Tyler Hopman, a 6-foot-3 wide receiver, leaped over a defensive back, hauling in an 18-yard touchdown pass in the back corner of the end zone on fourth down with two minutes and 31 seconds remaining to lift the Old Bridge High School football team to a dramatic 17-14 comeback victory over previously undefeated Monroe Friday night.
Starting quarterback Stephen Karoly was injured on the ensuing series and backup Kyle Volkmann was intercepted two plays later at midfield by defensive back Isaiah Trawick, who sealed the Knights’ thrilling victory before an overflow crowd of more than 5,000 at Lombardi Field.
The pick was the first turnover Monroe, ranked No. 1 in the Home News Tribune Top 10, committed this season.
Both teams are now 5-1 overall and 4-1 in the Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division. Old Bridge has a more favorable schedule down the stretch and can win its first division title with victories over Edison, J.P. Stevens and East Brunswick.
The loss was doubly costly for the Falcons, who entered the contest with the league’s most potent offense, averaging 44.2 points and 352.4 yards per game. Monroe coach Chris Beagan said Karoly may have fractured his non-throwing wrist. In addition, running back/linebacker Paul Baclayon was lost on the game’s first series to a foot injury.
Monroe rolled up 185 yards from scrimmage in the first half but was limited to 51 yards after the intermission.
“Hats off to their defense,” Beagan said. “They did a nice job of containing us.”
Nearly half of those in attendance participated in a Guinness World Record attempt as 2,000 spectators simultaneously swished mouthwash at halftime. All proceeds from the activity will benefit the Susan B. Komen for the Cure’s Central and South Jersey chapters.
Pending approval from Guinness, the world record is expected to become official sometime next month. The previous mark of 1,200 simultaneous swishers was set last June in Times Square.
Hopman was the second option on the winning touchdown pass. The first look went to wideout Dan Grillo, who was covered at the sticks on the fourth-and-12 play. Quarterback Nick LaVecchia, sprinting out to his right, threw the fade to Hopman, who managed to keep one foot in bounds after leaping high in the air to haul in a jump ball.
“Coach told Nick if (Grillo) wasn’t open to throw it up and he trusted me and I had his back,” Hopman said. “It just happened so fast. I didn’t really even think about it. I just had my (eyes) on the ball the whole time and just hoped that I kept my feet in.”
LaVecchia made another huge play near the end of the first half – which in retrospect – put second-ranked Old Bridge in position to win the game. His 46-yard completion to Grillo with 0.5 seconds left in the second quarter set up Ed Mish’s 40-yard field goal, which trimmed Monroe’s lead to 14-10 and gave the Knights much needed momentum going into the locker room.
Mish missed a 44-yard attempt earlier in the game and a 41-yard attempt in the second half.
Monroe scored on the game’s opening possession, marching 80 yards for a touchdown. Running back Akeer Franklin rushed for 66 of his 123 yards on the series. Karoly capped the drive with a 23-yard touchdown pass to David Betancur on fourth down.
Running back Marcus Lominy’s 11-yard touchdown run with 10:19 left in the second quarter enabled Old Bridge to forge a 7-7 tie.
Karoly, who displayed brilliant scrambling ability throughout the game, connected with Betancur on a perfectly thrown fade for a 19-yard touchdown pass to give the Falcons a 14-7 lead with 14 seconds left in the opening half. Karoly finished 8 of 17 for 109 yards.
“We weren’t under any pressure,” Lominy said. “They were the undefeated team. We had one loss (17-16 to Piscataway) but we knew that loss would keep us going throughout the season.”
Old Bridge culminated its week-long breast cancer awareness activities at school with a “Pink Out” for Friday night’s game. More than 700 students wore pink T-shirts, as did most of the other fans in the home bleachers.
“The atmosphere was unbelievable all day in school,” Old Bridge coach Anthony Lanzafama said. “Ninety five percent of the student body wore pink (to school).”