two minutes to cut the deficit heading into halftime to 14-7. Junior running back Selim Maksut got the drive going with a 6-yard run. Two plays later junior quarterback Ryan Michels scampered 29 yards to the Highlands 38. Junior co-captain Nick Trani bolted for 13 yards to the 25-yard line. On second down Michels floated a screen pass to Trani and with solid blocking ahead of him he rumbled into the end zone to complete a 24-yard pass play. So Wayne Valley went into halftime trailing by only seven.

To open the third quarter their defense forced Northern Highlands to punt and they took possession of the ball at their 24-yard line.
Senior wide receiver Al Tedesco gained 15 yards on a screen pass and a few plays later Michels hooked up with Tedesco again for 48 yards down to the Highlands 1-yard line. Trani took it in from there and the teams were tied, 14-all.

“Being up 14 in a game isn’t that much,” Migliorino said. “Wayne Valley is an excellent program, a good tradition and [coach] Roger [Kotlarz] does a great job with his program so you know they’re going to come back.” That was all the scoring until the Highlanders took over in the fourth quarter offensively and defensively. Their defense seemed to step up, especially after Northern Highlands took the lead for good. “I think they felt they let up one earlier and they wanted to get it back,” Migliorino said. “They stepped up in that fourth quarter to get some stops and create some field position. They did a good job. Some pressure on the quarterback late helped.”
Agyen finished with 26 carries for 114 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 60 yards.

“I definitely relish the role [of workhorse],” Agyen said. “Coach always tells me to pick it up. I know there is a lot of pressure on me and my teammates sometimes. Our main thing is to stay focused, calm down and not let the game get into our heads. If it wasn’t for the line I wouldn’t have a game like this. I thank them a lot. They did an excellent job tonight.” Ratner completed five passes for 126 yards and a touchdown. He also scored a touchdown. He appreciates all the weapons he has at his disposal.
“It makes the defense have to spread out,” he said. “It makes the pass rush not as strong. It opens up a lot of plays, opens up a lot of options for our offensive coordinator.  It makes us a lot harder to defend. We don’t have too many tendencies. We have a lot of weapons so if you shut down one guy the next guy steps up.”

Northern Highlands improved to 4-1, while Wayne Valley fell to 0-6. “You improve when you play schools like Wayne Valley and get in these games,” Migliorino said. “Learning how to win is so important. Teaching a program how to win is important if you learn by going through it with both wins and losses. Being able to come out on the winning side of it is definitely something to build off.”

Article By JC Baumuller


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