Wayne Valley came back from a 17-0 deficit with 21 unanswered points to defeat Northern Highlands, 21-17, in the North Jersey Group 4 championship game.
First Quarter: On the game’s first play, Enzo Arjona found Ethan Harris on a swing pass, with all four Highlands receivers throwing good blocks on the edge that allowed Harris to run through the alley and outrace everybody for a 75-yard touchdown. On Highlands’ third series, Arjona found Zack Saturn over the middle for an 80-yard score, as Saturn ran the last 65 yards part the Valley defense.
Second Quarter: Highlands had a drive in progress when the quarter began. They were faced with a fourth-and-5 on the Valley 35 and Arjona completed a pass to Saturn for 10 yards and a first down. They were faced with a fourth-and-4 on the 18 when a Valley defender jumped off-sides, giving the Highlanders a first down at the 13. They were faced with another fourth down from the 7 when they elected to kick a 24-yard field goal by Andrew Haas to make it 17-0 with 7:30 left. It was obvious at this point that the Wayne Valley defense was not allowing Harris to run free they way he did last week. Valley moved on their next possession and a big play was a 28-yard pass from Tommy Moran to Anthony DePalma for 28 yards to the 17. Two plays later, Moran rolled right and completed a touchdown pass to DePalma off a Highlands defender just beyond the pylon. Valley was on the board and it was 17-7 with 5:29 left.
Third Quarter: Wayne Valley drove to midfield before punting. Highlands was also at midfield before sacks on consecutive plays by Joe Miscia for 7 yards and Richy Colonna for 10, forcing Highlands to punt. Valley started on their 30 and went 11 plays, scoring on a 1-yard run by John Testa on the fourth quarter’s first play. Testa carried six times on the drive for 35 yards.
Fourth Quarter: Northern Highlands looked as if they were going somewhere when Arjona found Harris on a screen for 21 yards, but Arjona was sacked for 10 yards by Frank Tortora, who was flying across the field. Valley began their winning drive on their 19 and went seven plays, the last being a 38-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Lugo, who made an over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone. Two key plays on the drive were passes to DePalma of 11 and 13 yards for first downs. Highlands had a golden opportunity with 2:38 left when they stopped Wayne Valley on fourth down on the Valley 36, but they couldn’t take advantage, turning it over on downs.
Summary: Wayne Valley weathered the early storm and were the better team in the last three quarters. Behind Testa’s running and Moran’s timely passing, the Indians came back from a 17-0 deficit. DePalma had 10 receptions, several of them crucial and his touchdown reception before the half started them on their way back. Their defense did a very good, shutting down Harris, something Woodbridge could not do the previous week. That may have been the difference in the game: holding Harris to 29 yards rushing after he had 339 the week before. Wayne Valley had a tough road to reach this point. They defeated Wayne Hills, Phillipsburg, Old Tappan, and now Northern Highlands. Their biggest win was Wayne Hills, getting them over the hump they couldn’t cross in recent years.
Northern Highlands had a very good year, getting their first championship in 41 years and may be on the verge of becoming a top program. While Hariis was stopped, Saturn had a very good game, catching 7, including his 80-yard touchdown.