Class of 2021 celebrates Senior Night festivities.
The best form of Friday night social distancing at Jefferson Township High School came on its football field, albeit in coerced fashion.
The JTHS Falcons’ defense enjoyed perfection in the form of three interceptions and no points allowed in a 21-0 shutdown of the West Milford Highlanders. It was their first game on campus in nearly a full calendar year. Ironically, Jefferson had also topped West Milford in that prior contest. They were more than happy to pick where they left off in modern times.
The Falcons (1-0) got all of their scoring done in the first half. Erik Garv threw two touchdown passes, sandwiching a scoring rush from Jacob Studnick. The first scoring toss went to Joseph Altamura less than three minutes in, the result of a 55-yard drive immediately after the opening kickoff. Rory Coyle earned the final touchdown of the day toward the end of the first half, celebrating with his teammates through a series of subdued, yet humorous handshakes.
“That was on the spot, I was too focused, too happy that I scored. I didn’t know what to do,” Coyle, a transfer from Pope John XXIII, said with a laugh in describing the score. “I saw Erik Garv throw a beautiful pass. He hit me right in the hands. That was great to get my first career high school touchdown, it felt good.”
Jefferson head coach Jerry Venturino was particularly pleased by the defensive effort. Jefferson forced three turnovers through interceptions, two taken by Andrew Weber (each setting up offensive scores) and another by Kofi Mensah. The defense also allowed Highlander passing to earn only one completion. West Milford (0-1) came closest to scoring when they got to Jefferson’s 30, but Falcon pressure forced a punt. Each of the Highlander possessions ended in kick back to Jefferson, with the exception of the three aerial turnovers.
“Anytime that they don’t let up a point, I think that just speaks volumes for itself,” Venturino said. “What I was most impressed with was their ability to take our game plan and adjustments going into the week and execute them throughout practice. It showed out here on the field tonight. I love their physicality.”
Friday marked the Falcons’ opener on the gridiron, as fall sports commence across the state. Fans were welcomed on the Oak Ridge campus, separated in the stands and the track, where the JTHS Golden Falcon Marching Band and cheerleading squad were each stationed at a distance.
The process did nothing to dampen the on-campus celebrations. Jefferson’s opener also served as Senior Night, as the Class of 2021’s musicians, cheerleaders, and players were honored at halftime.
“We work so hard, so to see (this night) come to fruition and to see us win, it’s not shocking. It’s deserving. It feels natural,” Mensah said. “It felt natural. It felt fluid…I’ve been playing with these guys since I was in second grade. Seeing their picture going up (on the scoreboard), and they have a beard and everything, from a distance, I’m saying ‘wow, these are my friends, we’re so much older than we used to be!’. I try not to get emotional during games but these guys, I really care about them. They’re all my best friends. Every single one of my teammates I care about. Seeing us grow up together, come up with our families, I know their parents really well too. It felt good.”
Venturino was pleased that a win on Senior Night was beneficial for everyone on his team. Plenty of underclassmen, like the juniors Garv and Coyle, played major roles in securing the win. The game’s one-sided nature allowed every single dressed Falcon to partake in the victory.
“Ultimately, we talked about that the most important with Senior Night was getting the win so it could be something memorable for everyone,” he said. “The best part was that we were able to get everyone in the game. I think that’s very important to get everyone a taste of some Friday night lights, especially for all the seniors. I’m just hoping the experience they’ve had here tonight is something they’ll remember forever.”
Jefferson will look to continue their early winning ways next Friday night, as they hit the road to battle Sparta.
Geoff Magliocchettis is on Twitter @GeoffJMags