BY JIM MCCONVILLE
EAST ORANGE — It is going to be a special night for the Ridgewood High School football team tonight when the Maroons take on Fair Lawn. Not only will Ridgewood be looking to get to 6-0 on the season, it will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the 2003 North 1, Group 4 state-championship team.
Some 35 to 40 players from that team will be descending upon the RHS Stadium field for a halftime ceremony. While accepting the accolades of the present day fans, they will also get a chance to look at this year’s team, one that has drawn plenty of comparisons to that 2003 unit.
It will be a very difficult night for Fair Lawn, which comes into the game at 0-5 and was routed by Passaic Tech last weekend, 60-0. The Cutters would appear to be equally overmatched against the Maroons, who continued to be an offensive machine with a 53-0 destruction of East Orange last Saturday.
When Ridgewood head coach Chuck Johnson was looking for a team to fill the schedule void created when Paramus Catholic took on an out-of-state game, he was looking to find a school that would give his team a taste of November football.
The Jaguars were available, and Johnson looked at it as a chance to travel to Essex County for a game. It may seem trivial, but Essex County has been a place of horrors for Ridgewood, with Essex teams having eliminated the Maroons from the playoffs the last five times.
They also played a style that would more closely resemble the kind of offense that Ridgewood was likely to see in the postseason. What Johnson didn’t expect was that his team would blow out East Orange with the ease it did. As has been the case all season long, the Maroons started fast and never let up. They scored on their first four possessions, as each member of the starting backfield found the end zone.
It began with Tim Bonanno scoring from four yards out. After a three-and-out for the Jaguars, Maroon quarterback Jamal Locke went 62 yards on the first play for a score. That was followed by a 10-yard TD run by Jake Sabatini and a 14-yarder by Cooper Telesco.
“We’ve got so many weapons,” Johnson said, “and Cooper has been such a compliment to the other three, and Connor [Van Caugherty] gives us such a great downfield dimension. He catches everything.”
Van Caugherty showed off those hands in the second quarter. After Sabatini got his second touchdown on a one-yard dash, Ridgewood was looking at a 2nd-and-19 on the East Orange 26-yard line. Locke rolled right and sent a floater toward the back of the end zone. Van Caugherty, a first baseman/right fielder in the spring for the Maroons, treated it like a pop fly behind first base, reaching out and stabbing the ball while leaning past a defender. The score made it 40-0 at halftime.
Telesco got his second TD in the third quarter on a six-yard run before backup quarterback Matt Donovan closed the scoring in the final quarter with a 52-yard scamper off a 4th-and-11 scramble, the first varsity touchdown for the junior.
Donovan also had to step in on defense right away at cornerback after Jonathan Davila was shaken up on the opening kickoff. Davila did not return to the game out of precaution, and Donovan more than held his own in the secondary, breaking up one pass.
“We knew he could play,” Johnson said of Donovan. “He was able to get his feet wet in a game here, and you could see his confidence in coverage as well as run support.”
The Maroons put up another set of impressive offensive numbers, including 363 yards on the ground and 66 through the air. Telesco had his first 100-yard rushing game, lugging the ball 11 times to hit the century mark right on the nose. Locke had 85 on five runs; Sabatini was 7-for-64 and Bonanno 9-for-49. The backfield members and Johnson alike all gave plenty of credit to the offensive line for their work. Center Andrew Moras, guards Juan Fernandez and Austin Purritano and tackles Mike Antosiewicz and Dan Hurley have paved the way for an average of 339 rushing yards a game.
Antosiewicz, Purritano and Hurley all started last year, while Fernandez got a couple of starts for injured players. The new varsity starter is Moras, who has stepped in admirably and has not had a bad snap all season.
“He’s a bull, and this is really only his second year playing,” Johnson noted about Moras. “He broke his arm as a freshman, and it didn’t heal right, so the doctors had to re-break it his sophomore year. Last year was his first full season, and he’s just getting better and better.”
Inside linebacker Eric Lewis continued to create havoc on defense, getting in on 11 tackles with three for losses and two quarterback sacks. Lineman Aaron Martinez also had a strong game with nine tackles, a half-sack and a forced fumble. Strong safety Oliver Sippel had his second interception of the season to set up Sabatini’s first-period touchdown.
Ridgewood now continues its quest for the top seed in the North 1, Group 5 state playoffs. Tonight’s game with Fair Lawn as well as next week’s game in Clifton is important from the perspective that, if the Maroons want two home games in the playoffs, they have to win them both. They will be heavy favorites in both contests, and they must remain focused on the task.
“Work hard, don’t look down to an opponent,” Locke said when asked how the Maroons stay sharp. “Every team is marking their game with us on the calendar, so we have to keep doing what we’re doing.”
The Maroons next square off against the Cutters of Fair Lawn on Friday 10/25 at 7:00pm on Stadium Field at RHS.