By Warren Rappleyea
Both the South Brunswick High School and North Brunswick Township High School football teams opened their seasons with losses, and both teams look to rebound this weekend.
For South Brunswick, which dropped a 31-28 decision at home to Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Red Division rival Old Bridge High School, it was a tale of two halves. The Knights went into the intermission leading, 28-21, after a track meet of a first half. Both teams tightened their defenses, but South Brunswick managed to tie things up in the fourth quarter, only to fall on a 32-yard field goal by Old Bridge’s Jon Sammarco with six minutes left in the fourth quarter.
“That was as poor a defensive half as we’ve played in a long time,” South Brunswick coach Joe Goerge said of the first two quarters. “It was very frustrating to see all the mental errors, and we were playing one of the top teams in the GMC. You have to credit Old Bridge, too; they have a great team.”
The Vikings defense was back on track following the break, making life difficult for the Knights offense.
“Maybe we thought that we’re a little better than we are,” Goerge said. “We didn’t change anything at halftime. We came out and played the same defense with the same guys and only allowed three points.”
The two teams played twice last year, with the Vikings winning both — the second time in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group V finals, where South Brunswick posted a convincing 42-0 victory.
Old Bridge opened the scoring on a 4-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Artur Sitkowski, but South Brunswick answered right back. Anthony Blakey took the ensuing kickoff back 90 yards for a touchdown, and Mitchell Fischer’s PAT tied it up.
The visitors scored again before the first quarter ended and early in the second, as Nick Sodano crossed the goal line on runs of 4 and 20 yards. Vikings quarterback Josh Liao, who completed six of 13 passes, connected with Felix Quinones for a 32-yard scoring pass. Liao added a 6-yard run into the end zone to tie the score. The Knights regained the lead before the quarter ended though, as Sitkowski found Anthony Imbimbo for a 37-yard touchdown.
Neither team scored until early in the fourth when Jayvon Palmer scored on a 6-yard run to tie things up. Not to be outdone, Old Bridge marched into Vikings territory with Sodano picking up a key first down on a fourth-and-1 play inside the South Brunswick 25-yard line. Four plays later, Sammarco booted the game-winner.
Goerge’s team was not ready to quit and valiantly tried to come back, but a lineman down field penalty ended the drive, and the Knights were able to run out the clock.
While the loss is disappointing for South Brunswick, George’s team has been in this position before. Last season, the Vikings raced out to a 21-0 lead in their season-opening contest against Middletown High School South, only to watch the Eagles bounce back for a 42-21 win. South Brunswick used the loss for motivation and reeled off 11 straight wins afterward.
“Our guys know what they have to do,” the coach said. “As far as Old Bridge is concerned, that’s done. Right now our biggest game of the year is our next one against New Brunswick. We need to focus on that. They have a fast and aggressive team, and they’re the only thing we’re thinking about this week.”
Neighboring North Brunswick had a rough time in its first game at Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen, losing 38-6. The Falcons jumped out to a 14-0 lead and made it 17-0 by halftime. The youthful Raiders did put together a drive late in the second quarter, but it was halted by an interception in the end zone.
North Brunswick finally scored on the final play of the game when sophomore quarterback Christian Petrillo teamed up with fellow sophomore Aaron Ahr for a 23-yard touchdown pass.
“We’re trying to build something here, and we’re looking for our guys to have character and be committed for the long run,” Raiders coach Don Zsak said. “We have a lot of kids who are going to be around for a few years and, as a result, we’re young and inexperienced. Against St. Joe’s at times, we had 10 guys on the field who were playing in their first varsity game.”
North Brunswick has just a handful of seniors, including Matt Dera, who shares the quarterback job with Petrillo; center Brian Buckley and defensive lineman/tight end Bryce Priester.
Defensively, the Raiders have five juniors: two-way linemen Tyler Hernandez and Alex Rossman, linebackers Nate Rowell and Matt Strzeminski and safety Roberto Colon. Linebacker Matt Breheney and safety Ibe Allah are both sophomores, and cornerback Miles Bailey is a freshman. Allah and Bailey see double duty as running backs.
“The seniors we do have are good leaders, and our younger players look up to them,” Zsak said. “We have 23 sophomores and two freshmen playing varsity. Our goal is to build with them and to keep our up-and-coming players in the program.”
North Brunswick is set to host Colonia High School Sept. 16 in a GMC White Division matchup. The Patriots are coming off a 19-14 opening-day loss to Woodbridge High School.