Before Thursday night’s game, Caldwell came in ranked 21st in the state, and Verona 191st. Verona was expected to get shut out and crushed, like Caldwell’s previous opponents. However, strong resistance to the end allowed Verona to retain an achievement they received last year: The first team to score on Caldwell’s varsity all season.
The game started out with a short kick, returned at the 40 by #14 Landon Ruggiero. This was followed up by a 10-yard pass to #44 Bodie Maisano. After a few plays, a 25-yard rush by #23 Zach Garmont brought Verona to the 25. However, after a penalty and a few short throws, Verona decided to kick. A field goal down the middle by #2 Kieran Patel gave Verona a 3-0 lead. On defense, tackles by #81 John Paul Alfano, #50 Aidan Cifaretto, and #13 Salvatore Santos-DiTrani brought about a Caldwell punt. However, the punt was faked and Caldwell got another set of downs by one yard. Despite pass deflections by #11 Jesse Wagner and tackles from #42 Marc Nigro, a long rush brought Caldwell into very close field position. An inside rush got Caldwell their first touchdown of the game. A return from Garmont put Verona’s offense back at the 40-yard line. Verona’s offense drove down 20 yards, but an interception was returned for a touchdown, giving Caldwell a 15-3 lead. At the end of the first quarter, Verona found itself back on offense.
At the beginning of the second quarter, Verona faced tough defense by Caldwell. A few rushes by Garmont managed to move the ball, but only with great effort. Alas, Verona was forced to punt near the 40-yard line. With Caldwell back on offense, tackles by Wagner, Maisano, and Santos-DiTrani held back the Caldwell attack, but a long pass allowed Caldwell to get within the red zone. A quarterback sneak by Caldwell had a controversial outcome, with the ball popping out before a touchdown was signaled by the referees, possibly indicating a fumble. However, the play was ruled a touchdown and Caldwell scored the extra point. Back on offense, a grueling run from Maisano managed to push past three individual defenders to bring Verona to their 40. Even with another 7-yard rush by Maisano, Verona couldn’t pick up a first down and was forced to punt again.
The punt was almost recovered by Santos-DiTrani and #20 Jayden Nigro, but the ball went out of bounds hitting the pylon, and it was ruled a touchback. Tackles by #5 Gianluca Checchetto, as well as Cifaretto and Maisano, forced the first Caldwell punt of the game. Unfortunately, Verona’s offense was unable to gather momentum and was forced to punt back. Penalties and pass deflections held off Caldwell from scoring until 16 seconds were left in the half. This brought the score to 3-29. Although Checchetto managed to return the ball past the 50-yard line, the scarcity of time proved just not enough for Verona to score.
At the start of the third quarter, Caldwell received the ball. A similar pattern of a long and arduous drive led to another Caldwell touchdown. Verona’s offense, despite passes to Garmont and #22 Dean Algieri, could not drive past the 50 and was forced to punt. Caldwell responded with a 65-yard rush for a touchdown, which would be their last points for the night. On offense once more, #10 Connor Demasi managed to complete a skillful pass to Garmont, who outmaneuvered one player and stiff-armed another, only being stopped at the 5-yard line.
The 70-yard play put Verona in great position to score starting out the fourth quarter. Two plays later, Demasi did just that, connecting with Garmont for a touchdown. Verona’s tackles then in turn caused Caldwell’s next drive to be unsuccessful. However, Caldwell’s punt brought Verona all the way to the 15-yard line, giving Verona tough field position. Receptions to Checchetto and Garmont, as well as a rush from Demasi brought Verona to the Caldwell 35, but time expired, ending the game, 43-10.
“Caldwell is a very good team and an extremely tough task,” said Checchetto. “I think our guys played hard and we just have to limit the big plays. We have to have a great week of practice this week and lock in on Morris Catholic. Go into that game and play even harder”
Although the game was lost, it was successful in a few ways. Other than the previously mentioned fact that these were the first points scored on Caldwell all year, Caldwell was also forced to keep a good portion of its varsity players in the entire game. Not a bad performance when facing the reigning state champions. Verona will play at Morris Catholic on Friday, September 22, at 7 p.m.
Photos: Mike Perry