October 16, 2016
By Rich Barton
NJS.com Staff Writer
John Tanis scored the touchdown that opened the floodgates for Pompton Lakes, which improved to 5-0 on the season and clinched it spot in the inaugural NJIC playoffs with a 49-20 won over Harrison on Saturday.
POMPTON LAKES – After being bounced out of the state playoffs in 2014 and then not qualifying for the state tournament last year Pompton Lakes has been itching for another taste of playoff football. With the inception of the NJIC Tournament this fall the Cardinals came into the season with extra incentive of getting a chance to experience playoff football a little earlier than most teams.
Although the NJIC Tournament does not start for another two weeks, the Cardinals’ playoff run essentially started on Saturday. Facing Harrison with the NJIC-Liberty Division title and a playoff berth on the line, the Cardinals took a punch in the mouth for the first time all season. It was just a bump in the road as quarterback Kevin Cotter got things going and sophomore Frank Negrini had a quarter to remember.
Negrini scored a career-high four TDs, all from one yard out, with three of them coming in the second quarter as Pompton Lakes put the game away by halftime to secure the final berth in the four-team NJIC Tournament with a 49-20 win over Harrison on Saturday at Hershfield Park.
“We know that a team can pop a big play at any time in the game, but we couldn’t get down on ourselves and we concentrated on just playing our game,” said Cotter. “Nobody freaked out after those returns or complained. We just let them go and focused on the next play. We kept doing what we’ve been doing all year. We worked as a team and picked each other up.”
The Cardinals and their partisan crowd came in hyped up and full of energy, but that initial adrenalin surge lasted only as long as it took Harrison’s versatile senior Mike O’Donnell to return the opening kickoff 80 yards up the left side for touchdown as the Blue Tide took a 6-0 lead just 15 seconds into the game.
On a second-and-five from midfield, Cotter hit tailback Chris Grecco with a swing pass for 36 yards down to the Harrison 14. Three plays later, Negrini bulled his way in behind a big block from Cameron Kleinot with the Pat from Heriberto Herrera pulling the Cardinals into the lead, 7-6.
|Mike O’Donnell returned two kicks for scores to keep Harrison in it early.
After forcing a three-and-out, Cotter hit wideouts Nick McDonald and Nick Posimato for first downs. Then, on play-action, Cotter rolled out to his right and turned the corner to run it in for an eight-yard score.
But before the Cardinals could blink the momentum changed hands again. On a nearly identical return to the one O’Donnell opened the game with, Dustin Huseinovic took the ensuing kickoff up the left sideline 82 yards to the end zone. But for the second straight time the extra-point attempt went wide and the Cardinals still had a 13-12 lead.
“One of the things we’ve been talking about all season is controlling what we can control,” said Pompton Lakes’ head coach Scott Mahoney. “We have to be able to tackle people, but we were able to put it past us and focus on the next play.”
The key play of the game came early in the second quarter on a fourth-and-nine from the Blue Tide 14-yard line. Cotter rolled to his right away from pressure and threw a strike to John Tanis, who made a leaping catch at the back of the end zone for a TD and a 20-12 lead. Despite it being still a one possession game, that play clearly gave the Cardinals a boost and seemingly sucked the life out of Harrison.
The unsung heroes for Pompton Lakes resided up front. Led by Kleinot, Joe Nicoletti, Austin Leone, and Drew Flynn, Pompton Lakes was dominant at the line of scrimmage all game. Pompton Lakes allowed just one first down in the first half. The Cardinals got a big break when a snap on a punt went over the head of O’Donnell with McDonald making the tackle to give the Cardinals a first-and-goal. Negrini scored from one yard out with Kyle Shafer hitting McDonald for the two-point conversion and a 28-12 lead.
A long punt return by Grecco gave the Cardinals great field position again. Cotter hit Steve Sanders for a 13-yard gain on fourth-and-12 to keep the drive alive with Negrini plunging in again from a yard out with 31 seconds left in the half.
|After a a matchup against Lyndhurst next week and a bye the week after, QB Kevin Cotter will lead Pompton Lakes into the NJIC playoffs against Rutherford.
Harrison got the ball at its own 40 and tried to catch the Cardinals by surprise by running a play. It proved to be an ill-advised decision as Negrini picked off the pass at midfield and took it all the way down to the one-yard line. Negrini finished it off with his fourth one-yard TD of the half for a commanding 41-12 Pompton lead.
“I’ve never had a quarter or a game like that in my life,” said Negrini. “We knew our offense could move the ball and the line deserves all the credit. Our guys up the middle were great, especially when we got close to the goal line. They tried to push the D-line to the back of the end zone not just past the goal line. We are treating like every game from here on out is a playoff game and that intensity showed up today.”
It took only a few minutes into the second half for the Cardinals to put the game into running-clock status. Grecco pulled off a dynamic 50-yard punt return for a touchdown as Pompton Lakes led by as many as 37.
Negrini found the end zone four times and Grecco accounted for over 200 return yards for Pompton Lakes (5-0). Cotter was efficient completing 12 of his 21 passes for 155 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions to go along with a rushing TD. McDonald and Nico Negrini combined for 13 tackles and four sacks to lead the defense that held Harrison to just 133 total yards, 70 of which came on the last drive of the game with the outcome already decided. O’Donnell hit Huseinovic on a 15-yard TD pass to cap the scoring for Harrison (4-1).
Pompton Lakes will look to stay undefeated and stay sharp against Lyndhurst next week before a showdown without another undefeated foe, Rutherford, in the NJIC Tournament semifinals. Finally, playoff football is back in Pompton Lakes and head coach Scott Mahoney could not be happier about it.
“It’s going to get bigger and tougher from here,” said Mahoney. “The four teams are locked up now (in the NJIC playoffs) with us against Rutherford and Becton vs. Hasbrouck Heights. You’re going to get four great games on the two weekends. You’re basically getting a taste of playoffs before you get to the states and we know what we’re getting into. It’s a great opportunity and we hope to take advantage of it.”
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