All of J.T. Valley’s summer activities – the morning daily lifting, the baseball showcases, the wrestling tournaments – paid off mightily Friday night at Somerville’s Brooks Field.
As North Plainfield clung to a 24-20 lead and Somerville threatened with time running down, Valley embraced every second of it. North Plainfield (2-1) needed every tick of his energy, from his linemates Kenny Pazmino and Chris McDowell and everybody else.
They survived a thrilling Mid-State 38 Raritan Division game as senior defensive back Kyle Grant knocked away a jump-ball pass in the end zone to seal a 24-20 victory.
“Right now it’s got to be the most amazing game I’ve ever been part of, that game right there,” Valley said.
Valley, a two-way junior lineman, had nine tackles, four for loss of yards and three hurries. He’s this week’s Courier News Player of the Week.
“We had (Somerville) marked on the calendar from week one of practice; they blew us out (28-12 at Krausche Field) last year, we didn’t play our best,” said Valley.
They didn’t play their best once again reflected in virtually every category outside of the final score. Somerville (0-3) had edges in time of possession (33:58-14:02); first downs (16-4); passing yards (270-0), offensive yards (314-113) and plays from scrimmage (72-30), The Canucks won because of two big plays – Grant returning a fumble 92 yards for a touchdown and Celsean Tucker-Grimes racing 90 yards on a kickoff for another score.
Valley, a guard on offense, who does plenty of pulling, must have been exhausted by the heart-pounding conclusion. But this is what he loves.
“I’m so into the game I don’t feel anything, I don’t feel that I’m tired,” he said. “On offense I feel like I’m doing something to help out on every play. Even though I’m a lineman I feel like a back without the ball with all the pulling.”
Senior linebacker Glenn Benson had 12 tackles with three behind the line and senior linebacker Hasani Eason had 10 tackles and a recovered fumble.
“We knew the only way to win was to really play like a team,” Valley said.
Valley faced a lot of double teaming from Somerville’s experienced line anchored by Jake Belardo and Nick Brown.
“They were very good, and gave us some tough looks,” said Valley.
Somerville knew it was a vital game especially with a trip this Friday to play unbeaten No. 2 Ridge (3-0). North Plainfield will have a similar challenge as it visits unbeaten defending North 2 Group III and division champ Summit (3-0), winners of 39 straight regular-season games.
The matchup is something Valley is eager to face. Before last wrestling season he suffered through a bout of pneumonia, but recovered to finish 25-6 with a runner-up at 195 pounds at the District 12 Tournament. After that, it was back behind the plate as catcher for the Canucks baseball team. A bonafide three-sport athlete.
“He’s strong, he’s conditioned; he uses each sport to help the other,” said North Plainfield coach Bobby Lake.