For a while last Friday night, it appeared as if Secaucus’ dream season was going to have a fairytale ending. Maybe this was a case of football “Hoosiers,” with the neighboring team making the long-awaited journey to the big house, only to come away with the improbable victory. It certainly looked like a Hollywood ending was in the cards.
The Patriots got a big break early in their NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state championship game at Giants Stadium, when Alex Farinola intercepted a fluke pass at the Cedar Grove 5-yard line early in the first quarter. On the first play after the interception, the Patriots’ main man and offensive force Joey Impreveduto went in from the 5, and when the Pats converted the two-point conversion (like they attempted all season) on a run by Eddie Delgado, the Pats were in business. They held an 8-0 lead over the heavily favorite from Essex County just four minutes into the game.
The massive crowd, which had made the short jaunt over from Secaucus, started to feel the buzz. There was the excitement of a possibly historic evening.
But then the walls started to collapse around the local heroes. Cedar Grove’s Patsy Caggiano, who is perhaps the best all-around player the Patriots have ever faced, got going both offensively and defensively and there was no stopping him. Caggiano broke free for a 52-yard touchdown on the second play after the touchdown, slicing the lead to 8-7. Caggiano would end the day with 175 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
Secaucus had a chance to increase the lead, moving the ball down to the Cedar Grove 14-yard line, but the Pats were stopped on fourth-and-1. That was a momentum killer.
On the next play after the big defensive stop, Caggiano broke loose for 46 yards, then capped the drive with a 20-yard touchdown run that gave Cedar Grove (11-1) the lead for good at 15-8.
“He was outstanding,” Secaucus head coach Charlie Voorhees said of Caggiano. “We knew coming in that he was outstanding. We couldn’t do anything to stop him.”
If Caggiano’s second touchdown was big, the third was the real killer.
On the third play after the score, Patriot quarterback Sean Egan attempted a pass to the left flat and didn’t see what was trailing the play. It was Caggiano, who stepped in front of the pass and danced 29 yards down the sideline for a 22-8 Cedar Grove lead.
“That play was the back breaker,” Voorhees said. “It was the killer.”
But the Patriots didn’t give in. There was still time before halftime.
“On the surface, things might have looked bad,” Voorhees said. “But we were going to give it a shot.”
Voorhees reached deep into the offensive bag of tricks and pulled out everything. There was the old hook-and-lateral passing play, which worked for a long gain. There was a triple reverse flanker pass to the quarterback, which also worked and might have gone for a touchdown had the pass not been slightly underthrown to an awaiting Egan.
“When you see us reach deeper for the tricks, you know we’re trying anything,” Voorhees said. “We practice those plays, but we hardly use them. But they worked. We were going to fight until the end.”
The Patriots marched down to the Cedar Grove 2-yard line with just seconds left. They had no time outs remaining. However, instead of trying a pass, Voorhees went with his bread-and-butter standard play, a sweep to the left with Delgado carrying the ball. He was stopped short of the goal as time expired.
When the Patriots left the Giants Stadium turf at halftime, it was quite evident that the Patriots were an emotionally defeated and deflated bunch. They walked off the field, while Cedar Grove sprinted to the locker room.
“But I didn’t think we were done, and I told them so at halftime,” Voorhees said. “We had to make a defensive stand to start the second half. Sure, we took our lumps in the first half, but we thought we still had a shot.”
But it just wasn’t meant to be. Cedar Grove scored on its first possession of the third quarter, pushing the lead to 30-8.
“We fought to the end and tried our best,” said Voorhees, whose team received a 2-yard run from Impreveduto in the fourth quarter, closing out the scoring.
Voorhees said that the Patriots were playing a little shorthanded, when senior guard Mark Kimmelman broke his wrist and forced Voorhees to shuffle his lineup.
But that’s not an excuse. The Patriots were playing in their first-ever game at Giants Stadium, in front of more than 8,000 fans. It was Cedar Grove’s sixth state championship. In a game of that magnitude, experience goes a very long way.
“But the place was packed and it was loud,” Voorhees said. “It really was great atmosphere. We had people coming back from the 1970s, from the 1980s. It was unbelievable. It would have been great to go out and win the game, but we didn’t. We’ll learn from the defeat. Life is about dealing with setbacks and those kinds of things. We didn’t get that ultimate goal and we never know when we’ll get another chance. But we’re going to keep coaching each week. That feeling never changes and it will stay with us for a while.”
Added Voorhees, “These seniors gave us an amazing run. They only lost five games in their careers. We don’t lose an awful lot. When it’s all said and done, it was a nice run.”
The Patriots ended their season at 11-1, falling just short of the storybook finale. Sometimes, the football gods aren’t kind and don’t care for fairy tales. – Jim Hague Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.