Friday, September 22 – Football: Mendham Minutemen 19 at Jefferson Falcons 38

The Falcons outscored the Minutemen 17-0 in the second half to open the 2017 home football season with a thrilling 38-19 win.

The first half was all about momentum as the Minutemen struck first on an 11 yard run by Evan Petrucci, but the Falcons scored 21 unanswered  points on a touchdown run by Paul Monaco and 2 touchdown passes to Drew Benfatti, the second one coming on a 40 yard option pass from Paul Monaco on the first play after the Falcons surprised the Minutemen by recovering an onside kick on the Mendham 40. The bit of razzle-dazzle gave the Falcons a 21-6 lead with 3:57 to go in the first half, but it was time for momentum to shift Mendham’s way.

With their ensuing possession, Mendham efficiently marched down the field setting up an 11 yard touchdown strike from Logan Clouse to Dan Murphy to trim Jefferson’s lead to 21-13. The Minutemen recovered a Jefferson fumble and after a series of strong runs and a costly penalty by the Falcons, Clouse ran the ball in from 11 yards out.  A two-point conversion attempt which would’ve tied the game, failed however and the two teams went into the locker room at the half with Jefferson clinging on to a slim 21-19 lead.

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The second half started out in less than promising fashion for JTHS as Drew Benfatti, who’d had another dominating performance, was injured and had to be removed form the game.  The teams exchanged punts and the Falcons found themselves with a 1st and 10 at their own 4 yard-line when the tide of momentum turned in the Falcons’ direction in a big way. First, senior running back Michael Fleming broke a 30 yard run to get the Falcons out of the shadow of their own end-zone and give them a first and 10 on their own 38. Senior running back Ryan Leyden then brought the crowd to their feet by running through the Mendham defense for a 62 yard touchdown run. Sophomore Matt Johnson, kicking for the injured Benfatti, nailed the extra point and the Falcons had some breathing room at 28-19. Following another exchange of punts  and with the Falcons keeping the ball on the ground to run the clock, Matt Johnson made the score 31-19 as he nailed a 26 yard field goal on a play that was set up by a 41-yard run by Matt Cappello on a 3rd down and 8 from the Jefferson 27.

The Falcons continued their recipe for success in the fourth quarter stopping the Mendham offense cold with smart penalty-free defense and more clock-munching drives on offense. Fleming’s 7 yard touchdown run with 5 minutes to go closed out the scoring  and Jefferson sent their fans home happy with a well-earned 38-19 victory.

Coach Venturino started the traditional post-game celebration at “The Rock” by giving a shout out to Falcon Nation, paying special attention to the Junior Falcons in attendance and reminding them that “you’re the future and someday you’ll be here at this rock and we’ll be coaching you.” He also gave credit to the coaches, band, cheerleaders, and parents as well as his own family for letting him spend so much time coaching the team.

Following some rousing cheers from the fans and a poem from the cheerleaders punctuated by shouts of “How ’bout them Falcons!” it was time to award the game balls for the night.  Two game balls were awarded on offense. One went to Paul Monaco who ran for one touchdown and passed for another.  The other game ball for offense went to Michael Fleming who led the team in rushing with 86 yards on 8 carries including a touchdown. The game ball for defense went to Nick Miller who made a lot of plays and a lot of tackles.  Coach Venturino punctuated the cheering by inviting the fans to come out to the next game exhorting them to “Be bigger!! Be louder!!”

When the joyful celebration calmed down somewhat, I asked Coach Venturino what made the difference in the second half and he quickly credited his coaching staff for calming the team down following Mendahm’s furious late push.  “We told the kids ‘no turnovers and eliminate the penalties.” Mendham never stopped battling but our kids were resilient and smart.”

The win moves the Falcons to 2-1 on the season. Next up for the Falcons are the Highlanders of West Milford who visit the stadium this week  for a rare Thursday night game. West Milford is 1-2 on the season following a 33-29 win over Montville. Kickoff is 7 p.m.