Scott Mahoney doesn’t need to rewatch the film. Why would he when the game has played over and over in his head for the past 15 years?
The game that stands out most to him isn’t one of the four state championships he’s won as head football coach at Pompton Lakes. It’s a blowout win from the semifinals at Hershfield Park.
In November 2005, Mahoney was just promoted to head coach and the 30-something was loving life at his alma mater. After starting the season unranked and under the radar, the Cardinals rolled into the North 1, Group 1 semifinal for a matchup with Glen Rock. The result? A stunning 45-7 rout to send little Pompton Lakes to Giants Stadium.
Here are Mahoney’s memories from a perfect day for the Cardinals.
“I know my kids and I know my town and everyone was behind us, but outside of Pompton Lakes, it was like great job. What a great first year coaching. It was almost like the game was over and we didn’t even play.”
Both teams went into the semifinal with a 9-1 record. Both had only lost to state champion Paterson Catholic. But not even a shutout win in Mahoney’s playoff debut could change the public perception. Glen Rock had won six of the last 10 state titles and boasted a 20-3 playoff record since coach Al Deaett’s return.
“We would have (WGHT) on in the coach’s office and the kids would be waiting for their prediction, for the second they didn’t pick us. They’d say, ‘Oh Scott Mahoney’s crew is going to be mad this week.’
“(Our team) took it personally. They would go around all week, oh they said we can’t win. Oh, Glen Rock. We can’t shut them down? We’re shutting them down.”
“Our guys took that and ran with it. They played angry. They practiced that way. They practiced like, I’m going to show you. That’s the attitude that they took on: that blue-collar, Pompton Lakes attitude. We’re just going to get in your face and show you who we are. And they did.”
That made Mahoney’s life even easier. His team had won seven straight behind the steady play of QB Bob Mathews and star wideout O.J.Woodard. Mahoney liked what he saw in the days leading up to the semifinal.
“They just loved to get after each other in practice. They knew come game time, then they would turn all that energy out on the other team. They turned that energy around. All right, we’ve got another color here and another town. Let’s just get after them after all the aggravation we put each other through all week.
“The game comes around and (Glen Rock) gets the ball first. It’s amazing, I don’t even have to look at film. I just remember the game. They got the ball first and Al Deaett and Glen Rock were so good at finding something early in the game to get on the board real fast.”
“They were always so good at coming out of the shoot and finding a way to get on you. They took the kickoff and it’s first down, first down. Next thing you know, they’re on our 30-yard line. I said, uh oh.”
Mahoney called a timeout to settle down his team. Moments later, Luke Kelly swung the momentum with the first of five Pompton Lakes interceptions. Two plays later, Dave Kent took an option pitch 66 yards to the house for the opening score. His run just four minutes in opened the floodgates for Pompton Lakes.
“I looked out by the entrance for the fans and the line was still going halfway up to the tennis courts. People didn’t even get in and we were already up 21-0.”
Kent ran for 171 yards and two touchdowns, and linebacker Seby Chiaramida blew open the game with a pick-six. The Panthers got on the board just before halftime, but by then the damage was done. Pompton Lakes would hand them their biggest loss in 13 years.
“After the game, (a Glen Rock coach) said it was like you guys were in the huddle with us. It was incredible to see how our kids adapted to what they saw and knew where to be. They were really smart, intelligent football players as well as physical.”
Two weeks later, another legendary coach awaited: Nick Delcalzo and Hasbrouck Heights. Once again, the Cardinals were not picked to win. This time though, seating wasn’t a problem. The state championship was held at Giants Stadium as the NJSIAA began using proximity, instead of power points and enrollment, to decide where teams play.
“That was the first time we played at the Stadium. The other finals were always at a neutral site or a home site. That was the first time a Group 1 like us went to the finals at Giants Stadium. Our town was so into it. It was crazy.”
“We were the first game in the morning so there was no one in the stadium except us and Heights warming up. When they opened the gates, the Pompton fans came running in. It sounded like a freight train coming up the escalator. It was crazy. You’re out there on the field and say, what the heck is that? All of a sudden, they just start running down the aisles, banging on the side of the wall. It was like, wow. This is going to be fun.”
“I owe a lot to that team. They bought into everything we wanted to do as a staff. They really set us up for the last 15 years.”
Sean Farrell is a high school sports reporter for NorthJersey.com. For full access to live scores, breaking news and analysis from our Varsity Aces team, subscribe today. To get breaking news directly to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter and download our app