While it may not have been the game of the century — pitting two teams that didn’t make the state playoffs — the North-South football finale packed enough drama to qualify as the game of the new century in West Windsor-Plainsboro.##M:[more]##

In only the third meeting between the two arch-rivals — South having won, 23-9, in 2002 and North winning, 13-9, in 2003 — the game matched improving teams lead by two young coaches and stirred the sort of cross-town passions and a ridiron tradition reminiscent of the annual Steinert-Hamilton Thanksgiving Day game.

Played on Friday night, November 19, beneath the lights, in front of a crowd of over 4,"000, the game proved to be hard-hitting and hard-fought, and ended on a spectacular play in overtime. After intercepting South junior quarterback Brian Morris’ pass in the end zone on the first play of overtime, North’s Jeff Torralba won the game for the Knights with his passing arm. Deep in the hole on a third-and-13 play, the senior quarterback completed an 18-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Conor Hayes and North came away with the dramatic, 20-14, win.

“It was a strong finish for us and a great ending,” says Knights’ second year head coach Art Stubbs. “Finishing up the season with such a great win was something we needed to set us up on a good course for next season.”

Despite the loss, Pirates’ coach Lou Solomon believes the game was a positive step for his team. “Both teams played extremely well and had their share of good plays,” he says. “It was unfortunate that it had to end.” For much of the game, South’s kept the Knights offense in check, allowing only eight first downs.

Both teams began the season with high hopes that were ultimately stymied by injuries and inexperience. North, which started the season winning its first three games, entered the game with a 5-4 record. South, led by head coach Lou Solomon (also in his second season), began the season winning three of its first four games. But that was all the wins the Pirates could muster the rest of the way.

North got on the scoreboard first when Mike DeGoria scored on a 42-yard run from scrimmage in the first quarter. Later in the same quarter, South kicked a 30-yard field goal. North came back with a two-point safety in the second quarter when South’s Stuart Adams was caught in the end zone by a swarm of Knight defenders. But on the Pirates’ next possession, Morris threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to his favorite receiver, Grant MacQueen. South then earned the two extra-points when MacQueen carried the ball over the goal line and the Pirates had an 11-8 halftime lead.

In the third quarter, North’s Yoshua Lane blocked a punt and linebacker Andrew Shogun recovered in the end zone for the touchdown. The Pirates tied the game, 14-14, later in the quarter on Lupo’s 33-yard field goal. There was no scoring in the fourth quarter, setting the stage for the thrilling overtime finish.

For North’s Stubbs, finishing the season with a big win in such a high-profile game can only help light a fire for next season. He is already looking for his team to make its mark in the CVC next season with a pack of returning veterans. This includes junior Enrique Gibens, a big tough defensive tackle, who was lost for the rest of the season when he injured his ACL against Hamilton on October 2.

Returning offensive linemen will also be a source of strength in 2005, according to Stubbs. “Our entire offensive line was made up of juniors this year and they are all expected back,” he says. “They will be a powerhouse for us next year.” Stubbs is also forward to the return of junior running back LeShean Thomas and receiver Conor Hayes.

With fleet-footed quarterback Jeff Torralba graduating next June, junior Zach Weale is earmarked to be the signal-caller for the Knights in 2005. Blessed with a strong passing arm, Weale is expected to add a new dimension to the Knight’s offensive attack. “We do expect to throw the ball a little more next season,” says Stubbs. “Zach is an excellent athlete who has started in both baseball and basketball.”

In order to allow Weale to gain some varsity experience, Stubbs put Weale into the third offensive series of every game this season. With a list of receivers that may include Caleb Andrews, Evan Walczak, and Jeff Pangalos, Stubbs says that he is already excited about his teams chances in 2005.

High on Stubbs list will be off-season conditioning. “The kids who play extra sports like lacrosse or swimming just go out and play,” says Stubbs. “But those who only play football can expect to lift weights this winter and spring.”

To that end, Stubbs is bringing in a special weightlifting program to his team this winter. Developed by Greg Shepard in 1973, “Bigger, Faster, Stronger” (BFS) is a complete weightlifting program that shows young athletes the proper way to train to achieve their maximum potential. “We know that we need to get stronger and that it cost us some games this year,” says Stubbs. “The losses against Steinert, Hightstown, and Hamilton West, were weight room games that we can win next year if we get into that weight room.”

Solomon also uses the BFS program for the Pirates’ off-season conditioning. “We start the weightlifting program in January and then in the springtime we mix in some running,” he says. “Later in the spring we also do some conditioning work with the township.”

Among the returning players for South next season will be Brian Morris. His senior season next year will be his third as starting varsity quarterback. “Brian has progressed well for us this season,” says Solomon. “He threw for over 700 yards and had six touchdowns with only three interceptions. He did a good job.”

Solomon came into his position as South head coach before the 2003 season touting the pass-oriented run-and-shoot offense. It was the offense he ran with great success as an all-state quarterback at Somerset High School and at Clemson University. But during his first two seasons as Pirates’ coach, Solomon’s offense has leaned more heavily on the running game. Whether a change is in order for 2005 is anybody’s guess. “We are losing MacQueen (South’s top receiver) to graduation next year so we will have to see what receivers we have next summer before we can think of things like that,” says Solomon.

But Solomon will have a number of other returning veterans with varsity experience on the squad next fall. This includes running backs Stuart Adams and Brandon Manley, as well as Drew Lachemayer (who along with teammate Ian Petri — a senior — and North’s Yoshua Lane, was honored by the Delaware Valley Chapter of the National Football Foundation as 12th Man “Unsung Heroes” at a November 23 dinner at the Elks Lodge in Hamilton).

Both football programs are on the upswing, with North and South each finishing with one more win than last season (North finished 6-4, South 3-7). “I think we are growing as a program,” says Solomon. “Winning three of our first four was a nice start, but injuries hit us and we started playing some better teams. But this team had a great work ethic and a commitment from its seniors that was impressive. Hopefully we can carry that into next year.”

For Stubbs, next year can’t begin too soon. “We have team that will be more experienced and ready to play,” he says. “I think that we can do some things next year.”

Hockey Opens

South’s hockey team won its season opener, 6-4, over Princeton on December 1 at Mercer County Park. Junior forward Jeff Katz scored a hat trick and set up teammate Jonathan Reece for an assist on an empty-netter to ensure the victory in the game’s final seconds.

Also scoring for the Pirates was senior Justin Berger, the team’s leader on defense. Dan Katz inherits the spot in goal from his older brother Jeff, who graduated last year. Katz saved 25 out of 29 shots.

LL Sign-Ups

West Windsor Little League registration for the 2005 season is now underway on-line at www.wwll.org. An optional walk-in date to register is Saturday, December 11, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Indoor Facility in Community Park. Tee ball starts for players age 6 by July 31, 2005

New players should mail a copy of their birth certificate to WWLL, Box 324, West Windsor. Register by December 11 to avoid a late fee.

Sports Shorts

The West Windsor-Plainsboro Ladyhawks 7th grade girls’ travel basketball team opened its season with a 35-21 victory over Branchburg at Ringoes. Denise Pyfrom and Corrine Lewin both scored 8, Kristen Geevers scored 7, going 5 for 6 from the foul line, and Jenna Greenstein scored 5 points.

Larry Chevres of West Windsor finished in sixth place in the Colonial Part Turkey Trot 5k on November 20 in Colonial Park in Franklin. Chevres finished with a time of 18:21.

Matt Davidson of West Windsor is playing in the final stage of the PGA Tour Qualifying School, which started on December 1 and runs through Saturday, December 6. The event is being held on the Stadium Course and Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West in La Quinta, California.

Davidson turned pro in the summer. If he places in the top 30 at La Jaquinta, he earns a player-exempt card on the PGA Tour. If he places in the next 50, he earns an exempt card on the Nationwide Tour.