Drop a 7-6 decision to Ramsey in Group II finale
The final outcome was not even imaginable. It was supposed to be destiny that Hoboken would win the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group II state football championship last Sunday. Everything had fallen into place for the Red Wings.
The game, which was supposed to be played at the early hour of 11 a.m. at Kean University in Union, was moved to the Red Wings' own backyard a couple hours later, courtesy of last week's snowstorm. That was the first advantage. A couple more hours for the Red Wings to sleep in their own bed, have breakfast comfortably, then take care of the business at hand.
The opponent, Ramsey, had never defeated Hoboken in a big game, losing five of them to the Red Wings in the state playoffs, dating all the way back to the disco era of 1979. Ramsey was also coming to Hoboken with its best player, Florian Wouters, barely being able to walk, never mind run. Hoboken was entering the game with its best player, Ira Guilford, on a four-game run never before seen in Hudson County history, rushing for 1,170 yards and 13 touchdowns during that month-long incredible span.
Hoboken had captured five state championships in the last nine years. Ramsey had never won a single state crown.
It seemed logical that the Red Wings would simply walk over the underdogs from Bergen County, steamroll them to the tune of something like 27-7 - setting up yet another parade along Washington Street to honor the championship heroes.
However, that's not what happened. Sometimes, destiny plays funny tricks on even the surest of events. Sometimes, things don't go quite according to plan. Ramsey pulled off the unthinkable and shocked the Red Wings, 7-6.
One would have thought that Hoboken would have simply rolled past Ramsey, especially after scoring a touchdown on their second possession of the game, marching 55 yards on 10 plays, all runs, with Guilford doing most of the work. Jason Blanks went in from the 1-yard line, giving Hoboken the early 6-0 lead.
But that was it. Ramsey's tenacious defense stiffened from that point on and the Red Wings' high-powered offensive attack never reached full capacity.
Guilford was never given any full opportunity to break off one of his patented long-distance runs. He carried the ball 23 times for just 86 yards, with his long carry of the day being just eight yards. For someone who entered the game averaging nearly 12 yards per carry, the output was just stunning.
Equally as stunning was the Red Wings' performance. They were uncharacteristically sloppy, getting flagged for a total of 11 penalties, some of which came in crucial situations. They dropped passes that appeared to be easy touchdowns. They played with a lack of urgency, void of fire.
"[Ramsey] deserved to win," said veteran Hoboken head coach Ed Stinson. "They played hard-nosed solid defense and did a great job in stopping us. Overall, they outplayed us in every facet of the game. We did not block them and didn't provide enough space to run the ball. We had way too many penalties. You don't win championship games when you do that."
For years, Hoboken's success has been predicated on its big-play offense, with its speed and ability to turn a short gain into a long touchdown. Again, no such luck against Ramsey. Hoboken had only three plays that went for 10 yards or more the entire game - and two of those came on the game's final drive.
"I said before the game that I was more concerned with their defense and I turned out to be a prophet," Stinson said. "I empathically said that the best part of their team was their defense, and they not only play good defense against us, they played great defense."
Another disturbing aspect to the Red Wings' loss was Ramsey's ability to turn the tides against them, giving the Red Wings a taste of their own medicine.
Ramsey took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched right down the field on the Red Wings, motoring 82 yards on 15 plays, eating up nearly eight minutes on the clock. Ramsey's Kendall Hammond scored from the 1-yard line and Mike Lajterman added the crucial extra point that proved to be the margin of victory.
The Red Wings had some fair chances in the second half, but the drives were stalled by penalties or solid defensive plays by Ramsey.
The Red Wings' final chance of the day came with less than two minutes left, but seemed promising. They were getting one last opportunity to make destiny shine on the mile-square city.
Blanks completed two passes, then scrambled for 17 yards. On the second run, it appeared as if the Red Wings were going to have first down at the Ramsey 35 with 1:04 left, but an illegal block below the waist negated the run, making it third-and-long instead of first down. In a day of bad penalty after bad penalty, that last flag took the cake.
The Red Wings attempted a hook-and-lateral pass on fourth down, but Stephon Anderson was tackled short of the first down marker, before he could ever pitch the ball back to his teammate. End of game, end of dream. The parade, the state glory, will have to wait for another day.
"A loss is a loss," Stinson said. "You get to this position, to play for a state championship and you come away empty. It's devastating."
Especially when you consider the circumstances and how everything played to Hoboken's favor. There was only one thing that wasn't in the Red Wings' favor - and that was the number that was left etched on the scoreboard.