Bernards Falls to Westwood in North Jersey Group 2 Regional Championship
WASHINGTON, NJ – All good things must come to an end is a cliche often heard in life. Unfortunately for the 2023 Bernards Mountaineers football team, the end came sooner than expected. The Dream Season came to an end. The North Jersey Section 1 Group 2 Champion, Westwood, broke a scoreless tie in the second quarter with a FG and a touchdown in the final 4:42 of the half.
The Cardinals then scored an insurance touchdown late in the fourth quarter for a 17-0 victory in the 2023 North Jersey Regional Championship on Friday night at Westwood Regional High School. Trailing 10-0 at the intermission, Bernards didn’t need much to get back into the contest. When junior Max Austin came up with another huge defensive play in the form of a third-quarter interception near the Mountaineers’ sideline, Bernards got the opportunity it needed to climb back into it.
Unfortunately, the Mountaineers weren’t able to put together a scoring drive of some sort to convert the turnover and make it a one-score game. Nevertheless, Bernards fought to the end. The Mountaineers constructed perhaps their best drive of the game in the final minutes of the contest. After stopping Westwood on 4th down in its territory, Bernards moved into scoring position with time running out.
Senior QB, Connor Laverty hooked up with wideout Jake Caldwell over the middle to get into the Cardinals’ red zone with about a minute to play. The Mountaineers were able to get inside the Westwood ten-yard line, but the Cardinals’ defense managed to keep Bernards out of the end zone on the game’s final play to preserve the shutout.
Laverty finished the game with 12 completions in 21 pass attempts for 110 yards while also rushing 11 times for another 42 yards. Junior RB, Terrence Hanratty rushed 5 times for 28 yards while catching a pass for another three yards. Sophomore Logan Stevens rushed 3 times for 18 yards while catching a team-high five receptions for 49 yards. Jack Morra caught 3 passes for 26 yards. Caldwell rushed 3 times for 13 yards while catching two passes for 21 yards.
Caldwell anchored the defense with 11 total tackles including four solos. Teammate David Brothers collected 10 total tackles while Hanratty added 8 total tackles including three solos and a sack. Westwood’s standout QB, Robbie Carcich completed 6 of 9 passes for 69 yards and a TD while also rushing 9 times for another 54 yards. Aidan Dugan led all players with 99 yards rushing on 16 carries, but it was the Klein brothers that got the Cards in the end zone.
Senior wideout, Joe Klein only caught two passes for five yards in the entire game, but one of those receptions was a three-yard TD pass from Carcich with 15 seconds remaining in the first half for the 10-0 lead. Steve Klein, a sophomore running back, put the game away with a two-yard run with 6:03 remaining in the game. The younger Klein finished with 10 carries for 66 yards while also collecting 10 tackles on defense.
Cardinals junior placekicker, Sean Morrison converted both of his extra point attempts and opened the scoring with a 23-yard field goal that just cleared the crossbar with under five minutes to go in the half. With the victory, Westwood improved to 12-0 overall on the season and advanced to its first Group 2 State Championship Game to take on Shore Conference perennial powerhouse, Rumson at Rutgers University on November 27th.
Bernards concluded its historic season at 12-1 overall. The 2023 Mountaineers won the most games in a season in school history. The team also won its first sectional championship since the playoff era began in 1974. The 1970 team was recognized with a state championship but did not play in a playoff game. The 2023 Bernards football team set all kinds of historic team and individual marks.
The 2023 Mountaineers ranked 3rd in school history in passing yards (1,966), 2nd in completions (132), 5th in passing attempts (197), 1st in passing TDs (24), 1st in completion percentage (67%), and 2nd in QB rating (137.0). In terms of running the ball, the 2023 Bernards team ranked 9th all-time in rushing yards (1,933), 6th in carries (328), and 1st in rushing TDs (38).
The group of receivers on this edition of the Bernards football team also achieved all-time marks. The 2023 squad ranked 3rd in yards receiving (1,966), tied for 1st with the 2012 team with 136 receptions, and 6th in terms of yards per game (153.2). The entire offensive unit finished 3rd all-time in total yards (3,899), first in total points in a season (449), and 2nd in points per game (34.5).
Beyond the numbers though was the team chemistry and camaraderie that made the 2023 Bernards football team special. These Mountaineers were a loose and fun group that lived in the moment even during the most important games of their historic season. You don’t come across that very often, and it was a privilege to witness firsthand.