Last night's Red Bank Regional-Wall Township football match up under the lights had everything. Wall's stellar runs for an early lead, RBR's gritty, determined comeback, a Bucs touchdown for the tie in the final seconds of the game, and double overtime gave the capacity crowd in Wall an exciting high school football game.
For RBR, the only thing missing was the win it badly wanted to jump start the season.
When the dust cleared, and the players were pulled off the pile, the Crimson Knights had just barely pushed the ball over the goal line in the second overtime for the win, 34 to 28. It was the first for Knight's coach Nick Gregorio.
It was tough going early on for the Bucs, who were down 14-0 at the half. Missing senior standout Ross Gisondi at safety, who was out with a concussion, the Bucs struggled to contain a strong Wall running game. The Knights scored after a long drive on their first possession of the game, and again midway through the second quarter, when the Bucs lost senior running back and defensive back Tajhi Tomaino to an ankle injury.
Big performances by Bucs kick returner Saiquan Thigpen, quarterback Alex Fox, fullback Isaac Coates, and running backs Jahimere Hinton and Will Noglows fired up two strong Buc drives in the first half. But with time running out in the second quarter, two long passes to heavily-covered senior standout Garrett Sickels were incomplete or just short of the goal line, and the Bucs headed to the locker room to regroup for the second half.
In their second possession of the third quarter, the Bucs got on the scoreboard. After taking over on downs at their own 25, senior receiver Steven Megill's diving catch brought the Bucs to the 40 yard line. On fourth down, RBR faked a punt, and junior Dylan DeVita rambled to the Wall 35. Two Fox passes to sophmore Garrett Boldog moved the Bucs to first and goal at the three yard line, and with 40 seconds left, Hinton ran the ball in for a Bucs touchdown. Logan McConnell hit the extra point for the Bucs.
But before the Bucs' celebration had ended, Wall ran the Bucs' kick all the way back for a touchdown, and the third quarter ended with the Knights up, 21-7.
The fourth quarter went better for RBR. An early Bucs drive fell just short, and after an incomplete pass to Megill, the Knights took over on downs at 8:14 on their own 10 yard line. Strong performances by Sickels and senior Dillon Stambaugh shut down the Knights, and Wall was forced to punt. The Bucs set out at the Wall 35-yard line, and at 5:06, Hinton ran the ball in for a second Bucs touchdown, bringing the score to 21-14.
But the Bucs weren't finished. Erwin Pupovic kicked long for the Bucs, and Wall fumbled. Sickels picked up the ball, but it was knocked loose, and into the endzone, where the Bucs' Adam Lynch recovered for a touchdown, tieing the score. The Knights had one more drive, which failed to overcome the Bucs defense. On their last drive of regulation time, RBR came close on big efforts by Fox, Coates, Hinton, and a tough Bucs offensive line, but fell just short with an incomplete pass to Sickels as time ran out with the score tied, 21-21.
Overtime began with the Knights taking possession at the Bucs 25 yard line. A questionable interference call against the Bucs put the Knights at the seven yard line. Wall ran the ball on the next play and fumbled, but recovered the ball in the end zone for the touchdown. With the extra point, the Knights went up 28-21 in overtime.
But the Bucs answered. Starting at the 25, Hinton and Coates helped get the Bucs inside the five yard line, and Coates was able to push through Wall's defense for the touchdown. With the extra point, the score was tied at 28-28 after the first overtime series.
The Bucs kept the ball to open the second series, starting at the Wall 25 yard line. Hinton, Megill, Noglows and Fox moved the ball well on the drive, but a sack and a penalty hampered the Bucs. On fourth down, a Fox pass to Megill in the end zone was knocked down, and it was Wall's turn. The Knights drove to the five yard line in two plays, and on third-and-goal at the one, Wall punched it in for the 34-28 victory.
After the game, Bucs Coach Nick Giglio saw strong reason to believe in his players and the season. "We finally saw the character I know these guys have in the second half," he said. "When you can come back like that, you can win games."
The Bucs, 0-2 on the season and 0-1 in their division, have a bye this week. They next play the Bulldogs of Rumson Fair Haven in what is considered a Bucs home game under the lights at Count Basie Field on Friday evening, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m.
Bob Neff serves as the mayor of Little Silver and has a son who is a member of the Bucs football team.