The implications for this Friday night matchup between Hopatcong and North Warren were huge. With a win, the North Warren Patriots would clinch at least a share of the Colonial Division Championship. If Hopatcong walked out with the victory, the Chiefs would be one step closer to reclaiming the crown they won the year before. These two are both physical, strong, and gritty football teams, and the game would turn out to be a great one.
North Warren took the ball on the first drive of the game. On the first play, quarterback Sean Thornton took a designed run up the middle for 5 yards, with Jake Dorman on the tackle. Patriots junior Nick Heinz took a handoff up the middle for 15 yards. The offense continued to get yards on the ground as Conor Frehill ran for 12 yards off the jet sweep. The drive did not turn into points when the Patriots faced a 4th-and-7 and the pass fell incomplete.
Hopatcong looked to come out and put some points on the board quickly after their defense made the stop. Jake Wilkerson’s run got minimal gain on the first play of their opening drive. On 3rd-and-1, the Chiefs looked to run belly one more time, but it was stopped short of the first down. Hopatcong was forced into a 3-and-out.
The Patriots came out and ran the ball just like they did on the first drive. After a 7-yard gain on 1st down, Brayan Rodriguez of the Chiefs tracked down a QB scramble for a loss of one. 3rd down brought huge success for North Warren. Ricky Baird ran a deep route outside the numbers, and caught a big pass for 32 yards. After the play, North Warren was looking to capitalize on the huge gain. However, the drive could not gain any more steam after Kyle Dixon leaped over the middle to deflect the pass on 4th down.
Hopatcong handed the ball to Jake Dorman, and he ran for 9 yards on tackle trap. After Bart Yarosz gained a first down with his run on 3rd-and-inches, the first quarter came to a close: 0-0.
The first play of the second quarter brought some life into the Chiefs’ air attack. Vince Giordano dragged over the middle of the field and caught a pass for a gain of 24 yards. The passing game looked to go to Giordano again, but Patriot DB Darian Redmond batted down the deep ball. After showing promise with the pass, Hopatcong’s drive ended when a third-down run gained no yards. The ball was punted back to North Warren.
North Warren decided to throw the ball as well. Thornton found Conor Frehill on a screen up the middle for 19 yards. Nick Heinz moved the chains way down field after he ran the ball to the outside and broke a few tackles. False start penalties began to plague the North Warren offense, and the drive was forced to another stop.
The Chiefs started by going backwards as Yarosz was sacked early in the drive. 3rd down was much different. Jake Wilkerson ran up the middle, found a hole, and won a footrace down the sideline, which gave Hopatcong a 7-0 lead in this critical divisional matchup.
North Warren came back looking to answer. Frehill continued his success with jet sweep, as he ran it for a first down. The Patriots looked to him again on 3rd-and-5, and the running back picked up the first down over the middle. One more time, Frehill ran jet sweep. He took the ball straight down the sideline and picked up a huge chunk of yards. After Nick Heinz ran belly on 1st and 2nd downs, Frehill capped off his amazing drive by punching it in from 1 yard out. The game was now tied at 7.
After giving up the points, the Chiefs looked for another way to score a touchdown, and the pass gave them a great shot at it. Giordano got separation from the cornerback and caught a hook for 13 yards. On the very next play, Giordano ran a double move on the defender and burned him down the sideline for 31 yards. After the Chiefs were getting closer to the end zone, junior Pat Aufiero caught his first varsity touchdown on a hook over the middle. The extra point was missed by the Chiefs however, so the score stayed at 13-6.
The first half ended after a handful of Hail Marys fell incomplete.
The Chiefs took the ball at the start of the second half hoping to add some distance on the scoreboard with no success. The 3-and-out consisted of two sacks and a delay-of-game penalty. The offense had no choice but to punt the ball away.
Once the Patriots got the ball back, the team ran straight at the defense. Nick Heinz took the ball on two straight plays, which resulted in a NW first down. After they ran the ball, they ran it some more. Conor Frehill found a gap and burst out of the pile for 14 yards. Lastly, the drive was capped off by Ricky Baird’s score on the power run. The missed extra point haunted the Chiefs as they were now losing 14-13.
After both teams went back and forth with drives that went nowhere, Hopatcong found momentum. They leaned on Wilkerson to make up for the sack on first down, and the stud fullback picked up 34 yards on a belly bounced to the outside. The third quarter wrapped up after this big play. With only a quarter left to decide the fate of the Colonial Championship, the Patriots lead 14-13.
The drive was nearly stopped with an interception, but Giordano was able to rip the ball out of the defender’s hands as the pass fell incomplete. The Chiefs looked to convert on 3rd down, but the run fell short. In an attempt to get yards on 4th down, Yarosz threw a seam pass over the middle to Aufiero. The receiver jumped up to grab the ball, but it was just out of his reach. North Warren took over on downs.
But once the Patriots took the ball, penalties and short gains forced them to give it right back. Yarosz looked downfield for a receiver, and then scrambled to pick up a 1st down. Next play, Yarosz found a receiver but he could not hang on for the first-down grab. As Hopatcong aimed to pick up those yards, the shotgun snap rolled to the QB. Yarosz recovered the fumble, but was sacked. With time running low, Hopatcong went for it on 4th down. Yarosz looked to his left for a receiver, but he was hit hard on his blind side as the pass wobbled incomplete.
North Warren attempted to run the ball as they had been doing well all game, but this time it did not work. Wilkerson got into the backfield for the TFL on a Patriot sweep. After North Warren failed to gain any substantial yards, Hopatcong called a timeout on 4th down with 3:20 left in the game.
The Chiefs came out knowing this drive would decide the game. As Hopatcong was down by one, Pat Aufiero gained 30 yards on a drag route over the middle. Hopatcong felt like they began to gain momentum as they handed the ball to Wilkerson out of the gun. He gained 8 yards. On third-and-two, Wilkerson got the 1st down. The offense kept rolling down the field as Dorman caught a pass for 10 that converted another 3rd down. The offense crept towards the game-winning touchdown. Aufiero caught another pass over the middle and picked up 9 yards. The drive was looking great for the offense, but it came to an abrupt end. Yarosz looked over the middle and tried to find Dixon in the end zone, but the safety ran in front of the receiver and intercepted the pass. The game was ended shortly after the interception.
North Warren clinched a share of the division championship, and will look to win it outright next week. And, after a preseason full of expectations, Hopatcong has been eliminated from playoff contention.