Photo Credit: Sunil Sunder Raj

Pascack Valley recaptures ‘Rumble for the Rail’ trophy

The Pascack Valley Panthers (2-5) and the River Dell Golden Hawks (3-4) faced off in the annual "Rumble for the Rail' trophy game at River Dell High School in Oradell, New Jersey. River Dell had won the past meetings, including a 39-27 victory last season.

The Golden Hawks were coming off a dramatic 28-27 comeback win over Ramapo the week before. Senior quarterback Jake Sconza plowed for a four-yard touchdown run with eight seconds remaining in the fourth quarter while senior placekicker Alejandro Carballeda drilled home the game-winning extra point kick.

Meanwhile, Pascack Valley lost to Montville 21-10, who dropped their overall record to 1-5. After dropping their first four games to start the year, the Panthers split their last two games, including winning their first game in a shootout 42-35 against Demarest.

Pascack Valley received the opening kickoff to start the game as River Dell deferred to the second half. The Panthers' offense and the team certainly did not resemble a team four games under .500.

The offense marched down the field swiftly, chewing up over three minutes of the clock, and sophomore running back Kevin Regula capped off the drive by barreling in for a one-yard touchdown run.

Panthers senior quarterback Jake Crawbuck talked about the team's record and opening drive.

"Our coaches don't believe in our record or players do," Crawbuck said. "We have played some really good teams over the last couple of weeks and right now we're really trying to show that we're not what our record is. Ramsey, Old Tappan, and Northern Highlands are all outstanding teams and brought it to us, and playing those teams made us better."

"One of the biggest keys to the first drive is to take a bunch of time off the clock and keep their offense off the field especially (Jake)Sconza and number three (Max Froonjian,)" Crawbuck said. "We didn't want them to have any momentum. We trusted our offensive line."

However, the momentum shifted to the Golden Hawks, with senior Sean Kim recovering a fumble on a Pascack Valley punt return. River Dell's offense started in outstanding field position at the Panther's 23-yard line.

On second and ten at the ten-yard line, Golden Hawks quarterback Jake Sconza dropped back in the pocket and fired a ten-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Jack Carey. The one blip was the extra point attempt was blocked as Pascack Valley led 7-6.

The Panther's offense looked to rebound with another solid drive, but in a split second, that changed with Jack Carey intercepting a Crawbuck pass along the left sidelines and sprinting to the end zone as River Dell went up 13-7.

Crawbuck on falling behind 13-7, "It's really something we've struggled with all season and with momentum." "A lot of our games we've had good starts, but then the opposing team gets the momentum back."

Pascack Valley managed to withstand the body blows from the Golden Hawks and rediscovered consistency on offense in the second quarter.

The Panthers strung together a 10-play, 59-yard drive that lasted four minutes, culminating in Crawbuck airing out a highlight reel 25-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Conor Higgins who caught the ball in stride while backpedaling into the end zone.

"That touchdown pass was a bubble, supposed to be a screen pass and I saw Conor one on one," Crawbuck explained. "He's my number one receiver, motioned to him while I'm under center and so much trust in him." He was ready to go when I made the pass, caught it, and made a big play.

Pascack Valley's defense wreaked havoc in the first half, with senior defensive lineman Brandon Flanagan sacking River Dell quarterback Jake Sconza twice.

"We said before the game we wanted to make something of our season, and it hasn't been going our way too much," Brandon Flanagan described. "We came in there with a mentality we got nothing to lose and just want to take it to them. Our goal was to put ourselves in the history books."

"Going into the game we want to keep our defensive line fresh because we had a three down set most of the game and knew they would be trying to throw the ball on us." "A huge credit to Colin Krause, he did a great job whenever I needed a breather and came in and really created a presence. I was able to come back in and get past the offensive line."

After the Panthers forced the Golden Hawks' offense on a three-and-out, they got the ball back on offense with a little over four minutes remaining.

Pascack Valley's offense displayed the ability again to engineer another time-consuming drive that swallowed up over three and a half minutes of the clock.

Once inside the red zone, Crawbuck dropped back in the pocket, rolled to his right, and tossed an 11-yard pass to senior fullback Quinn Flanagan that made it 20-13 Panthers late in the second quarter.

"Quinn is usually one of our key blockers in the run and pass game," Crawbuck noted. "One of the things we noticed is they would lose that tight end or fullback and cover him sometimes. We called a little play-action, and I saw that Quinn was wide open and made the guy miss and score a touchdown."

Despite less than a minute left to work with was no problem for the River Dell offense. Quarterback Jake Sconza was in the zone, completing four consecutive passes that moved the ball in lightning speed down to the Pascack Valley two-yard line.

On first and goal at the two-yard line with practically not much time remaining on the clock, Sconza dropped back in the pocket and zipped a touchdown pass to wide receiver Max Froonjian. Both teams headed into the locker room at halftime, with the game tied 20-20.

Once the second half got underway, the defenses made their presence known immediately; Panthers' linebacker Quinn Flanagan recovered a fumble on a running play. On the flip side, Jack Carey recorded his second interception on a deep pass thrown by Jake Crawbuck.

"We made it clear all week that second and third guy in as soon as the first guy makes contact really stripped the ball out and a huge emphasis," Brandon Flanagan mentioned. "On that fumble Jake Merlino did a great job, sacrificed himself and blocked one of the Hawks and Quinn came in and got into the pile."

After the Pascack Valley defense forced the River Dell offense on a three-and-out, the ensuing punt traveled a short distance, landing at the Golden Hawks' 29-yard line.

Working with the short field proved an advantage for the Panther's offense. A five-play drive that lasted only 1:42, with Crawbuck rifling an 18-yard touchdown pass to senior wide Dan Kastanis with five seconds to go in the third quarter.

"Pretty much all game they were covering one of our key plays and I usually that ball would go to Conor (Higgins), and he would little in route," Crawbuck stated. "We had an RPO (Run-Pass Option) setup and realized that the safety wasn't really staying there anymore, and he was coming into stop the run."

"I realized that Dan was going to be open and kind of gave him a little sign." "He just ran quick slant and did the rest. Dan's a great player and one of our top guys. We try to get him involved with the screen game, kick and punt returns and running game."

In the fourth quarter, Flanagan demonstrated his quick ability again on the pass rush registering his third sack of the game.

River Dell's offense finally got some much-needed rhythm as quarterback Jake Sconza orchestrated a 10-play drive that nibbled away three minutes of the clock. Still, the Panther's defense stepped up again with a critical turnover. Senior defensive Nick Bruzzi recovered a fumble after Jake Merlino sacked Sconza, and Flanagan played a pivotal role in the turnover.

"Coming into that quarter, we knew we couldn't be complacent and had to play with all the energy," Flanagan said. "I kept saying don't play with any regrets out here and then go back and watch the film and saying what you could have done different. I was trying to make sure all the guys were still focused."

The Golden Hawks' offense still had one last opportunity to tie the game up in the closing minute of the fourth quarter. Pascack Valley's aggressive pash rush rose to the occasion with Quinn Flanagan sacking Sconza for an 18-yard loss.

River Dell remarkably refused to throw in the towel as Sconza completed a pair of passes, including an 11-yard pass to Jack Carey on fourth down. The Golden Hawks pushed the ball eventually into Panther's territory.

That's where the Pascack Valley defense drew a line in the land, forcing Sconza into throwing three incomplete passes that forced a turnover on downs.

All the Panther's offense had to kneel once for the clock to hit zero and set off a jubilant celebration on the field, sidelines, and stands. The players rushed down to the north end of the end zone to reclaim the "Rumble for the Rail' trophy.

 "It was huge, really emotional for us and credit to our underclassmen," Flanagan on the win. "We needed them to step up, and they certainly did. It's about our senior class, obviously not having the most outstanding season we could have. We wanted to come into this game and eventually do something with our season and cement the legacy."

"We were doing this for the 2019 class, and we brought it home. We couldn't get it the past couple of years and really wanted to bring it back to Hillsdale this year and we made it happen."

Jake Crawbuck on the victory, "We've had a tough season so far and it wasn't just about getting the win and trying to get into the playoffs but to actually compete for a trophy and we're going to be known in history and Pascack Valley forever. This is the second time our school has won this trophy and it feels great because our heads were down a little bit because we weren't doing great. It's awesome that we can look up to something and say we accomplished something this season, and it's great going into the playoffs and gives us a lot of confidence."