The heart and soul of an 11-1 state championship team graduated, but Pompton Lakes football coach Scott Mahoney made sure all of his returning contributors believed they could accomplish something no other group of Cardinals had ever done.
Then they went out and made believers out of everyone else.
Pompton Lakes, The Record’ football Team of the Year, went undefeated and repeated as North 1, Group 1 champion. The third-seeded Cardinals’ 28-13 defeat of top-seeded Cedar Grove in the sectional final Dec. 8 at MetLife Stadium made them the first team in school history to win back-to-back state championships.
“It’s something that hasn’t been done before at Pompton Lakes, and I’m really proud we were able to do it as a senior class,” said Brandon Torres, a senior strong safety/fullback who started for both championship squads. “Coach told us we could do something special for our town and our peers. Now that we did it, it just feels like they can talk about it pretty much forever.”
A rugged, defiant defense allowed just 20 of the 30 total points Pompton Lakes permitted in its first nine games. Once the playoffs began, however, the Cardinals exhibited mental toughness by finding ways to overcome adversity to defeat sixth-seeded Verona, second-seeded Saddle Brook and Cedar Grove.
“When the hurricane hit, we were in a nice groove,” Mahoney said. “I felt we were in a good rhythm. The kids were rolling and then we had a lot of downtime. A lot of people were talking about them, that even though they were the three seed, they were the team to beat. I think that caught up to them a little bit and it motivated other teams a lot.
“But this was something special. We always wanted to say we got a little run going here at Pompton Lakes. I’ve been there my whole life and I’ve seen Glen Rock do it, I’ve seen Butler do it, I’ve seen Mountain Lakes do it, and even Pequannock had back-to-back [championship] years. That’s something you really strive for.”
Perhaps the most memorable moment of the Cardinals’ 12-0 season was the last play of their 39-33 win against Saddle Brook in the sectional semifinals Dec. 1. That’s when senior receiver Dan Foote came down with senior quarterback Robbie Meyers’ 42-yard “Hail Mary” pass to secure the Cardinals’ place in the state championship game.
They trailed Cedar Grove, 13-7, entering the fourth quarter of the North 1, Group 1 final, yet scored three unanswered touchdowns to win comfortably.
“This was a huge goal for us and when it came down to it, we did what we had to do,” said Gines Rodriguez, a junior offensive lineman. “Our whole town was behind us, rooting us on and everything. It was unreal.”