“Battle of Midland Ave.” trophy goes back to River Dell, as Hawks eye 3rd straight N1G3 title by J.J. Conrad of nj.com
Dave Fletcher did not like what transpired on his home turf just three weeks ago.
River Dell’s senior running back, along with the rest of his teammates, could only watch in disappointment following a seven-point loss to Paramus, as the visiting Spartans hoisted the “Battle of Midland Avenue” trophy and celebrated on the Golden Hawks’ field.
Friday night, River Dell got that trophy back — on the road in Paramus — in the much-anticipated playoff rematch.
In a game played in a cold and steady rain, third-seeded River Dell defeated second-seeded and previously unbeaten Paramus, 28-7, behind two touchdowns each from Jack Racine and Dave Fletcher in the NJSIAA/Rothman Orthopaedics North 1, Group 3 sectional semifinals.
River Dell extended a 7-0 halftime lead with a 21-0 run in the second half, including a highlight-reel 27-yard touchdown catch from Racine, a 1-yard TD run from Fletcher and a game-sealing, 71-yard scoring run from Fletcher with 7:00 left in the fourth.
“Watching them hold up that trophy on our field…that hurt us,” Fletcher said. “That game was all on us. I didn’t get it done, [I had] less than 40 yards in that game. Assignment-wise, we were all over the place. But to do what we did tonight, at their place, it’s even more important.”
A testament to River Dell coach D.J. Nimphius and his staff, Friday’s win marked the fifth time in the last six years that River Dell avenged a regular season loss by beating the same opponent come playoff time. River Dell’s redemption tour could continue, too, if top-seeded Ramapo — who River Dell lost to, 42-35 in overtime, earlier this season — defeated fourth-seeded Sparta in Saturday’s other North 1, Group 3 semifinal.
“I don’t think that really changes [how we approach a game],” said Nimphius, who secured his program’s sixth straight sectional final appearance and will be going for a North 1, Group 3 three-peat the next time it takes the field. “You’re always just looking at yourself. We had a chance to take some stock in what we weren’t doing as people, as coaches and as players. We straightened some things out and we’ll see what next week brings.”
Racine, one of River Dell’s several two-way stars, called River Dell’s first game against Paramus “one of the worst games we’ve ever played.”
There was a point of particular emphasis put on tackling — which Racine admitted the Golden Hawks did a much better job of this time around while trying to contain Paramus’ pair of 1,000-yard rushers in RB Kyle Jacob and QB Trevor Bopp.
River Dell’s defense registered a pair of interceptions by Fletcher and Mike Sirico and limited Paramus to 281 yards of offense, 72 of which came on the Spartans’ final drive with the outcome already well in hand.
“We know we’re capable of beating a team after we lost to them,” Fletcher said. “We know it’s just about fixing the mistakes. The fact we’ve done it before, it gives us a good feeling. We’re able to adjust and make the plays we have to in order to be successful. We did that tonight.”
River Dell started fast when the weather was at its worst, orchestrating a 9-play, 72-yard touchdown drive on its first possession. The drive was highlighted by a Jack Gillies-to-Fletcher 51-yard strike and capped by Racine’s first TD catch from 2 yards out.
It would remain a 7-0 game until Racine bulldozed his way for a 27-yard TD on a WR screen from Sirico with 3:27 left in the second.
Fletcher would help seal the game with 126 of his 165 yards coming in the second half, including both touchdown runs. He finished with 24 carries for 165 yards and two scores and three catches for 81 yards, upping his season TD count to 21.
“We started getting the ball to our better players more,” said Nimphius, who rotated QBs again with both Gillies and Sirico. “We weren’t doing a good job of that in the first half. We straightened some things out in the second half and got some rhythm.”
Paramus, which had its historic season come to an end, avoided the shutout with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Bopp to Steven Prado with 2:48 left. Paramus’ 10 wins matched a program-best under coach Joe Sabella.
Friday, though, was River Dell’s night.
“We’re feeling great right now, but tomorrow, it’s back to work,” Racine said. “We’ll find out who we get and it’s back to the grind. We’re not done.”