Jefferson was able to outlast a tough Mendham Minutemen team Friday night, 24-17. Although the Minutemen led for the majority of the second half, J-Town was able to pull out the clutch win to close out the regular season.
Defense was the highlight for The Falcons on Friday night.
“Our goal was to limit their scoring to 20 or less this week,” junior Mike Studnick said. The Falcons were able to do so with the help of a late Nate Thomson interception and last second tackle by Studnick.
The first quarter was dominated defensively. It started with a Falcons turnover on an interception by Mendham. This led to a quick field goal and a Minutemen lead. However, the Falcons were able to quickly bring the score back to even, after Bam Johnson nailed a 35-yard field goal to close out the first quarter.
The Falcons regained their momentum in the second. It started with a long completion from Johnson to David Hanna, setting the Falcons up in the red zone. After short runs by Mike Gould, Johnson struck again, finding Studnick in the center of the end zone for a touchdown. After a blocked extra point, the Falcons led 9-3.
The Minutemen would seem to have a quick response, led by Kevin Reardon, who carried Mendham down the field looking to answer. But the fiery Falcons defense held their own, forcing a missed field goal attempt and retaining possession.
“It was good defense all around and I was glad to help strengthen the outside tonight,” junior Larry DiBiase said after the game. This shift of momentum proved pivotal in taking the advantage for the Falcons.
This momentum would be taken advantage of, when Johnson led the Falcons down the field on four plays, capped off by a 35-yard touchdown pass to David Hanna to extend their lead. The Falcons went into the locker room with a strong 16-3 advantage and all of the momentum.
Both sides’ defense came out with energy to begin the second half. However, it was the Falcons salvaging their momentum from the first half to drive down the field after a series of runs to set up a field goal. The field goal attempt was blocked and the lead remained at 13 points for the Falcons. After defense for the Falcons and Minutemen continued to triumph, it was Mendham finally breaking the ice in the second half with an 85-yard rushing touchdown for Dylan Hakes, trimming the Falcon lead.
After that momentum shift, Mendham continued to attack, forcing a strip sack on Johnson on the very next play, and taking it all the way for a touchdown to take the lead 17-16.
The Falcons would get another chance to crack the lead in the fourth, when they drove down the field and earned a short field goal attempt. But on a cold and brisk night it was no sure shot and missed, keeping the Falcons behind by one.
Although Mendham had the lead, J-Town continued to knock on the door and just had the swagger as if they knew they would put points on the board.
The Falcons continued to fight and seemed to grab another opportunity when Johnson connected with Caleb Rippey for a gain of 50 yards, setting the Falcons up. They would not squander this chance, since Johnson again found his receiver Nate Thomson, cutting across the back left corner of the end zone, to grab an advantage 24-17 with two minutes left, after a two point conversion.
“I knew my team was relying on someone to make a big play and I just wanted to be that guy for them,” said Thomson on his lead-grabbing score.
The Falcons still needed to put up a stop to officially collect the lead.
For the first few plays, it didn’t seem close to over as Mendham was marching down the field looking to win. However, that is when Thomson stepped up again with his second interception of the game and the second of the season, re-earning J-Town possession.
After a punt, the Minutemen had four seconds, just enough time for one last play. The Falcons brought pressure quickly, forcing Frank Kontely out of the pocket, however he was still able to find his man, who drifted through the Falcons defense charging towards the end zone before being finally taken down by Studnick.
“We had that dog mentality and I was just happy to be the guy to finish the game strong,” Studnick said.
“Once he made that tackle, I just thought it was much better to be 6-3 than 5-4,” DiBiase said on his excitement after the last play.
“You boys kept fighting and never rolled over,” Coach Jerry Venturino said to the team postgame.
The Falcons allowed two touchdowns on back-to-back plays at one point yet continued to fight. Their tenacity and grit was the deciding factor in Mendham Friday night.
With this Falcons win, they pick up their sixth of the year and a big confidence booster heading into a tougher matchup ahead. Jefferson is still unsure who they will see next week in the first round of the playoffs, but know they will be on the road ready play scrappy and tough between the lines.