Old Tappan holds off Mount Olive challenge in North 1, Group 4 Final
Old Tappan head coach Brian Dunn thought coming into the North 1, Group 4 sectional title game against Mount Olive at MetLife Stadium on Saturday his Golden Knights squad would have the upper hand. After all, this was their third straight trip to the sectional finals.
However, Old Tappan had to contend with a resilient Mount Olive team who, as Dunn commented, came out like gangbusters and played awesome, scoring 14 points in the first quarter against a stifling Golden Knights defense that had been holding opponents to 7.8 points per game.
“We were a little tight and stiff and not tackling enough,” Dunn said.
Senior running back Marquez Antinori, had rushed for 981 and a team-high 17 touchdowns this season. Antinori had another stand out game when the team needed it most. He carried the ball 26 times for 152 yards and two scores, including a touchdown run on 4th & 2 with 6:10 left in the second quarter.
“I thought we were able to run the ball the game but we had to throw it deep and make the big plays and mix it up,” Dunn said. “You can’t hand the ball off to Marquez 45 times a game and we paid for that last year. We just stuck with it and trying to mix it up and move the chains.”
“This means so much to me and my dream to come here and play here and actually win it,” said Antinori. “Unfortunately we came up short last year but this year able to complete the job. I love the offensive line and might have one of the best in the county and work hard every day and know how to make skill players.”
In the third quarter, Old Tappan took its first lead of the game on a 25-yard field goal from Eric Rodriguez. However, Mount Olive rode the hot passing hand of senior quarterback Liam Anderson, having completed his first 12 passes before throwing an incomplete pass, Anderson fired his second touchdown pass of the night to wide receiver Evan Kelson on a 4th & 3 at the Golden Knights three but the extra point was no good leaving the score entering the fourth quarter.
Matching Anderson was Old Tappan senior quarterback Nick McNerney (9 for 12, 158 yards), throwing 21 touchdown passes with no interceptions, McNerney just needed one pass to change the entire complexion of the game. Despite getting hit in the facemask, McNerney aired out a bomb to wide receiver Bryce Baker for the 55-yard score with 8:41 remaining.
After the Golden Knights defense forced a three and out, McNerney just needed two plays to extend the margin connecting on an 8-yard pass to Johnny Lohrer by the right sideline in the end zone with 4:24 remaining.
“Nick has been phenomenal all year long and I don’t know of a quarterback that can play better than he has the entire season for 12 games,” said Dunn. “Whatever his numbers are he hasn’t thrown a pick all year.”
“A big time in the game and we kept fighting and knew we had to win this game,” said McNerney” “I saw him (Bryce Baker) downfield and knew he would get under it and just trying to score a touchdown. The offensive line did a great job and would not be here today without them.”
Just when you think the lead was safe Anderson quickly moved Mount Olive down the field in no time in 2:03 before rifling a three-yard strike to wide receiver Yanni Kalas. Going for the two-point conversion, Anderson found his favorite target of the contest in Kelson for the successful conversion making it 31-28. After forcing Old Tappan into a three and out, Anderson worked his magic completing a 36-yard pass to wide receiver Lance Johnson but Anderson’s luck ran out as he fumbled attempting to spike the ball as the Golden Knights ran out the clock for their second state title in last three years and undefeated season.
“Up until this point we were playing flawless football and we made a couple of mistakes we don’t make but today was a great example of how we overcame adversity which we hadn’t been put in positions all year and out guys had the guts in those situations and makes me really proud of these young guys,” Dunn said.