victory little consolation for Ridgewood
November 11, 2001
NJS.com Staff Writer
NORTH BERGEN - Adversity has been no stranger
to the Ridgewood High football team this year.
First it was September 11, and the forfeit to
Teaneck. Faced with a 1-3 record, the Maroons
had to play the last four weeks in a playoff mode,
since one loss would put them out.
They reached the playoffs, only to find out Saturday
morning that tragedy had again struck the community.
Steve Pawlowski, the twin brother of last year's
star running back Mike Pawlowski and a member
of last year's track team along with a number
of this year's football players, was struck and
killed by a car on Friday night while walking
with his brother at Quinnipiac University.
The Maroons certainly didn't play their best under
the circumstances, but they were able to hold
off a second-seeded North Bergen team to advance
in the North 1, Group 4 playoffs with a 21-18
victory. Ridgewood, the seventh seed, will face
sixth-seeded Passaic Tech (9-1) next Saturday
in Wayne. The Bulldogs defeated third-seeded Hackensack
by a 31-0 score.
Ridgewood got the monkey off its back as far as
first round playoff games go, as they broke a
streak of three straight opening round losses,
all of them at home. This time, they traveled
to North Bergen and beat the Bruins for the third
time in four playoff contests (Ridgewood lost
in 1984 and won in 1985 and 1991).
Maroon head coach Chuck Johnson, still stunned
by the news of Pawlowski's death, breathed a huge
sigh of relief after the win, calling it, "a great
high school football game, two teams fighting
each other right down to the end."
The difference ended up being a facet of the game
that Johnson had preached to his team about all
week and in his pre-game speech - special teams.
talked about giving our three kids on special
teams a chance to make big plays," Johnson reiterated.
"Get Bill Christopher the chance to make his kicks
on extra points and field goals, and get Bernard
Mann and Jack Riley the chance on kickoff and
Christopher nailed all three of his extra point
kicks to provide the difference in the game, and,
after the first bad snap of the season caused
a blocked punt and gave North Bergen a gift score
at the end of the first half, Mann returned the
second half kickoff 87 yards for a score to quickly
shift the momentum.
needed to make something happen," said Mann. "Everyone
was pretty mad at halftime, and we came out and
got it done. It wasn't a set return, just find
daylight, and everyone got good blocks, because
only the kicker touched me."
Mann's return TD was the first on any kick since
Marc Jenkins took a punt back for a score against
Barringer in 1992. No one has returned a kickoff
for a Maroon touchdown since before 1990.
Mann's jaunt made it 14-6, and offset the first
real special teams error of the year by Ridgewood.
Christopher, who had already knocked punts of
39 and 41 yards and had a 45-yarder against the
wind nullified by a running into the kicker penalty
four plays earlier, had the snap bounce back to
He picked it up and tried to get the kick off,
only to have Alex Chaparro block it. The ball
was recovered at the Ridgewood 1-yard line, and
on the next play, David Castro went in for the
score. Mark Rodgers' try to tie the game was foiled
by a bad snap, allowing Riley to block the PAT
The Bruin score negated a solid goal-line stand
by the Maroons, who held for three plays at the
1-yard line after the Bruins (6-3) drove 65 yards
in 15 plays and ate up 8:25 on the clock. It also
offset the game's first score, a 15-yard pass
from Alex Duran to Tyler Rhoten the gave Ridgewood
the lead it would never relinquish.
That score came on the heels of a Riley interception,
his sixth of the year, and a 40-yard catch-and-run
by Mann on the play preceding the touchdown.
North Bergen was able to answer back with another
long drive, this one 80 yards and 13 plays over
6:38. Castro again scored the touchdown, this
time on a fourth down sweep of the right side.
The Bruins went for two, and Evan Brady knocked
down Rodgers' slant pass to Emil Fuda.
The Maroons had been stymied on offense save for
their first TD march, but they took a page out
of North Bergen's book on their next possession.
They ate up 6:07 on the clock in going 69 yards
over 14 plays to get an all-important third touchdown.
The score came on a Duran pass to Rhoten in the
back right of the end zone, and Christopher's
PAT made it a two score game with 10:59 left.
For the third time, NB sustained a drive, this
one 12 plays and 90 yards. The big play was a
third down catch by Jonathan Vargas good for 32
yards. Eric Macias punched it in from the two,
and Ridgewood again stopped the two-point conversion
pass after a clipping penalty negated a successful
Castro conversion on a run.
Disaster almost struck Ridgewood again, as they
were forced to punt with 2:30 left. The snap didn't
get more than five yards before it hit the ground
and literally bounced back to Christopher, who
maintained his cool and bombed a 48-yard kick
into the end zone.
The Bruins did manage a first down, but on a fourth
and eight, Avon Morgan tipped a pass that headed
to Fuda. As he was about to catch it, Matt Pastore
knocked it away from him and Chris Conetta intercepted
it with 1:22 left.
Johnnie Jones converted a third down with a 16-yard
run that ended any Bruin hopes of a miracle finish
and sent Ridgewood into the semi-finals. North
Bergen owned the statistical edge, outgaining
Ridgewood by a 291-198 margin, and Castro earned
game honors with 26 carries for 121 yards as the
Bruins dented the Maroon defense for 213 rushing
Jones was able to get outside in the second half,
and he had seven carries for 47 yards after carrying
once for no gain in the first half. Duran was
6 of 11 passing for 102 yards and threw two touchdown
passes in a game for the fourth straight week.
Ridgewood's defense, which played without nose
guard Drew Ponticelli (home with a 103 degree
fever), was paced by Brady's 10 tackles and nine
each by Kevin Strahle and Morgan and eight by
Arturo Duran and Eugene Parloff. Bob Lane and
Macias each had nine tackles for the Bruins.
is no disrespect to North Bergen, but we didn't
play our best game today," Johnson said. "The
news about Steve definitely was part of it, because
I thought after the week of practice that this
team was absolutely ready to go.
can't stop thinking about it myself, so I know
it weighed on them. Guys like Mike Culver willed
this team to play today, and that we were able
to come away with a win even though we weren't
at our best is a good tribute to this ballclub."