Mountain Lakes football defeats Caldwell for title

Mountain Lakes football defeats Caldwell for title

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Mountain Lakes football defeats Caldwell for title

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UNION

It all started right here 12 months ago, on the turf football field at Kean University.

Click here to view a gallery of photographs from the game

The Mountain Lakes football team lost in the state championship game and was so disappointed that it vowed to return to the same field and win it.

“No way was I going back home on the bus without a ‘W,’ ” Herd coach Darrell Fusco said.

Mountain Lakes returned to Kean with a vengeance — and there was very little Caldwell could do about it.

Mountain Lakes’ depth wore Caldwell down and the Herd captured a 26-6 victory to win the North 2, Group II championship Saturday.

Mountain Lakes finished the season 12-0. It was the school’s sixth title overall and first title since 2009, when the Herd went undefeated in Doug Wilkins’ final year.

“We were close last year, and the kids came back hungry,” Fusco said.

They spent much of the second half devouring Caldwell.

Mountain Lakes grabbed a 6-0 second-quarter lead after Christian Cuccinello’s 14-yard touchdown run but never appeared to be in control until it began pushing Caldwell around in the second half.

“We wanted to get physical with them and go body-on-body,” Fusco said.

The Herd began pulling away when forced a three-and-out to start the second half and then embarked on a 58-yard, eight-play march that ended with quarterback Brad Smith finding Zach Lesko across the middle for a 21-yard touchdown. Cuccinello (29 for 235, 3 TDs), who rushed four times for 44 yards during the drive, made a two-point conversion run to make it 14-0.

But the Herd’s second-half muscle show was only beginning.

They forced another Caldwell three-and-out and then — with the offensive line taking complete control — went 54 yards in 15 plays, with Cuccinello bulling his way over from the 1 for a 20-0 bulge.

“The O-Line was just so overpowering,” said Fusco, referring to Zack Kuehm, Quinn Peacock, Andrew Walker, Leo Boerstoel, Murayt Bajdok, and Brian Olshanski. “Cuccinello was just a bear. We found a couple of sets we used and just went with them. I think we ran just three plays in the second half. That’s all. They were working, so why mess with anything?”

There was an exclamation point left to all but seal it. Caldwell began mounting a comeback but it fell flat when Kyle Allison stepped in front of a Joseph Salter pass for an interception at the Herd 3.

Two plays later, Cuccinello rushed for a stunning 92-yard touchdown, taking advantage of a simple stunt by Murat Bajdok — all 5-5, 175 pounds of him.

The long run all but completed quite an afternoon for Cuccinello, who also had two first-half interceptions. The long touchdown run served as the back breaker for Caldwell, now down 26-0.

“Murat faked pulling to get the linebacker out and there was a gigantic hole,” Cuccinello said. “I was waiting for them to catch me but they didn’t.”

It was a perfect way to sum up the afternoon. Caldwell never could catch Mountain Lakes yesterday.

And neither could anyone else in 2013.

Caldwell 0 0 0 6 6
Mountain Lakes 0 6 14 6 26

M–Christian Cuccinello 14 run (kick failed).

M–Zach Lesko 21 pass from Brad Smith (Cuccinello run).

M–Cuccinello 1 run (kick failed).

M–Cuccinello 92 run (run failed).

C–Jack Kinney 13 pass from Joseph Salter (kick failed).

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