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Here at Morris Sussex Sports, we don’t use the term “game of the week” lightly. When we saying a specific match up was the “game of the week”, we mean it is one for the books and everyone should be there to watch the drama unfold.

This “game of the week” between West Morris and Sparta was no different. It fit all of the criteria for a monumental game. We have two undefeated teams who will not go down without a fight. Both of their schedules have not been too difficult thus far, making each team hungry for some real action. Let me tell you it was a fight. The players not only had to face each other but they had to battle the elements as well. First it rained and the temperature dropped, creating a mud bath. Then the rain stops but the temperature drops again. Then it rains again and by some stroke of magic, it gets even freaking colder.

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Sparta receiver Eric Castorina busts out for one of his three catches to help his Spartans overcome West Morris (photo by Mattie Marano).

Despite the horrible weather, they had a bigger battle to fight. West Morris came into this game with the strong offensive line. They are able to withstand just about anything with Cole Draghi in their pocket for the 3rd down conversions. Sparta came with Matt Maute and his arm that is able to throw short passes, long passes, pretty much whatever was needed. One team was going to end this battle undefeated, they both couldn’t have it their way. This was a true testament of a blood bath, not one side gave up for even a moment.

Sparta received the ball on their own 22 yard line after Patrick Egan’s kick. The Spartans first possession started out rough and was short. A late hit from a Wolfpack offensive linemen gave them a personal foul, propelling Sparta forward. Yet, Sparta got a true taste of the monster West Morris O-line when they made one completion pass from Matt Maute to Rich McDonald and that was pretty much their only gain. They would miss their fourth down completion and turn it over to West Morris.

Sparta runningback Alex Milliken rushed for 157-yards and three TDs to keep Sparta’s offense moving against West Morris (photo by Mattie Marano).

West Morris would fare no better with Cole Draghi and Jake Congdon getting shut down at the line. After three and out they kicked it back to Sparta. Sparta started out their next possession with small, effective gains, but would backpedal when Maute was sacked by the West Morris D-line. Alex Milliken propelled Sparta into the red zone after a 15 yard pass from Maute. They turned the ball over to the wolfpack in the red zone after a failed 4th and 10. Then the Spartans had a stroke of luck because on the Wolfpack’s first possession was fumbled and recovered by Sparta. Maute after a 20 yard pass to Jake Zerillo, put Sparta on the board. The PAT was no good, making the score 6-0. The rest of the quarter continues on mostly uneventful except for a 20 yard carry by Congdon. The quarter ends at 6-0, Spartans.

For the first part of the 2nd quarter the ball spent more time in the air rather than on the field. Both defenses were holding tight, not really letting much through or up in the air. With a minute and 20 seconds left, West Morris kicked it back to Sparta for the second time that quarter. Their hopes of taking their in lead this quarter was falling further from their grasp. Peter Taylor emerged as the Wolfpack saving grace. He intercepted the ball from Maute in the redzone. Dragi and Congdon were able to bring the ball back to the other side of the field with 20 yard catches each. Even an illegal procedure against West Morris did not stop them. Bryce Sokolowski brought it in for the TD and Egan’s PAT was good, making the score 7-6, ‘Pack.

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West Morris celebrates as they continued to stay neck-in-neck with Sparta (photo by Mattie Marano).

The third quarter started with a shock. Some say that the 12th member on a team is their fan section. These are people are there cheering on the players, encouraging them every step of the way. That was not the case with the Sparta fan section. There were not only crude and unnecessary comments made about the West Morris players and the refs, they also made very rude comments to the West Morris marching band that came to watch the Sparta half-time show in the home stands. These comments resulted in the Spartans receiving a 25 yard penalty against them because of their fan section, something I’ve never seen before. West Morris
capitalized on this advantage and after Congdon and Draghi moved the ball to the opposing 40 yard line, Draghi caught a 38 yard pass for a touchdown. The score was now 14-6.

Sparta’s Rich McDonald responded to Draghi’s TD with a huge carry of his own from his own 35 to the opposing 6 yard line, where Milliken punched it in for the TD. Sparta chanced the two point conversion with Zerillo tying up the game at 14-14. Central’s next possession got shut down by the Sparta D-line and strong defensive ends. They made little headway towards the end zone or even the red zone. Sparta’s dynamic duo of Milliken and Maute were carving their way to the end zone up until Maute fumbles the ball. Central’s Cameron Beltram recovered it. Ryan Finlay with his receivers Draghi, Congdon, Sokolowski were able to to move the Wolfpack to the opposing 15 yard line. The quarter ended 14-14.

Sparta’s Matt Maute was stellar in the Spartans duel with West Morris by going 14 of 24 with 239 yards and 2 touchdowns (photo by Mattie Marano).

Going into a match-up like West Morris v Sparta, you have to know that the fourth quarter is going to be explosive. It all came down to the last quarter and the players pulled out everything they had. You could not take your eyes off this quarter because there was action everywhere. West Morris kicked off the quarter with a Congdon touchdown and the PAT was good, making it 21-14, Wolfpack. Sparta made no movement on their next possession, kicking it back to Central. The Wolfpack made a critical mistake on their second down. Ryan Finlay was intercepted by Jake Zerillo, giving the Spartans back the ball. Alex Millikenm was able to bring it to the endzone for the 50 yard TD after gaining 9 yards on the previous three plays. The extra point was called good, making the score 21-21.

West Morris had history repeat itself again because on their next possession Ryan Finlay was intercepted by Jake Zerillo. This interception gave the momentum back to Sparta to get another touchdown. Even though they were hindered by an illegal procedure penalty, Rich McDonald brought it home for the TD. Making the score 28-21. Sparta increased their lead by another Alex Milliken touchdown after Central’s possession yielded no significant movement. Sparta’s PAT was good, increasing their lead 35-21. West Morris was now in an extremely tough position being down two touchdowns, and it was hard to swallow. Some other teams would have felt a real loss of morale being in this rough of a position. But not them, they fought until the very end, never losing enthusiasm. They tried to claw their way back, fighting off the Spartan offense making sure they made no headway towards the end zone and trying to get their offense back on the field to close the Sparta lead. They could not pull it together on their possession and turned it over to Sparta.

Despite the fact the weather didn’t cooperate, Sparta Nation was in full effect to support their Spartans (photo by Mattie Marano).

Sparta made a crucial mistake, fumbling the ball and it was recovered by the Wolfpack. The Wolfpack after two incomplete passes from Finlay, Draghi ran the ball 49 yards to the opposing 11 yard line at the 24 second mark. The ‘Pack got the touchdown on their 2nd and goal and the kick was called good, the score now 35-28. I wish I had the Cinderella story for you, with a recovered West Morris onside kick and them bring it home the touchdown for OT or the 2 point conversion for the win. Sadly that is not the case, with the onside kick being recovered by Sparta. The game ends 35-28.

West Morris took their first loss of the season which I’m sure will motivate them to never have anything like this happen again. Sparta keeps their dreams of their undefeated season alive with one of their toughest opponents being taken down, giving them a little bit of breathing room.

Box Score

West Morris 0 7 7 14 28
Sparta 6 0 8 21 35

Marcella is a junior at Mendham High School in which she is an honor student, peer leader and a member of the student council. Marcella has been around sports all her life and loves to watch NFL RedZone.

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