BERNARDSVILLE — In a sport where field position plays an important role in the outcome of a game, the Bernards High School football team took advantage of its positive starting location throughout the first half on Thanksgiving Eve.
The Mountaineers scored on their first three drives, which paved the way to a 33-20 victory over rival Delaware Valley.
The victory on Wednesday night comes a year removed from when Delaware Valley cancelled its yearly clash on short notice, which fueled the fire for the Mountaineers. They also entered the contest hungry for their first ever win over the Terriers. Bernards accomplished redemption and a milestone all in one night.
“It was kind of disrespect to the seniors last year,” Brendan O’Reilly said. “They took it as, ‘We don’t want to play you guys, we have bigger and better things.’ My brother was a senior last year and it really hit home for me.”
Sebastian Sanchez continued, “We have never beaten this team before. It shows a lot that this team, that nobody believed in at the beginning of the season, can come out and do what nobody else did.”
On a night that represented the seniors’ final time suiting up for the program, two underclassmen stole the show for Bernards. Receiver Matt Tantleff and running back Marc Murphy exchanged touchdowns during the first four possessions.
Tantleff began the competition with a 57-yard touchdown catch from Stephen Gribben on the second play from scrimmage. That wasn’t the last time Tantleff would get his name called, as he gave the Mountaineers some comfort during the third drive when he once again connected with Gribben.
“We came out with intensity,” said Tantleff, who finished with eight catches for 130 yards despite playing with an injured quadriceps. “We wanted to beat them and we worked as a team all week. Everything fell into place.”
Murphy matched his teammate, but on the ground, finishing the night with 72 yards on nine carries. But most importantly, he had two touchdowns to help his team pull away.
“This win definitely fuels the fire for us getting ready for next year,” Murphy said. “We are going to be in the weight room 24/7. We know we can be a great team next year.”
As for the players being sent off, Sanchez might be one of the most important pieces for the Bernards program as he finished his career with over 2,000 yards. Sanchez had 132 rushing yards and a touchdown during his final high school showdown.
“He’s always been showing me what to do,” Murphy said Sanchez. “I really wanted to send him off right. We had to get him the ball to get him 2,000 yards. I feel so good to do good for them. They have given this school so much. They deserve it.”
Delaware Valley was on the heels of one of its most disappointing games of the season. Sixth-seeded Raritan shocked the Terriers with a 42-13 victory in the semifinals of NJSIAA Central Group II last weekend.
Delaware Valley didn’t show a hangover from its defeat during the early portion of the game. After giving up an opening touchdown, the Terriers went to their star player, Corey Shedlock, who bounced off a would-be tackler and sprinted 39 yards for a score. Shedlock would later score two more touchdowns in the second half to narrow the margin, but it wasn’t enough to put Delaware Valley over the top. Shedlock completed the game with 144 rushing yards.
Timely defense from the Bernards defense put an end to several promising possessions for the Terriers. Alex Mastronardi had two interceptions and Sanchez had a crucial sack in the third quarter.
“At practice all week our scout team put up a good showing for them,” Tantleff explained. “We came in and we were all into it. If somebody made a mistake, he kept his head up and moved on. We worked together, it was perfect.”
Bernards was on the short end of the NJSIAA playoff system this season. Even with a demanding record, the Mountaineers couldn’t find a spot in the postseason, but after Wednesday night’s victory over the Terriers the seniors will leave knowing they did something that no other team has done: defeat Delaware Valley.
“It’s always going to be in the back of our heads,” Sanchez said. “Everybody on this team wanted to make the playoffs. Especiall for us seniors, being our last year. Doing something that nobody has done, this definitely leviate some of the pain. We get to go out of here as champions.”
Staff Writer Steven Macri: email@example.com