Indians take down Garfield to advance to state sectional final

Valley will play in the state sectional final for the first time since 2014

BJ McGrane, Sports Editor

All season long, Pascack Valley football has relied on its dominant rushing attack led by senior Jake Williams.

The same cannot be said for the first half of Valley’s North 1, Group 3 state sectional semifinal game against Garfield, as the Indians had to rely on the passing attack in order to defeat the seventh-seeded Boilermakers 28-6 at home Friday night.

Williams was unable to get going in the first half, picking up just 23 yards on his 7 rushing attempts through the first two quarters of play.

With the rushing attack being slowed down, Valley turned to its passing game, led by quarterback Stephen Begen. Begen completed 9 out of his 14 pass attempts in the first half for 78 yards, while also throwing a touchdown and an interception.

“Whenever the running game isn’t going, the passing game has to pick it up, and vice versa,” Begen said. “We’re always looking out for each other.”

After Begen’s pass was intercepted by Nakie Graham, it looked like there could be an upset in the making as Garfield regained possession after already having a 6-0 lead. This is where Valley’s defense, which has been dominant all year, took over. A sack on first down by senior Drew Carney, who has been on a tear recently, would be too much for the Boilermakers to overcome, forcing a three-and-out. After a three-and-out of their own, the Indians punted the ball back to Garfield.

This would spark a series of unusual events, eventually leading to a fourth-and-66 for the Boilermakers deep in their own territory. After an offensive pass interference penalty, Garfield faced second-and-26 at midfield. After losing two yards from a completed pass, the Boilermakers faced third-and-28. They would then commit three penalties in a row: a false start, a holding penalty, and a delay of game. On what was then third-and-55, Garfield quarterback Jason Hawes was brought down again by Carney, for his second of his three total sacks of the game.

“My mindset is always to get to the quarterback, try to beat him with my hands, and just [be] relentless,” Carney said.

Carney’s sack would bring up fourth down for the Boilermakers, needing 66 yards to move the chains. Of course, they punted, giving the Valley offense another chance to get on the board.

Begen and the offense delivered, starting just before midfield, and driving down the field in nine plays, with the final play being a two-yard touchdown pass from Begen to junior Daniel Haag.

Begen completed three other passes on this drive, one to senior Craig Moorhead and two to senior James Allmers. Allmers would finish the game with three receptions for 52 yards.

“If we didn’t pick it up, we were going to lose,” Allmers said. “We picked it up, and look at the outcome.”

Before the Indians “picked it up” the Boilermakers were having their way with Valley, scoring on their first drive off of a 41-yard touchdown run by senior Josue Matias. Matias was a workhorse for Garfield, finishing the game with 14 rushes for 81 yards to go with his touchdown.

This would be Garfield’s only score of the game, as the Indians’ defense was able to prevent the Boilermakers from getting into the endzone for the remainder of the contest.

“[The defense] just calmed down. They relaxed and didn’t get too overwhelmed,” coach Len Cusumano said. “They settled down and really started to make plays and tackle well.”

Just because Garfield didn’t get into the endzone for the rest of the game doesn’t mean they didn’t come close.

After returning the kickoff to Valley’s 45-yard line following Haag’s touchdown, the Boilermakers quickly got into the redzone, setting themselves up for first-and-goal from the 3-yard line. The Indians stuffed Matias on back-to-back runs, bringing up third-and-goal from the same spot. Carney would strike again, sacking Hawes for a loss of five yards. After a false start, Garfield was looking at fourth-and-goal from the 13-yard line. Hawes launched a pass into the back of the endzone, intended for Graham, but it was ruled incomplete.

However, Valley challenged the ruling on the field, hopeful that senior Jake Ciocca came down with the interception. After reviewing the play on instant replay, the referees determined that Ciocca did not intercept the ball, therefore it was a turnover on downs for Garfield, setting the Indians up at their own 13-yard line. If the call had been overturned, the Indians would have started at their own 20-yard line.

This would not be the only time instant replay was used, as later on, down 21-6 in the fourth quarter, it appeared as if Garfield wide receiver Christian Harker came down with a miraculous juggling catch in the end zone to cut Valley’s lead to single digits.

The referees initially ruled the play a touchdown for Garfield, but after reviewing it, the call was overturned, meaning that it was an incomplete pass and it would be third-and-six for the Boilermakers. After a false start and a holding penalty, the Boilermakers had to go for it on fourth-and-19 from the Indians’ 40-yard line. Hawes’ pass was broken up by junior David Jones, causing a turnover on downs for Garfield, and giving Valley possession of the ball late in the fourth quarter, leading 21-6 in the waning minutes of the game.

Williams was able to ice the game late with a 34-yard touchdown, his second of the game, with just over three minutes left to play.

For Williams and the rushing attack, the second half was a completely different ballgame. After rushing for just 23 yards in the first half, Williams would rush for 124 yards in the second half to finish with 147 yards on 24 carries, as well as two touchdowns, both coming in the second half.

“[We wanted to] control the clock,” Cusumano said. “Gaining time of possession in that second half, and being able to hold onto the football really helped.”

Even with Williams having success on the ground in the second half, Begen was still picking apart Garfield’s defense. The Indians scored on their first drive of the second half, one that was highlighted by a 24-yard reception from senior Kris Ostrowski and a 16-yard touchdown pass from Begen to Ciocca, a score that gave Valley a 14-6 lead.

As a third-year starter playing in his third playoff game, Begen’s playoff experience certainly showed, as he came up big when his team needed him most.

“Don’t let the moment be bigger than you,” Begen said. “The fans were getting loud, and we just had to stay calm and execute.”

Despite the loss, Garfield’s offense put up some big numbers against Valley. Hawes would finish the game completing 10 out of his 17 pass attempts for 106 yards, and Graham would finish with four receptions for 57 yards to add to his interception on the defensive end.

Shortly after Valley’s victory, Ramapo defeated West Side by a score of 49-40 in the other semifinal game in the North 1, Group 3 bracket, setting up a rematch from earlier in the season between Pascack Valley (3) and Ramapo (1) next week, the winner taking home the North 1, Group 3 state sectional title.

For the Indians, the past few seasons ended early, as they fell in the first round of the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. This year, it was clear from the start that this team was something special.

“As soon as the season started, in minicamp, we knew this was something special,” Begen said. “I’d say in the past two years we’ve probably had more talent, but with the heart, and the extra work we’ve been putting in, you can just tell it’s going to be something special.”

Valley will travel on the road for its state sectional final game next week, and will look to prepare for its rematch against the undefeated Ramapo Raiders.

“[We will] just get healed up a little bit, and get ready to go have some fun in the [state] sectional final,” Cusumano said.

For the seniors who had suffered back-to-back first round exits in the playoffs prior to this year, playing in the state sectional final is a dream come true.

“To be able to play for a state title is a dream I’ve had since I was a freshman,” senior Andrew Martinez said. “This is the greatest feeling of my high school career so far, and we just have to take down the Po.”