The Boilermakers trailed Elmwood Park, 33-7, early in the third quarter of an NJIC road game. That didn’t stop their coach from reminding his players that if they believed in themselves, they could accomplish anything — in this case the most remarkable comeback in Garfield football history.
“If they didn’t believe before,” DeVito said, “they believe now.”
Garfield indeed completed the incredible comeback DeVito and his assistants assured their players was possible. The Boilermakers scored 42 second-half points to beat the Crusaders, 49-48, for their fourth straight win.
Sophomore quarterback Alex Victorino’s 41-yard pass to junior receiver Ricardo Reyes got Garfield within a point with five seconds left. With his intended receiver covered on the two-point conversion attempt, Victorino improvised and scored the game-winning points on a run.
“We’ll never forget that game,” said Kevin Buron, a junior wide receiver/cornerback for Garfield. “That’ll be in our minds until we’re old and gray.”
Buron returned his seventh interception of the season for a 20-yard touchdown that cut Elmwood Park‘s lead to 33-27 late in the third quarter. Senior tailback Michael Reyes rushed for his third and fourth touchdowns of the game early in the fourth quarter to give Garfield a 41-33 lead, only to have the Crusaders score twice to regain the lead, 48-41.
“We have heart,” Buron said. “We don’t quit. … We had players hurt after the game, vomiting after the game. But nobody quit.”
The unfathomable comeback exemplified what’s shaping up as Garfield‘s finest football season in more than a decade. The Boilermakers (4-2) lost their first two games to Becton and Lodi (6-0), but Garfield‘s four-game winning streak has left the Boilermakers in position to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2000. That also is the last season they finished with a winning record (6-4).
None of Garfield‘s players had begun kindergarten the last time the Boilermakers qualified for the postseason.
“People think Garfield [stinks] at football, plain and simple,” said Leotavio Nunes, a junior tight end/defensive end. “There have been so many losing seasons, but this year people have worked hard and it shows in the games. We’ve got respect now. People have to look at us differently.”
The Boilermakers already have won twice as many games as last season, when they went 2-7.
“A lot of people doubted us in the summer,” Victorino said. “They said Garfield could never do it. But we put in the work and we’re doing it.”
The Boilermakers’ next three opponents — Lyndhurst, Rutherford and Wood-Ridge — are a combined 3-15. That makes taking a 7-2 record into the North 1, Group 3 playoffs a realistic possibility for Garfield, which has won one NJSIAA playoff game in its history and is known much more for graduates Wayne Chrebet, Luis Castillo and Miles Austin reaching the NFL than for the team’s achievements.
“We all came into this season with the goal of changing this program,” Buron said, “changing everything about Garfield football and have people happy to be a part of this. We’re making a big impact.
“And I think we’re going to keep it going, because I think we really can be a great team. You never know what can happen in the playoffs. Crazy things have happened.”