Old Tappan outlasts Pascack Valley

HILLSDALE – Old Tappan junior quarterback Charlie Amatrula burst through the middle for an 18-yard touchdown run two minutes into the fourth quarter and the Golden Knights held on to defeat Pascack Valley, 14-7, Friday night.

“The kids know the tempo of the game and what the matchups are," said Old Tappan coach Brian Dunn. "They know what it is you need to do to win the game. It was a marathon type game - it wasn't a sprint. You just have to keep grinding and wait for your opportunities, which we did.”

The winning touchdown occurred one play after the Knights got the ball deep in Valley territory after a punt play went awry.

“That's football - those things happen," Dunn said. "We got lucky they made a miscue. Their punter did a great job trying to get it off and do something with it. [On the winning touchdown] we caught them on a quick one.”

“We wanted to take advantage of their mistake because when you do that it wins games," added Amatrula. "We just wanted to punch it in quick and go up on the scoreboard.”

Old Tappan scored the first time they got the ball on a 14-play, 58-yard drive that consumed more than eight minutes of the first quarter. The big play was an Amatrula to senior wide receiver Graydon Scherer hookup good for 29 yards and a first down at the Valley 15.

The Golden Knights completed the drive when Amatrula connected with junior tight end Daniel Rivera with a 7-yard TD toss before he was knocked to the ground by the Valley defensive line.

”We were down by the goal line with 4th down and tried a play to sell power and sneak our tight end out," Amatrula said. "We had everyone blocking and there were a lot of people in my face but I just threw it and Daniel made a great catch. I didn't even see it - I didn't see what happened.”

The Knights maintained their lead until very late in the half. The two teams traded possessions and then midway through the second quarter Valley senior quarterback Zach Traina found junior wide receiver Dylan Hutchinson for a 45-yard pass play down the left sideline to the Old Tappan 30-yard line. But Knights junior defensive back Ian Andresen intercepted a pass two plays later to halt that Valley scoring drive.

Valley got the ball back at their own 49-yard line with 35.8 seconds to go in the first half and rather than taking a knee they decided to run some plays.

Traina gained a yard on first down, then "clocked" the ball on second down. Then he threw the ball deep down the right sideline and the ball sailed out of bounds on third down.

On fourth down Traina again threw the ball deep and this time Old Tappan was called for pass interference, earning Valley a first down on the Old Tappan 35 with 1.3 seconds to go.

Traina dropped back and threw a rainbow pass deep into the end zone where senior wide receiver Mike Supple caught the ball behind three Old Tappan defenders. Hutchinson booted the extra point and the teams headed to halftime tied, 7-7.

”We had three guys go deep," said senior linebacker Niko Akos, "and it was a missed opportunity for an interception or a batted-down ball. They got a lucky play.”

The Valley defense came into the second half on fire, forcing Old Tappan into 3-and-out. But an unsportsmanlike penalty on the Old Tappan punt set them back to their own 14-yard line. A few plays later a holding call further stymied their attack and they had to punt the ball back to the Knights.

Old Tappan could do nothing on offense so they punted as well.

Valley took the ball and on 3rd-and-2 at their own 41 Traina found Hutchinson down the right sideline for 30 yards and a first down at the Knights 29-yard line. But two plays later Akos stepped in front of a Valley receiver to intercept the ball.

“It all starts with the defensive coordinator," Akos said. "Coach [Joe] Clause had me backed up. I dropped into my drops to the right side, the quarterback rolled out to the left side so I was right there for the interception and I ran it back the other way. The D-line did great, they ran in and got right up in the quarterback's face for that throw right to me. It changed the field and the momentum.”

“It was a great play," Dunn added. "Niko's always in a good position to make a play. The kid is the most underrated player around because we use him in everything on offense - he's not always getting his hands on the ball - but he's at the point of attack all the time. He's the leader on defense, he's on every special team. He never comes off the field. He's a quiet, underrated, most valuable kid we've got. He's like a Swiss Army knife - he does a little bit of everything. “

Amatrula and Scherer hooked up again, this time for 32 yards down to the Valley 28. But a couple of plays lost yardage and a 50-yard field goal attempt fell two yards short.

Then came Valley's offensive series that ended with the botched punt and Amatrula's winning score.

Valley had a chance when junior running back Nick Messina broke free and raced 43 yards up the left sideline but the drive ended at the Old Tappan 26.

Then the Golden Knights took over and consumed nearly seven minutes of clock.

“Our O-line definitely stepped up and towards the end we got our running game going," Amatrula said. "We ate up clock and our O-line did fantastic at the end.”

Amatrula carried the ball for 11 of the 13 plays in the drive, picking his way through the line for 45 yards. He finished with 26 carries.

“I think my best asset as a runner is my vision," he said, "so I like to look around and pick my way through. Before I played quarterback I was a running back so I'm used to running the ball a lot. I love to run the ball.“

The Old Tappan drive ended at the Valley 26 and Valley got the ball with only 1:04 to go in the game. But the Knights defense stepped up and yielded only eight yards on four plays so the game ended.

“They're a tough team," said Dunn. "They're just like us - they have a lot of tough kids who try and play hard. Nothing flashy about anybody on the field. It's just hard-nosed kids on both sides. That's the type of game it was. We took advantage of one mistake they made. Otherwise it's a dead heat.

"I'm proud of our kids for stepping up and not backing away from any physical challenges. We did a better job in the second half but I feel it's just two evenly-matched teams that have a lot of tough kids, kids that really wanted it. We just got fortunate with the one miscue." ”