By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The losses for the Belleville High School football program continued to mount. And mount. And mount.
Nine losses in all, from the start of the 2012 season until the final game.
“It was tough, very tough,” said Buccaneers senior wide receiver/defensive end Aaquil Ingram. “I started my senior year, wanting to make the playoffs. But then we started losing and it got tougher.”
“We thought we should be winning,” Belleville head coach John Dubuque said. “But then, when you don’t come up victorious, well, it’s almost crushing when it doesn’t happen.”
The most crushing off the nine losses came just last week, when the Buccaneers played Millburn to three overtimes, yet lost, 19-13.
“I had a good feeling about the Millburn game,” Ingram said. “But it didn’t happen.”
Dubuque reminded his team that they had one game remaining, an NCAA consolation game against Memorial of West New York.
To most high school teams, participating in the consolation round isn’t much of a consolation at all. It’s a cruel reminder from the NJSIAA that your team didn’t make the state playoffs, so you are given a 10th game from the state against a school of similar size enrollment that also didn’t qualify for the postseason.
However, for the winless Buccaneers and senior captain Ingram, the final game against Memorial offered one last chance to gain that elusive victory.
“It was one last time to put on my Buccaneer uniform,” Ingram said. “It was the last game I would play with my brothers, with my teammates. I had to go all out. If I could give an arm, I’d give an arm. If it meant a leg, I’d give my leg. I had to do whatever I could to help us win.”
“As we walked out onto the field, I told them about their final game,” Dubuque said. “I told the seniors that it’s something they’ll always remember. I was stressing to them that they had one last chance to win a game, that they really needed that feeling. Instead of walking off the field with your heads down, you can play the game and walk off the field with a smile and your heads held high.”
Ingram felt that sense of urgency.
“I was confident and calm,” Ingram said. “So was the team. It was the first time I felt that all season. I just had a really good feeling about this one. After the first series, I thought it would be our game.”
The Buccaneers had an interception on the first series and they were in business to get that long-awaited victory, thanks to the play of Ingram. Ingram caught five passes for 98 yards and scored three touchdowns – one rushing, one receiving and one via a 65-yard interception return – leading the Bucs to a 52-28 victory, enabling the Bucs to wash away the taste of nine straight losses.
For his efforts, Ingram has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Dubuque was very impressed with the defensive touchdown Ingram scored.
“It was on a screen pass and he made a perfect read,” Dubuque said. “He made the pick and was off. It was beautiful.” “It feels pretty good,” Ingram said. “It wasn’t the kind of game that I hoped to have in the state playoffs, playing for a state championship, but what can you do? We got a win. It gives us a sense of pride, that’s what it does.”
Dubuque said Ingram made two catches of highlight reel variety.
“He made two one-handed catches that were tremendous,” Dubuque said. “He’s a game-changer on both sides. On defense, you simply cannot block him.”
Ingram said that most of the season when he played wide receiver, he faced teams that would double and sometimes triple-cover him.
“I’m a big boy (6-foot-2, 220 pounds), so I’m tough to guard one-on-one,” Ingram said. “But I got my chances in this game and I made the most of it.”
Dubuque believes that Ingram can play football on the next level.
“I think he’s a defensive end in a four-man front,” Dubuque said. “He could be a tight end as well, but I think he’s a better defensive player. He has the body. All he has to do is tone it a little. I look forward to seeing him play on the next level. He definitely has a shot.”
Ingram doesn’t have any solid concrete collegiate offers, but he’s confident the choices will come, like they did for friends Dominique Easley (Florida) and Jason Hendricks (Pittsburgh).
Ingram grew up in Brooklyn, like Easley and Hendricks, and decided to first attend Hudson Catholic in Jersey City, where Hendricks became an All-State star.
“When I lived in Brooklyn, I grew up hoping I could play college football like those guys,” Ingram said. “I first went to Hudson Catholic to be like Jason. After two years at Hudson Catholic, I decided to come to Belleville to be with my friends there.”
Dubuque knew that his team was desperate for a win.
“The losing week after week got to everyone,” Dubuque said. “So this win lifted a heavy burden off of everyone. The ball bounced our way and things finally worked out for us. It definitely does erase a lot of the bad things that happened to us. It was a nice way to finish, especially with the adversity we had to overcome.”
And Ingram gets to go out as a winner. In that respect, it was a very good consolation.
“The way I look at it, I came to Belleville and things didn’t go well,” Ingram said. “But I had one last chance to play. People always remember the last one.”
Ingram certainly made that last one memorable.