How's this for sportsmanship? Dumont's Tyler Rivera (left) consoles West Side's Makhi Mills after the Huskies' 7-6 win in the opening round of the North 1, Group 2 state sectional playoffs.
DUMONT – First of all, all credit to Mahwah. Last Friday night the Thunderbirds needed a road upset at Dumont to have any chance of qualifying for the state playoffs. They won and snuck into the North 1, Group 2 state sectional tournament and salvaged something from an otherwise tough season.
Conversely, Dumont had the feeling that it might have blown it. The playoff seeds had yet to be determined, the Huskies were on the borderline of the home game/road game divide in the middle of the bracket and, with this year’s Thanksgiving Day game set to be played in Tenafly, a thick class of 11 seniors that had ridden the ups and downs of the last four years might have walked off their home field for the last time on the short side of an upset loss.
“Last week when we walked off the field we thought this might be the last time we were ever here and we left on a loss,” said Jackson Lockhart, Dumont’s standout two-way lineman who is a four-year starter. “Once we found out that we were going to get another chance to play here we knew it was time to get serious. We were not leaving this field with a loss.”
For a high school football program, the state playoffs are serious business and Dumont earned its reprieve, the No. 4 seed and a home game in the opening round of the North 1, Group 2 bracket opposite No. 5 West Side (Newark). It was a slog from start to finish, but the Huskies got to walk off their home field for the final time in better spirits after a 7-6 victory that was not decided until a sack and forced fumble by Lockhart and AJ Rosenberger that was picked up by Peter Sesay.
That came on a fourth down play on the Dumont 27-yard line and put the Huskies in the ‘Victory’ formation for a couple of snaps as the as all of the elephants in the room made a beeline for the exits. The win was Dumont’s first home playoff victory since 1984 and there first postseason victory of any kind since 2000.
Talib McLean scored West Side's lone TD, a two-yard reception with 2:06 left in the first half..
Mike Farrington, who took over as the Huskies head coach on short notice over the summer, certainly appreciated those accomplishments.
“It’s been a great ride. It started this summer as soon as we took over and everybody bought in,” said Farrington. “We knew what we were getting into and it started with the four principles that we count on. P-A-C-T: Pride, Accountability, Commitment and Trust. These are the four things the kids bought into and I knew it was going to be successful.”
It was a slugfest right from the jump as West Side recovered a fumble on Dumont’s first play from scrimmage, the first play of the game, and got all the way inside the Huskies’ 10-yard line before turning the ball over on downs. That would become a recurring theme as West Side moved the ball effectively between the 20s, but its spread offense was not all that effective earning the tough yards in the red zone.
“In space they’re good. We knew they were going to try to take the top off and they did it multiple times,” said Farrington. “But once they got into [the red zone] a little more we were able to play with them because they can’t run past the end zone. There is limited room so we were able to jump some of the short stuff and our defensive line just played insane today keeping [quarterback Nazir Smith] in the pocket, corralling him and making it hard to throw.”
The first quarter passed with no scoring but Dumont (7-2) was driving when it ended and made two key plays in succession to finally get on the board. Senior quarterback Anthony Piccinich hit Michael Gabettie for 8 yards on a fourth-and-1 from the West Side 15 and then Gabettie switched rolls on the next play, a first-and-goal from the 7.
Michael Gabettie ran for 82 yards and threw for Dumont's lone score as the Huskies won in the state playoffs for the first time since 2000.
With Piccinich back in the shotgun, Gabettie went in motion, stopped behind Rosenberger, the center, and took the wildcat snap before hitting Josiah Guzman in the flat. Guzman scooted inside the right pylon with 6:14 left in the first half and Ethan Chiaramonte added the all-important extra point, the one that stood up as the game-winner of the next nail-biting 30 minutes and 14 seconds.
West Side (7-2) got its score on its final possession of the first half. Smith, the Roughriders junior quarterback, completed two key passes to set up the TD as he hit Talib McLean for 13 yards on a third-and-9 from his own 41 and then found Nayad Walker for a 44-yard gain that put West Side at the Dumont 2. Smith then put one on the numbers of McLean in the front of the endzone to make it 7-6 with 2:07 left in the second quarter.
The point after was foiled, however, by Rocco Veluzzi, who came flying in from the left side and laid out for the block. Nasir Williams, the junior running back who doubles as the Roughriders’ kicker, felt the pressure and was forced to boot the ball around Veluzzi or have it blocked. Williams’ adjustment pushed the ball wide right and left West Side short the one point that it chased for the rest of the game to no avail.
West Side’s second half possessions ended in two turnovers-on-downs, a punt and the fumble on fourth down on their final offensive play of the game. Dumont was not much more effective on the offensive side of the ball after the intermission but it didn’t matter in the final rendering. West Side outgained Dumont 265-194, but it is the Huskies that are moving on to the semifinals where they will visit top-seeded Rutherford at Tryon Field on Friday night.
“It’s been a roller coaster up and down. Because we were in the Ivy [Division] last year everybody thought we were going to get our butts kicked this year. We had to prove ourselves to a lot of people,” said Gabettie, who rushed for a team-high and game-high 82 yards and threw for the Huskies lone score. “We’ve been through a lot. We should not have lost to Mahwah last week, we gave up some big passes, but shutdown the run. We proved ourselves today. We gave up a couple of big passes, but our secondary is really coming together and it is the right time.”