It was Boonton’s intention, according to Adrian Ferati, to “come out blazing” in the North Jersey Section 1, Group I final.
And the fourth-seeded Bombers lit it up, continually making big plays and maintaining a high level of intensity throughout en route to a 34-21 victory over No. 2 Cedar Grove on Friday, Nov. 22.
The sectional title was Boonton’s first since 2003 when it triumphed under Gus Modla.
“This has been our goal since December,” Ferati said. “We wanted to hit as hard as we could and battle. I’m living the dream right now. We’re all living the dream. It’s unbelievable. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Ferati, a junior middle linebacker, came up with the first mega play, intercepting a pass on the goal line with 1:05 left in the first quarter. That pick set up Corey Dempster’s 85-yard touchdown run down the right sideline 2:12 into the second quarter, giving the Bombers a 6-0 lead.
“Adrian’s been such a warrior,” Boonton coach Bryan Gallagher said. “He’s undersized for a linebacker but he’s so, so tough.”
Jeff Yanez’s fumble recovery in the end zone with 2:44 remaining thwarted another Cedar Grove touchdown attempt and ensured Boonton a trip to MetLife Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 30. In between Ferati’s interception and Yanez’s heads-up dive onto the ball, there was an abundance of hard-nosed action and determination.
Dempster and Jordan DeCosta were at the core of the attack, rambling upfield for two touchdowns apiece and combining for 462 yards. The Bombers took a 13-7 lead into the locker room at halftime courtesy of DeCosta’s 51-yard run with 1:36 remaining. Cedar Grove closed out the first half with its initial TD, a 29-yard pass from George Slattery to Dario Bryant.
The third quarter featured four scores, two by each team. Two minutes and 12 seconds into the second half, Boonton pulled ahead 20-7 on Dempster’s 65-yard run up the middle and Sean Tucker’s second extra-point kick.
A mere 2:29 later, Cedar Grove struck again, reaching the end zone on a 2-yard run by Tyler Rummel.
Boonton’s advantage widened to 27-14 when DeCosta, who was sidelined with a dislocated knee as a sophomore and made the decision to forego football and focus on basketball as a junior, raced 66 yards. Cedar Grove responded with a 1-yard TD by Gerard Dente and came within six, 27-21.
For a seven-minute span in the final period, the Bombers controlled the ball and that lengthy possession resulted in a stunning halfback option play, one that left Gallagher elated. Danny Portas took the snap and got the ball to Clyde Liverpool, who completed a 20-yard scoring pass to John Rigas with 3:55 remaining. The TD capped a 62-yard, 13-play drive which featured gritty runs by Dempster and Portas.
“The pass by Clyde… That was huge,” Gallagher said as his players loomed nearby, preparing for the celebratory Gatorade dousing. “That was the key. It’s something we’ve been practicing.”
However, it still wasn’t over as Cedar Grove took the ball to the Bombers’ 11-yard line. The Panthers got to the 2-yard line on a pass play but Titus Johnson jarred the ball loose and Yanez, who partially tore his MCL with four minutes remaining, recovered the fumble for a touchback, putting an end to the late threat.
“I was blocking on offense and someone fell on my knee,” said Yanez, likely to sit out the final. “I was going to play through it, no matter what.”
Ferati’s early interception, too, came with help from a teammate as DeCosta tipped the ball. It was like that all night as Boonton’s players were there for each other.
DeCosta, known as “President Mal,” is pleased to be back on the gridiron with his good friend Dempster, whose nickname is “New Era.” The duo were standouts for the Boonton-Mountain Lakes Grayhawks and played together from fourth through eighth grade.
“We’ve been brothers since elementary school,” DeCosta said. “We’ve always been close and that will never change.”
Naturally, Dempster had much to say about DeCosta.
“Jordan is a great player to have on the team,” Dempster said. “He is just a natural athlete. He makes plays all over the field. He runs hard when he has the ball in his hand and, when he doesn’t, he’s blocking hard.
“One quote that describes Jordan is ‘It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s about if you get back up.'”
Gallagher and Boonton will vie for the North 1 Regional Championship against Park Ridge. Gallagher’s been trying to keep it low key. Prior to the game against the Panthers, he advised the Bombers “not to get too caught up in things” and referred to the scene in Hoosiers, where the coach has his players measure the length of the key and the distance from the rim to the floor, reminding them that it’s exactly like their home court.
“It’s like football,” Gallagher said. “The field is 100 yards long and 53 1/3 yards wide no matter where you play.”
Apparently, the Bombers paid heed to their coach’s words and didn’t get caught up in the hype.
“This is a great day for Boonton High School,” Gallagher said. “I’m so proud of our kids. I’m happy for the towns of Boonton and Lincoln Park to have this. Our boys have been resilient. I’m overwhelmed with pride.”