Jais Juarbe came off the bench to lead New Milford to the winning touchdown in double overtime as the Knights remained unbeaten with a 14-7 win at Lyndhurst.
LYNDHURST – Going on the road to face a hungry Lyndhurst team with the NJIC-Liberty Division title on the line, New Milford expected a tough battle that would go right down to the end. However, role players Jais Juarbe and Tommy Ryan were not expected to be focal points of the offensive gameplan down the stretch. But with injuries to quarterback Brian Mackey and tight end Tyler Picinic, both Juarbe and Ryan had to fill much bigger roles in crunch time.
After slugging it out through regulation and an overtime period, New Milford got the ball first in the second overtime and was faced with a fourth-and-8 from the Lyndhurst 23-yard line. Anything short of a first down and the Knights’ league title hopes would diminish significantly. Ryan made only one catch in the game but it was a huge one. Juarbe lofted one down the middle to Ryan for a 20-yard gain. Two plays later, Bart Nativo plunged in from a yard out as New Milford survived some key injuries to lock up a second straight NJIC-Liberty title with a 14-7 victory in double overtime over previously unbeaten Lyndhurst on Saturday afternoon.
“We know we have a great team and we always stick together,” said Juarbe. “Even with (Mackey) and (Picinic) went down we felt confident. This was the longest game I’ve ever been a part of. People were dropping like flies and we almost ran out of water on the sideline. This was our hardest game and everybody had to step up.”
The home crowd was strongly behind the Golden Bears, who were hosting their biggest game in over a decade. New Milford countered that by playing well on both sides of the ball early. On a second-and-16 from the Lyndhurst 32, Mackey hit Picinic on a screen pass with Picinic doing the rest and stretching the ball over the pilon for the touchdown. The Knights’ elation quickly dissipated as Picinic limped off the field after the play with a knee injury and did not return.
Piotr Partyla scored the lone Lyndhurst touchdown.
That was the lone offensive highlight for either team in a penalty-marred first half. The Knights’ defense was lights out five consecutive three-and-outs to start the game and they did not allow a first down until the final minute of the half, going into the locker room with that same 7-0 lead.
“We pride ourselves with our toughness and we always play physical football,” said New Milford linebacker John DeSena. “Good teams are going to make good plays but we don’t let it affect us. We get back in the huddle and get it together.”
Mackey took a hard hit in the pocket and was eventually replaced by Juarbe in the third quarter. With two of New Milford’s three biggest offensive weapons off the field, the Golden Bears looked to pounce on the opportunity. New Milford’s Thomas Silverio picked off a pass deep in the Knights’ own territory to thwart one drive but Lyndhurst final broke through on its next drive after the turnover.
Following a huge block from pulling guard Shane D’Andrea, Piotr Partyla took the ball on a sweep and went untouched 33 yards to the end zone with 1:29 remaining in the third quarter to tie the game at 7.
From that point on it was a field position battle, which Lyndhurst won down the stretch during regulation. The Golden Bears had a chance to go ahead with less than three minutes to play but a 30-yard field goal was hooked just inches outside the left goalpost and the two teams needed overtime, and then a second overtime, to decide a winner.
Bart Nativo scored the touchdown that clinched the NJIC-Liberty Division title.
Lyndhurst got the ball first in overtime, but quarterback Brian Podolski’s fourth-down pass to the end zone was intercepted again by Silverio. The Knights had a chance to win it but a 35-yard field goal attempted fell short and the teams moved into a second overtime.
This time the Knights received the ball first but could not make much headway on their first three downs to stare at a fourth-and-eight from the 23. Juarbe came up huge by lofting a touch pass over the Lyndhurst linebackers and into the arms of Ryan, who was wrestled down at the three-yard line for a first-and-goal. On second-and-goal, Nativo dove over the right side for a touchdown with Brian Johnson tacking on the PAT for a 14-7 lead.
“When I saw the middle open before we even got set at the line I knew the ball was coming to me,” said Ryan. “I knew my route and I ran the route. Once I saw the ball in the air I just had to go get it.”
New Milford’s defense bent but never broke during the second overtime. Podolski’s 13-yard pass to Emmanuel LaLuz got the Golden Bears down to the 11. But a huge loss on a first-down run followed by a sack from Scott Mackey put Lyndhurst (3-1) in a huge hole. Faced with a fourth-and-24 from the Knights’ 25, Podolski heaved one towards the corner of the end zone but New Milford linebacker Christian Mastropierro was there to knock it down as the Knights escaped with a 14-7 win to retain their NJIC-Liberty Division title and secure a berth in the NJIC playoffs.
New Milford (5-0) will face Secaucus next week then get a much-needed bye week before heading into the NJIC playoffs. The Knights will face the winner of next week’s showdown between Emerson Park Ridge in the NJIC semifinals. Despite a rash of key injuries the Knights are keeping their lofty goals of an NJIC title and a state section title intact.
“We’ve been working hard since August and this was a great win even though a few people went down,” added DeSena. “Great young kids stepped up for some of our main guys today. We’re a tough team, we’re confident, and we’re going to be ready for the playoffs.”