northern valley old tappan
(Photo by Sunil Sunder Raj - JSN)

Northern Valley Old Tappan cruises past Hillside in the North Jersey Section 1, Group 3 Final

The Northern Valley Old Tappan Golden Knights (10-1) cruised past the Hillside Comets (9-2) in the North Jersey Section, 1, Group 3 Final at Northern Valley Regional High School in Old Tappan, New Jersey.

Both teams were coming off convincing wins in their semifinal games. Old Tappan rolled past Sparta 37-14, while Hillside coasted to a 33-13 victory over River Dell.

The stands were packed on the home and away bleachers on a warm, sunny day with blustery winds. There were several fire trucks, with one of them unfurling a giant American flag.

After the Old Tappan defense forced the Comets to punt the ball away, the Golden Knight's offense went to work immediately. Quarterback Tommy Caracciolo completed a 62-yard pass to running back Jack Diggins, advancing the ball down to the Hillside five-yard line.

On second and goal at the five-yard line, running back Aidan Heaney took the handoff from Caracciolo and plowed straight ahead through a bunch of players into the end zone with less than seven minutes left.

The Golden Knights also excelled in special teams, with kicker Nico Ottomanelli booming another kick into the end zone for a touchback. Old Tappan's defense ferocious in the trenches forced Hillside's offense into a Comets quick three and out.

A short punt put the Golden Knight's offense in excellent starting field position at their 42-yard line. Old Tappan primarily kept the ball on the ground as Aidan Heaney churned out yards behind a stout offensive line.

Once the Golden Knight's offense reached the Hillside 20-yard line, a passing play caught the Comet's defense off guard, with Tommy Caracciolo tossing a pass to Jack Diggins in the flat. Diggins caught the ball and rumbled down the left sidelines into the end zone for the score with ten seconds remaining in the quarter.

Hillside's coaching staff attempted to gain any momentum, including a daring fake punt deep in their territory but failed miserably, leading to a turnover on downs.

Old Tappan had the ball at the Comet's 29-yard line, but a couple of penalties backed the offense up. Facing a fourth down, Tommy Caracciolo managed to gain the necessary yardage to keep the drive alive.

With second and ten at the 19-yard line Caracciolo completed a 12-yard screen pass to Aidan Heaney. From that point on, Heaney did the dirty work on the ground. On second and goal at the two-yard line, Heaney took the handoff from Caracciolo and surged forward, stretching the ball across the goal line for the touchdown as the Golden Knights extended the advantage to 21-0 with seven and minutes to go.

The Comets started at their 25-yard line on the following offensive possession. Unable to move the ball on the ground in the first couple of drives, Hillside finally found consistency with a smashmouth football style behind a massive offensive line. Comets running backs Kyon Simonson and Muwaffaq Parkman shared the bulk of carries.

However, Hillside faced another critical play with fourth down and six from their 45-yard line. The coaching staff did not hesitate, sensing the game could get out of hand quickly.

Muwaffaq Parkman took the handoff from quarterback Caleb Salters after a delayed reaction, then drove through a maze of players and sprinted 55 yards to the end zone with four and a half minutes left to make it 21-7.

In the third quarter, Old Tappan's offense had the ball at their 34-yard line with eight minutes remaining. Running back Aidan Heaney continued to display a punishing style of running the ball, gaining 25 yards on first down.

Heaney followed up that bruising play with another spectacular run, netting 19 yards that advanced the ball down to the Comet's 25-yard line. The Golden Knights coaching staff kept the blueprint intact, with Heaney running the ball on the following three plays that moved the ball to the 12-yard line.

After Tommy Caracciolo gained a yard on a QB Keeper, Heaney put his hard hat on and barreled straight ahead for eight yards down to the one-yard line. On first and goal, Heaney charged through a pile of players into the end zone for the score with less than four minutes remaining.

Hillside attempted to go for it again in the fourth quarter at the Old Tappan 40-yard line. Still, with an explosive rush, the Golden Knight's defensive front forced the Comets quarterback Caleb Salters into hurrying a pass that fell incomplete, resulting in a turnover on downs.

As time winded down in the fourth quarter, Hillside did manage to trim the Old Tappan lead down to 28-14 on a one-yard touchdown run by Caleb Salters with three and half minutes left on the clock.

The Comets defense forced the Golden Knights into a three-and-out on the ensuing offensive possession. Unfortunately, Hillside Caleb Salters could not capitalize as Caleb Salter's deep pass was intercepted by Old Tappan linebacker Evan Brooks.

The Golden Knight's offense kneeled on the ball several times in the final minute of action. As the time clicked down and eventually to zero, the players, filled with euphoria, rushed onto the field, dousing the coaches with the Gatorade bucket. The home crowd erupted in celebration.

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Continue to follow Jersey Sporting News and Sunil Sunder Raj throughout the NJSIAA State Championships.

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