Both teams celebrated, but only Hasbrouck Heights (N.J.) won.
In one of the strangest finishes in North Jersey this year, Hasbrouck Heights blocked a field goal by New Milford to earn a 10-7 over the Knights and advance to the North 1, Group 1 final in two weeks against Pompton Lakes.
But that’s not where the story ends, and not where New Milford thinks it should.
Check out this finish for yourself.
Aviators senior linebacker Jordan Wexler appeared to break through and block the 27-yard field goal try by Brian Johnson on the last play of the game. The video taken by this reporter shows that while Hasbrouck Heights players ran out on to the field that the ball was scooped up by an Aviators player and thrown in the air.
The ball, seemingly live, landed in the hands of New Milford junior Emmett McElroy, who, after a pause, carries the ball over the goal line. An official watches him do so.
For a moment, Hasbrouck Heights celebrated its chance to defend its sectional title, then it seemed like the Knights realized what happened. Knights players began to rush to the end zone to celebrate what they believed to be a miraculous game-winning touchdown.
Both teams then clustered around the officials, who conferred and said that they had blown the whistle, ostensibly while the Heights players rushed the field. The game belonged to the Aviators.
Per the NJSIAA rulebook, it appears an officiating error may have been made:
“They blew the whistle, the guy said they blew the whistle and once that happens its dead,” said Hasbrouck Heights coach Nick Delcalzo. “It’s not like an inadvertent whistle, it’s the end of the game.”
When asked if his heart sank after seeing the play, Delcalzo said yes.
“Oh it sank,” said Delcalzo. “If you think about it, after the block and everything else, no one knew what was going on….and the kid runs it in to the end zone and you’re going to change that? That’s going to be a tough change. The kids played tough and it was a great block to end the game.”
New Milford coach Bill Wilde did approach the referees asking for further explanation. Athletic director Joe Riccardelli was also seen on the phone trying to get an explanation for the last play.
Wexler said the pressure was on him to try to save the game for the Aviators.
“In my head, I knew I had to make a play, I never usually get close to block a kick,” said Wexler. “When I blocked it I was so happy, but, I saw him throw it in the air and I saw him run into the end zone. I got scared. I thought we lost.
“When the refs met, I heard them say they blew the whistle, I was very happy,” said Wexler. “Very scary though.
It’s the third straight week Hasbrouck Heights has played a game that came down to the very last play. Two weeks ago they lost in overtime in the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference championship game on an interception in overtime. Last week, they knocked off Cedar Grove in the first round in overtime.
“We got one more to go,” said Wexler. “That’s been the goal. We have to go out with a bang.”
It was a difficult loss for New Milford, who lost to Hasbrouck Heights last year in the sectional final, and hasn’t beaten the Aviators since 2003.
“We knew they were going to be a good team, we played them last year, they have all big guys,” said Wexler. “We thought they were going to tire them out. I don’t really think we did, but I’m proud of my team.”