Twenty-two players – 11 offensive starters from South River and 11 defensive starters from Delran – were ejected after a melee broke out on the field early in the second quarter of an NJSIAA regional crossover game between the two high schools on Thursday night.
NJSIAA Associate Director Jack DuBois, who attended the contest, which Delran won 34-16, told MyCentralJersey.com on Friday morning that he could not comment on the incident until he receives an official report from the game officials.
Later in the day, DuBois confirmed that 22 players were ejected from the game. He said, however, not all were ejected for misconduct, meaning not all 22 players will be subject to one-game suspensions under NJSIAA rules.
“This was an attempt by the game officials to get better control for the remainder of the game and to ensure a safe environment,” DuBois said.
Delran head coach Garrett Lucas and South River head coach Rich Marchesi both told MyCentralJersey.com that the game officials made it abundantly clear to them that the 11 starters for each team on the field at the time of the altercation had been ejected.
Carmine Picardo, coordinator of officials for the statewide athletics association, said multiple players were ejected following an altercation on the field, but could not comment on the specifics until he receives an incident report.
Marchesi, the winningest active mentor in Middlesex County with 209 career wins during a 31-year career, said he believed the melee broke out immediately following a late hit on his quarterback.
“I think it was kind of chippy from the beginning,” Marchesi said. “Both teams played hard and there was some talking on the field. There were numerous penalties. When it really kind of came to a head, we were down inside our own 10 (yard line), and I think my quarterback was hit late. It kind of went from there.”
Lucas said he did not believe South River’s quarterback absorbed a late hit, noting that a defensive lineman recorded an interception near the line of scrimmage on the play in question, adding that he believed the throw would have been much further down field had the hit been late.
“The film will be released,” Lucas said, adding that he believed South River’s quarterback “was getting hit as he was throwing it, therefore it’s a clean hit.”
THE VIDEO BELOW FROM HUDL SHOWS START OF THE ALTERCATION
Marchesi said he believed four or five players from each team were involved in the melee.
“There wasn’t 11 and 11 kids going at it,” he said. “That’s kind of a misconception. There was a pile of about four or five (from each team). The refs had to sort a couple of things out.”
Marchesi said the melee lasted less than five minutes but stopped play for about 20 minutes as game officials restored order and doled out ejections.
South River, whose offensive unit features eight two-way starters, finished the game with mostly junior varsity players.
“I strongly feel that the officials just didn’t know what to do with the situation so that (ejecting every player on the field) was an easier decision to make,” Lucas said. “We’ve been looking at (the film) now for probably the last 11 hours, and its three or four guys (from each team) that should have been ejected.”
Lucas said he, Delran athletics director Anthony Guidotti and Delran Principal Daniel Finkle rushed from the sidelines onto the field to help break up the altercation.
Under NJSIAA rules, Delran players who were ejected for misconduct must sit out the school’s Nov. 21 game against Cinnaminson, which will decide the West Jersey Football League’s Patriot Division championship. Seven of those players are seniors.
“If those kids can’t play in that game, it’s a downright travesty,” Lucas said. “I do hope that Jack is able to take a look at this. I trust that the right thing will be done.”
According to NJSIAA regulations regarding ejections, “Once a coach or player has been disqualified, no appeals will be honored from the player, coach, official or any other party. Disqualification is a judgement call and officials must be certain the act warrants disqualification. All complaints against an official must be directed to the official’s chapter secretary and the NJSIAA.”
Ten of the South River players who were ejected are seniors. Because South River’s football season is over, players who are multi-sport athletes and who were ejected for misconduct, under NJSIAA rules, must sit the first two games of the next sports season in which they will compete.
Marchesi said none of the players from either sideline ventured onto the field during the melee and that he believed only the players who may have been directly involved in the altercation should have been ejected.
South River’s season concludes with a 5-5 record. South River will claim the Greater Middlesex Conference Gold Division title if Middlesex defeats Dunellen on Thanksgiving eve.
Many felt Delran, which owned a 7-1 record at the time of the NJSIAA cutoff for the state playoffs, deserved a postseason berth.
Delran, however, did not qualify out of the South grouping, which sent 16 schools to the postseason.
Delran finished with the 17th best United Power Ranking in the South, one full UPR point behind South River, which claimed the 16th and final playoff spot.
Delran, which approached the regional crossover as a playoff game, raced out to a 22-0 lead before the altercation occurred.
“They were so ready and so focused,” Lucas said of his players, “like I’ve never seen before.”
DuBois said he set up a regional crossover meeting between South River and Delran because he wanted to “see how a nonplayoff team would play against a playoff team close in” United Power Ranking.
Much to the surprise of South River, DuBois actually booked the regional crossover game against Delran a full day before South River lost to Hillside in the opening round of the playoffs.
“That was my mistake,” DuBois said. “I put that in figuring South River was going to lose and they were in the same super section (South) as Delran. They were close in terms of UPR, so I wanted to see what it would look like.”
Asked if he realized pitting South River against a Delran team that many believed should have qualified for the playoffs based on its record put visiting South River in a difficult position, DuBois said, “I really wanted to see how it would play out. I wasn’t trying to upset anyone.”
DuBois, who attended Thursday night’s game, said he believed “Delran was far better than South River,” adding that “South River was big, but slow compared to the speed of Delran. That’s my perception and evaluation.”
Asked if Delran should have qualified for the playoffs based on its performance against South River, DuBois said, “I don’t want to comment on that because our playoff structure said they don’t belong” in the postseason.
“I have to go with that,” he said. “This was a one-game look. I don’t want to say something because it would be taken the wrong way, so no comment on (whether Delran belonged in the playoffs).”
DuBois left Thursday night’s game at Delran shortly after the altercation occurred. Asked why he departed, DuBois said, “I had another issue to deal with in North Jersey that was similar. I can’t expound on that any further.”