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Old Tappan vs Ramapo
Game Of The Week

For the past couple of weeks people were talking about how Friday night’s Old Tappan/Ramapo football game meant nothing. Both teams had secured a good seed in the upcoming state playoffs so neither had anything to gain. Some asked how long the starters would play before the subs took over the game. Others wondered aloud if the game had to be played at all.

Apparently the players and coaches didn’t get the memo because the game came down to the last minutes of the fourth quarter, with Old Tappan holding on for a 31-28 victory.

“It doesn’t mean nothing to us,” Old Tappan coach Brian Dunn said of the game. “It’s a great team we’re playing. You can’t come into a game like that and not be ready to play. Our kids were excited to play. They’re always excited to play.”


The Golden Knights were excited on the first drive as they drove deep into Ramapo territory but they fumbled the ball at the 15-yard line and the Raiders recovered.
The Old Tappan defense held and got the ball back at the Ramapo 37. It took 10 plays and senior running back Marquez Antinori punched it in from the 4-yard line to give the Knights a 7-0 lead. They made it 14-0 two minutes later. The second touchdown began after another three-and-out by the Raiders, followed by a blocked punt by Old Tappan junior John Lohrer. On the first play senior quarterback Nick McNerney tossed a perfect pass that senior wide receiver Bryan Baker caught in stride and coasted into the end zone.

The score remained the same until late in the second quarter when the Knights defense blew a coverage and Raider senior quarterback AJ Wingfield spotted junior wide receiver Max Baker wide open and zipped him a pass that he carried into the end zone to complete a 70-yard TD play, cutting the Knights lead to 14-7 with 3:19 to go in the half. Old Tappan regained a 14-point lead three minutes later. This back-and-forth scoring would become a pattern as the game wore on.
The big play of the 10-play, 59-yard drive was a McNerney to senior wide receiver Aidan Bilali completion good for 22 yards, down to the Raiders 20.
“All week we knew we had to be physical in the trenches,” said senior lineman Mike Mancuso. “That’s what separated us today. Coach Dunn made a point of that - if we’re physical in the trenches guys will follow us.”

Antinori ended the drive with another 4-yard TD run, but he was injured on the play and did not return.  “It’s next man up,” Mancuso said. “Marquez [Antinori] went out and the next guy came in. The game plan stays firing down hill. The running backs hit the hole. Everyone is going hard in practice every single day. We go through adversity drills in practice all the time. It really showed today. I’m proud of my team.” As a result of Antinori’s run the Knights carried a 21-7 lead into intermission.
Max Baker got the Ramapo faithful pumped up when he grabbed the second half kickoff and sped up the right sideline 83 yards for a touchdown to trim Old Tappan’s lead to 21-14.

It took less than three minutes for the Golden Knights to score again. After sophomore running back James Capplemann, McNerney and senior running back Danny Vitellaro each gained four yards to earn a first down at the Old Tappan 42, McNerney hit Bilali with a 58-yard strike to again boost the lead to 14 points, 28-14.
“[He has] good touch on the deep balls,” said Dunn. “He’s done it all year. He puts it right where it needs to be.”

“We designed those plays and we had to execute,” McNerney said of his touchdown passes. “I saw them downfield and no one was covering them. We had to score. I have to thank my team for having my back.” It became Ramapo’s turn to score and they did, thanks in large part to senior running back Shane Brancaleone’s 47-yard burst down the left sideline. Two plays later Wingfield scrambled for 17 yards and two plays after that he gunned a 3-yard TD pass to junior wide receiver Ty Jaten in the back of the end zone. The Raiders were again within seven points and had a chance to get within four points on their next drive but they missed a 25-yard field goal. That miss would prove costly when Knights junior kicker Eric Rodriguez booted a 29-yarder to make it a 10-point game, 31-21. Ramapo scored another touchdown on a 2-yard run by Brancaleone but it took them more than six minutes to score.

“The big thing was we had [sophomore Nick] Orecchio in there at corner and he held his own,” said Dunn. “We held on and forced them to earn it.”  By the time Ramapo kicked the ball back to Old Tappan there was only 3:02 left in the game, so the Golden Knights only needed a couple of first downs to ice the game. McNerney took care of one of them with a 12-yard completion to Capplemann, sandwiched between Ramapo’s first and second timeouts of the half.

“We said, ‘this is it. If we don’t get this we lose the game,’ ” McNerney said.  “We told each other we have each others’ backs, we’re going to get the first down and we’re going to win the game.” Vitellaro and Capplemann each gained four yards to bring up a third-and-two as Ramapo used its final timeout. McNerney handed off to Vitellaro and he burst forward for three yards to clinch the victory. “Danny [Vitellaro] and John [Lohrer] are good athletes and good players,” said Dunn. “We got a couple of good kids we can mix in there. I was proud of Danny and Johnny making some big plays in there.”

“I have to thank my line,” McNerney said. “Without them we wouldn’t be in this game at all. They opened the holes for us and Marquez [Antinori] had a couple of nice runs. Danny had a couple of nice runs. Johnny Lohrer had a couple of nice runs. We just had to execute.” Old Tappan improved to 9-0, while Ramapo fell to 7-2, ending its seven game winning streak.

“We didn’t execute on offense early in the game,” said Ramapo coach Drew Gibbs. “That was a big part of it. Once we got a little more comfortable out there I thought we moved the ball.  Too many mistakes for us offensively in the first half. We have to play better early.”

“They’re a great team,” Mancuso said. “You have to give them respect. They’re going to go a long way in the playoffs. Both teams have respect for each other - that’s why we love playing them. It’s always a good game and it feels like football out there.”

Both will host playoff opening games next Friday night. “The sun will come up tomorrow,” said Gibbs. “We’ll be alright. Our kids played hard. We were right there with a team most people call the best team in North Jersey.”

“It was a great learning experience for all of us,” said Dunn. “A good, close game - a battle right down to the very end. We got tested a lot and rose up to the challenge we had. It was nice.”

Article By JC Baumuller


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