By Stephen Spiewak
PISCATAWAY, N.J. --- New Jersey isn’t often associated with high school football, but the Garden State takes its pigskin very seriously.
The New York all-stars found this out the hard way, as the New Jersey all-stars overcame brutal heat to earn a 33-22 victory in the 11th annual NY-NJ All-Star Classic at Rutgers Stadium.
“It’s that Jersey pride,” said West Essex (N.J.) head football coach Dave Drozjock, who served as the head coach of the New Jersey all-stars. “We talk about it all the time.”
That Jersey pride was evident early on in the game. In their first offensive series, Rutgers-bound Mohamed Sanu (South Brunswick) connected with another future Scarlet Knight, Brandon Jones (Winslow Township), on a 55-yard touchdown pass to give New Jersey a very early 7-0 lead.
On New York’s very first snap, quarterback Joe Sidaras (William Floyd) was rushed, and forced a poor throw that was intercepted by New Jersey’s Marvin Booker (Piscataway) on the 28 yard line. Several plays later, William Washington (Holy Spirit) plunged into the end zone for a three yard touchdown run to give New Jersey a quick 14-0 lead.
Williams’ second touchdown run from two yards out later in the game was enough to net him the offensive MVP award for the New Jersey squad that featured a very balanced attack.
Refusing to go down without a fight, New York attempted to slow the pace of the game down with longer, sustained drives. Running back Brock Jackolski (William Floyd) showed good balance and elusiveness rushing the ball for New York.
Following an acrobatic, diving catch by Conrad Stewart (Lawrence) that gave New York the ball inside the 10 yard line, running back Kenny Youngs (Lansingburgh) capped off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run to bring the score to 14-6. After a botched snap on the extra point attempt, holder Daniel Basiel (St. Anthony's) scrambled into the end zone to narrow the deficit to 14-8 in the second quarter.
However, New York would get no closer, as it seemed every time they made a move, New Jersey would immediately respond. On its very next possession, the New Jersey all-stars marched down the field. Leading the charge was quarterback Tim Lamirande (Howell), whose pinpoint accuracy helped him connect with Bryan Burnham on a 29 yard touchdown pass with less than a minute remaining in the half.
Lamirande said that he had hoped to establish himself amid a sea of talented players on the New Jersey roster.
“I wanted to make a name for myself,” said Lamirande, who finished 7-10 for 83 yards. “It was fun but it was hard work. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
The second half featured big plays by two athletes with Rutgers ties. Markell Rice (New Rochelle), younger brother of Rutgers former star Ray Rice, intercepted a Lamirande pass and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown. Older brother Ray cheered him on from the sidelines, and received a warm round of applause when he was announced over the loudspeakers.
For New Jersey, safety Pat Kivlehan (St. Joseph Regional) also had an interception, which helped his squad to pull away from New York. Kivlehan, another future Rutgers player, said it was a great opportunity to get familiarized with some of his future teammates.
“It was a good experience,” Kivlehan said. “I got to become friends with guys before I even have to report (to training camp).”
For his efforts, Kivlehan was named the New Jersey defensive MVP. On the New York side, quarterback Jeff Legree (Fort Hamilton) and linebacker Alex Rivas (East Meadow) garnered the offensive and defensive MVP awards, respectively.
With the extreme heat punishing the players all afternoon, officials decided to keep a running clock in the second half to shorten the game. This eliminated any hope New York had at launching a come back.
The heat and shortened game could do little quell the enthusiasm on the New Jersey sidelines, however. Players proudly hoisted the trophy and celebrated on the field after the awards presentation.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming in,” New Jersey coach Drozjock said. “But they all were very respectful and worked very hard.”