by Jared Glassman
Westfield High School’s football team won the state sectional championship last Thursday, its first one since 1977. It was also Head Coach Jim DeSarno’s first championship win and first ice bath at MetLife Stadium. The road to victory was long and difficult, but ultimately, it was conquered in a 10-7 win over Bridgewater-Raritan for the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 5 title.
It had been a long time coming for WHS, whose football program was once so dominant that the school claimed six state titles between 1969-1977. But after nearly four decades without a crown, the Blue Devils finally got to hold the trophy once again. Said senior Owen Colwell, “It felt right.”
It was far from an easy win as the game provided a hard-fought battle throughout. Westfield led Bridgewater by just 3 until the fourth quarter, thanks to a 23-yard Michael Moriarty field goal in the second quarter. Even though it was a game between the two best teams in the section, it wasn’t the cleanest game played by both sides. There were plenty of missed opportunities by both teams, specifically a crucial error by Bridgewater when wideout Ricky Tate beat Westfield’s coverage but just missed a deep pass from quarterback Eric Nickel early in the second half. The play would have put Bridgewater in the lead. Westfield was at fault also when they botched a punt late that would have sealed the game. The difference-maker in this game was that Westfield’s defense came up big and had multiple big stops, especially when stripping the ball from Bridgewater at the goal line early in the game to kill their drive.
The scare of the game for Westfield took place when senior running back Jack Curry went down with an ankle injury and limped off the field. “It was really difficult to come out especially after putting so much time into the program over four years and not being able to finish the state final,” said Curry. Even with the injury, Curry capped the season by rewriting the Westfield record books. He finished the season with 1,709 yards on 277 carries and his career with 3,085 yards on 572 carries. All of his numbers are at the top of the Blue Devil record book as he leaves a lasting legacy here at WHS.
Fortunately for Westfield, junior running back Matt Varano rose to the occasion and punched in a controversial touchdown from the one-yard line early in the fourth quarter to give Westfield a 10-0 lead. “Matt has gotten a lot of carries all year so we had a lot of trust in him and knew he could get it done,” said senior quarterback Zach Kelly. When Varano got called on to go into the game, he said that he “looked at it as an opportunity.” However, he admitted that “there was no denying the pressure.”
Furthermore, the defense shouldered the load for the team as they shut down Bridgewater thanks to juniors Owen Kessler and Jeffrey Gagum, who were monsters up front. One of the biggest plays of the game came when Gagum sacked Nickel in the second half for a 15-yard loss to put Bridgewater out of field-goal range.
Special teams were a point of emphasis as both Westfield and Bridgewater blocked a kick during the game. Kessler blocked a potential game-tying 37-yard field goal attempt in the middle of the third quarter, while Bridgewater put a scare in the Westfield crowd with a touchdown off a blocked punt with less than 30 seconds remaining in the game, narrowing the score to 10-7.
In the game’s remaining seconds, only one team would be holding up a trophy on the field while the other team would be watching from the sidelines. After a Westfield onside-kick recovery was negated due to a penalty, Bridgewater had one last chance. Justin Davidovicz’s kick was up and the ball took multiple bounces. The stadium stopped for a moment as everyone held their breaths. The ball was up for grabs and eventually it twirled out of bounds; Westfield ball.
It was easy to see that the game was in the books by the reaction of the Westfield fans and players. The Blue Devil fans were jumping up and down with excitement while Coach DeSarno was jumping up and down after a shock of cold Gatorade. Said Desarno: “It was an honor to lift up [the trophy] at Met Life in front of so many Blue Devil fans. It is something I will never forget.”