WESTWOOD — When Cedar Grove and Ramsey stepped onto the field for the last of the five games in the Jim Grasso Kickoff Classic, it was a matchup of experience vs. inexperience. More times than not, that experience will pay huge dividends in the beginning of a season.
It certainly did for the Panthers of Cedar Grove, who got through a slow start before coming on and playing dominantly in the second half of a 34-7 football win over the Rams in the season opener for both teams Saturday.
It took about a quarter for Cedar Grove to find itself, as Ramsey’s youngsters played a spirited game with what at times looked like a Grand Central Station approach offensively, rotating three, four or five players in and out.
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That helped keep the game scoreless into the second quarter and the Rams actually got the first points of the game following an Andrew McDade interception of a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage.
Two first downs set up a nice stretch play, with Christian Fojon cutting off the right tackle and finding the seam on the way to a 27-yard touchdown run. That would be the last highlight moment for the Rams, however.
The Panthers, a pass-first offense, finally got their timing down, and they answered back with a quick march that culminated on a nice hitch-and-go route by Nick Russo, with quarterback Stephen Paradiso hitting him stride in the back of the end zone down the left sideline,
Cedar Grove grabbed the lead for good on the final play of the first half, with Sebastian Kovacs drilling a 40-yard field goal with room to spare, making it 10-7. That pumped up CG, and they took the second-half kickoff and went right down the field, with a Paradiso to Nick Iannacone 25-yard pass putting them on the 1-yard line. Paradiso snuck it in from there.
After a failed fourth down by Ramsey, Cedar Grove made it 24-7 on a 15-yard Paradiso to Iannacone TD strike. Kovacs added his second field goal from 28 yards out, giving the Panthers a 27-7 lead going into the fourth quarter, and a Paradiso 13-yard run closed out the scoring.
What it means
For Cedar Grove, it was a validation that they are ready to once again make noise in the North Group 1 championship picture. The Panthers went almost exclusively with the pass in the first half, running only three times, but they had a better mix in the second half and were able to use the run time off the clock.
For Ramsey, it sets the needle for what has to happen as they move on to the next game, a mere five days away on Thursday against Pascack Valley. With a sophomore quarterback making his debut and many pieces on both sides of the ball also in their inaugural varsity game, it’s all about getting better. It was not a lack of effort by the Rams, simply a case of the opponent being much further along thanks to their veteran status.
Turning point No. 1
This one is easy. It was the Kovacs field goal to close the half. The Panthers were not at their best in the opening half ("We got a little caught up in opening day jitters and simply needed to get rolling,” head coach Rob Gogerty said), but they were able to walk off with a lead and a huge momentum swing, Coming right out and scoring to open the second half emphasized the positive shift.
Turning point No. 2
Facing a fourth-and-five at their own 37 with just under 5:30 to go in the third quarter and trailing 17-7, Ramsey coach Adam Baeira gambled and went for it. Perhaps a better way of stating it is, he showed his team that he had faith in them. They had quarterback Justus Favata roll right and the running back release from a block into the flat. The pass hit him in the hands beyond the first-down marker with room to run, but it was dropped.
“We practice that play over and over,” Baeira said. “It set up like we expected but we just didn’t execute it. Hey, we’re going to have to own it, know that when that situation comes up again that we’ll do a better job of making the play.”
By the numbers
Paradiso was 18 of 29 passing for 285 yards and a pair of touchdowns and one interception. Iannacone was the favorite target, snaring 8 balls for 139 yards. Jackson Morrice was the deep threat, catching 4 for 97 yards and Russo, the tight end, had 3 grabs for 51 yards as well as a 12-yard run on a receiver reverse. The Panthers had a 316-203 advantage in total yards over the Rams.
Favara was 12 of 21 passing for 81 yards and an interception in his first game as a starter, with tight end Noah Magnus on the receiving end of four balls for 38 yards. Van Schoening had 3 catches for 14 yards and 41 rushing yards on 13 carries. Fojon had 50 yards on 5 runs and Favata 34 on six carries.