Friday evening was the opening of high school football in New Jersey. In this Week Zero contest, Verona faced Lakeland Regional in a true nail-biter to the very end.
Verona received the ball first but was unable to drive down the field and was forced to punt. Lakeland Regional proceeded to call a series of runs, slowly making their way downfield. The drive was stalled with tackles by #50 Aidan Cifaretto (guard, defensive tackle), #44 Bodie Maisano (running back, linebacker), and #13 Salvatore Santos-DiTrani (receiver, safety), as well as a tipped ball by #22 Dean Algieri (receiver, outside linebacker). However, Lakeland Regional steadily progressed forward, throwing a pass in the center of the field to score a touchdown. An extra point caused Verona to be down 0-7. Upon receiving the ball, Maisano ran for a 20-yard kick return and then ran the ball nearly to the 50-yard line. Capitalizing on this, #10 Connor Demasi threw a pass to #23 Zach Garmont (receiver, safety, cornerback), who proceeded to run 35 yards to the Lakeland 15.
The second quarter started off with Verona only 10 yards away from the end zone, but a wall of Lakeland defenders stopped Verona on a 4th and 1. Lakeland’s momentum was slowed by tackles from Algieri and # 32 Luke Freedman (linebacker), playing his first varsity game. Finally, a botched snap caused a Lakeland punt. Afterwards, Verona and Lakeland both traded possessions, both punting due to strong defense. However, after another punt by Verona, Lakeland drove the ball down all the way to the Verona 15. It looked like Lakeland was all set to score when Garmont intercepted the ball and ran 80 yards for a pick-six. An extra point set the score tied at 7-7. Lakeland responded by throwing the ball 40 yards downfield, but then Cifaretto recovered a fumble, turning the ball back to the offense. Despite a 20-yard throw to #5 Gianluca Checchetto (receiver, cornerback), Verona was unable to score in such limited time, closing out the second quarter.
During halftime, the Verona Marching Maroon and White performed parts one and two of their show, “Bach and Roll”, and the Verona Cheerleading Squad performing their 2023 routine. #20 Jayden Nigro (receiver, outside linebacker), who had suffered a minor injury earlier in the game, prepared to return in the second half.
At the start of the second half, Lakeland was unable to gather steam due to tackles from Checchetto, Nigro, and Maisano. On offense, receptions by Michael Demasi and Garmont brought Verona inside the red zone, but Verona was unable to score. Vigorous defense by Verona managed to slow the Lakeland advance. Particularly of note were numerous tackles by #11 Jesse Wagner (receiver, cornerback), a tackle for a loss by #81 John Paul Alfano (receiver, linebacker), and consistent pocket pressure by #12 Ethan Fersch (tight end, defensive end). Lakeland was forced to settle for a field goal with 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, drawing up the score at 7-10.
In the rest of the fourth quarter, players from both teams showed tremendous skill. While on punt return, Garmont outmaneuvered four players in his pursuit of a first down. Garmont then completed a 50-yard pass to Algieri putting Verona deep in Lakeland territory, but Verona was unable to produce points. Verona’s defense then held Lakeland from scoring any points, but could not stop them from running out the clock.
Verona will seek to improve their technique in next week’s bout against Madison. Madison is a strong team that went 6-3 last year. Verona will be their first competitor, as the Dodgers did not have a Week Zero game. The game will take place at Madison on Saturday, September 2, at 1 p.m.
(Photos copyright Kathleen Milano Seubert. Used by permission.)