Mendham High School football fans arrived at Rutgers University by the busload on Sunday afternoon to cheer the Minutemen in the North 2 Group IV final.
After finishing at 3-7 a year ago, Mendham advanced to the state final after winning five of its last six games to earn a date with Phillipsburg at High Point Solutions Stadium. A large number of fellow student athletes turned out for the game to show their support.
“It’s awesome because it’s a complete turnaround from last season,” said Alex Jacobs, a senior on the boys basketball team. “The whole town is rallying around it and we see people here braving the cold, braving the snow just to support our team. It’s big for the whole town, not just for Mendham football and the whole school.”
For senior Joey Lamberto, who also plays basketball, seeing his classmates who have seen their hard work come to fruition in a state championship, he said it’s inspiring him and his teammates this season as the start of winter sports approaches.
“Just the dedication and hard work those guys showed over all the summer and all the prep they’ve been doing just to get ready for this, it makes me want to play basketball so much more,” he said. “I can’t wait for the season to start.”
Despite a steady light snow falling in the parking lots at Rutgers, fans tailgated in typical football fashion with grills and food but also with hot chocolate and lots of blankets. Most of the fans had been to every Mendham football game this season, and a little bad weather wasn’t going to stop them from attending the most important one.
“We’re pretty pumped considering we haven’t gotten anywhere near the state final for the past four years, so being a senior and this being my last year, it’s pretty exciting,” said Tina Yerdon, a senior on the girls soccer team. “I think (the snow) makes it better personally, the snow completes the football experience.”
The future of Minutemen football also was in attendance. Freshman football player and lacrosse player Nat Spencer attended the game, and the idea that in a few years he could be playing for a state championship-caliber team was an exciting possibility.
“I would probably rather see Mendham win than any professional team or college team,” he said.
Former Mendham player Cotton Clark, who graduated in 1982 and played college football at Alabama from 1983-86, drove all the way from Memphis to see his alma mater in the state final. Cotton made comparisons between Alabama coach Nick Saban and the Minutemen’s Bill Carpluk, saying that both coaches understand the importance of going back to basics.
“Looking at coach Saban and the things that he had implemented, I actually talked to coach Carpluk about a week ago when I saw him and he said we’ve gone back to the basics,” Cotton said. “He put the ball in the air when he was supposed to and everybody engineered it according to a basic football plan, running the pro set, moving back into different areas and making sure that everybody was executing the way that they needed to.
“It’s a joy to be here and I didn’t find out about the game until just recently. I’m coming back from Memphis and so when they told me the game was here, I got in my car. Even with the snow, I couldn’t miss this.”