by Hannah St. Lifer
Offensive lapses and a slippery fumble ultimately doomed the Westfield Blue Devils on Saturday, as they lost to the Bayonne Bees in the state playoffs at Kehler Stadium 13-7.
The first quarter was slow-paced as both teams fought a defensive battle, leaving the game scoreless. The beginning of the second quarter was no different.
Senior Quad-Captain Ryan Elliot said, "On the defensive side of the ball, we only gave up six points, so we played very well as a defensive unit."
Toward the middle of the second quarter, Bayonne converted a series of first downs, but WHS defense prevented the Bees from scoring. When the WHS offense took over, senior kicker Jon Gribbin connected with sophomore split end Dylan Elliot for 20 yards on a fake punt. Unfortunately, WHS could not capitalize on the drive and was forced to punt. Bayonne was able to drive the ball down the field and score with 11 seconds remaining in the second quarter, taking a 6-0 lead into halftime.
WHS came out of the locker room strong. The Blue Devil passing attack picked up when senior quarterback Nate Mitchell threw a slant to senior wide receiver Mike Stravach, who made a diving catch at the 37 yard line. Mitchell said, "we knew something had to change."
Mitchell then completed passes to senior Quad-Captains tight end John Lanzano and flanker Peter Ondi to get WHS near the goal line, where senior Quad-Captain and running back James O’Rourke was able to punch it in and give WHS its first touchdown of the game. After a successful extra point by Gribbin, the Blue Devils went ahead 7-6.
The crowd got behind the Blue Devils early in the fourth quarter. A screen pass to Ondi set up WHS at its own 39 yard line, but O’Rourke, WHS’ leading rusher, was then stripped of the ball on the 35 yard line. Bayonne recovered the ball and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown.
With 5:08 left to play, the Bees used runs and short passes to chip away at the clock. After a much needed stop on third down, Bayonne punted to WHS, who had to drive the ball 66 yards in 44 seconds to keep its season alive. Stravach set WHS up by catching the ball on the 18 yard line. After a failed connection, Mitchell threw the ball into the end zone with six seconds left, only to be intercepted by the Bayonne defense.
Head Coach Jim DeSarno stated, "O’Rourke rushed for over 100 yards, and the offensive line did not let up a sack for the eighth time in nine games."
Last week, WHS, eighth in its division, annihilated Immaculata, the first seed, 37-6. Said O’Rourke: "We did not come out and play with the same intensity that we played with last week. We didn’t execute when we needed to on offense or defense."
According to DeSarno, the Blue Devils’ two main goals in the beginning of the season were to make the playoffs and win a division title. This season, WHS football earned the second seed in states. The Blue Devils will play Plainfield at home on Thanksgiving for the East A Division Championship.