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Nine teams in: NJAC first-round football playoff review
Written by Paul Mencher - Monday, November 19 2012  

It was a weekend of symmetry for the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference in the first round of the state football playoffs. For every pleasant surprise, there was a disappointment. For every strong favorite that moved on, a longshot fell to the wayside.

The NJAC had 18 teams playing this weekend in the states, nine at home and nine on the road. The home teams went 7-2 while the road teams came out 2-7. (This does not include Morristown-Beard, an NJAC member in all other sports but independent in football.)

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Roxbury and Donald Panciello fought past Mount Olive to reach the sectional semifinals (Photo by Paul Swenson)

In the end, nine conference teams remain standing heading into the sectional semifinals. All but one of those teams will have two weeks to relax and prepare for their next playoff matchup.

Here’s a look back at what happened this weekend.

Road warriors: Two lower-seeded NJAC teams went on the road and came away with impressive wins. Sparta, the fifth seed in North 1, Group III, put on a tremendous defensive performance in a 21-0 whitewash of Mahwah. It was a huge turnaround for Sparta, which had a couple of defensive meltdowns this season despite going 7-1. Now the Spartans take on top seed River Dell in the next round.

Kinnelon, which was seed #6 in North 1, Group II, was in charge nearly all game in a 33-6 triumph over Elmwood Park. Quarterback Sean Robbins, who sat out with an injury the week before, returned to the lineup and ran for four touchdowns. He also threw for 113 yards, while running back Eric Clement gained 143 yards on the ground. Next up is a rematch of one of the season’s most exciting games as the Colts travel to face North Warren in the semifinals.

Favorites march on: Seven NJAC home teams scored first-round playoff wins, and really only one game was even competitive. Roxbury, which beat Mount Olive handily in their Week Nine matchup, had a harder time in the playoff rematch. The Gaels trailed early and were tied in the third quarter before pulling away to a 35-21 victory. Donald Panciello scored three times while quarterback Kyle Young had a big touchdown run and TD pass.

Otherwise, the only other home winner to prevail by less than 30 points was Mountain Lakes, and the Herd was in solid control throughout its 28-7 win over Rutherford. West Morris, Parsippany Hills, Delbarton, Madison and North Warren all recorded lopsided wins to advance to the semifinal round.

Close shaves: Only two NJAC teams were really involved in nail-biters this past weekend, and both came out on the short end of tough losses. For Lenape Valley, it was a heartbreaking loss against undefeated Bernards.

The Patriots held a halftime lead, then rallied to tie the game in the fourth quarter after falling behind. In the final minutes, Lenape Valley drove inside the 10-yard line but could not score a touchdown. A field goal attempt then went awry on a bad snap and Bernards took over on downs. The Mountaineers then put together a game-winning 90-yard drive, helped out by a fortunate deflection off a Patriot defender, and scored with 21 seconds left to beat Lenape Valley 26-20.

Meantime, Pope John engaged in a back-and-forth battle with Camden Catholic in the Non-Public Group III playoffs. The third-seeded Lions tied the score in the fourth quarter only to see the #6 seed Fighting Irish drive down for the game-winning score, a touchdown run by Jarred Alwan. Alwan had 244 yards rushing and all four touchdowns for Camden Catholic in the 28-21 win.

The other NJAC home team to fall was Butler, but the Bulldogs were never really in their game with Hasbrouck Heights, dropping a 34-13 decision. Randolph hung in with a tough Bloomfield team on the road but fell 26-14. The other low NJAC seeds"Vernon, Jefferson, Hopatcong and Hanover Park"lost by sizeable margins.

Morristown-Beard also came up just a bit short in its first state game since returning to varsity action last year. The Crimson climbed within six points on a fourth-quarter field goal but could not get the touchdown they needed and lost to Hudson Catholic, 15-9.

A bit of consolation: Consolation games garner hardly any attention, but there were some interesting results among NJAC teams. Four conference squads scored at least 49 points in their consolation victories: Dover, Morris Knolls, Morristown and Pequannock.

The Morris Knolls game against Passaic was especially notable. After building a 46-22 lead, the Golden Eagles allowed the visitors to come all the way back. But a touchdown run by Joe Leonardis allowed Knolls to pull out a 52-50 triumph. Running back Nick Patterson piled up 310 yards on the ground and scored three times.

Overall, the NJAC went 9-7 in the consolation games, with Morris County teams winning nine of twelve contests. This year, at least, the strength of the NJAC is clearly in Morris; seven of the nine surviving teams in the states are also Morris County-based squads.

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