Rich Tuero was trying to wrap his head around the fact that his Lyndhurst High School football team had lost once again to rival Rutherford in the NJSIAA state playoffs last Saturday, but this time, it was for the North Jersey Section 2, Group II championship.
Tuero, the energetic and enthusiastic Lyndhurst head coach, was more reflective on the entire 2018 season, rather than the 32-14 defeat his Golden Bears suffered at the hands of the dreaded neighbors.
“We had a great year,” Tuero said on Sunday, a day after the setback, a day that he spent in the hospital with player Emanuel LaLuz, who underwent surgery to repair a broken tibula.
“There were a lot of positives,” Tuero said. “It was a great ride. A lot of great things happened. Our kids can’t hang their heads. They have a lot to be proud of.”
When the season began, there wasn’t a person alive – maybe perhaps outside of Tuero himself – who would have thought that the Golden Bears would actually win nine games and play for a state sectional title.
As it turned out, it was only the third time in Lyndhurst history that the football team won as many as nine games in a season and the first time since 1983. That’s a lifetime ago, like Coach Tuero’s lifetime, as he’s only 34 and wasn’t born in 1983.
But Tuero thought that there was a chance that it could become a season to remember.
“You always hope for the best,” Tuero said. “But you can’t say that it’s going to happen. We hoped and it happened. So many things happened to help the program grow and the culture grow. These kids have no idea what they’ve done for the future of this program.”
Tuero said that he started to think the season started to turn toward being a memorable one on Sept. 22, when the Golden Bears dismantled Pompton Lakes, 34-7.
It was the same Pompton Lakes team that demoralized the Golden Bears, 49-7, a year earlier.
“I think when we won the Pompton game, people started to say, ‘Wow!’” Tuero said. “I knew that it could be something big.”
But on Oct. 19, the Golden Bears had their signature win, a 28-21 win over Glen Rock.
Glen Rock had been the standard bearer for northern New Jersey small schools and now the Golden Bears had defeated them to improve to 6-1.
“We were down 14-0 to Glen Rock, then came back to win,” Tuero said. “No doubt, that’s when we knew. Other Lyndhurst teams would have never come back from down 14-0. That was the sign.”
Tuero said that his team stood proud last Saturday in a moment that will last a lifetime.
“Anyone who was at the game will tell you that it was special,” Tuero said. “It was an old school event. There had to be 2,000, maybe 3,000 people there. There were so many Lyndhurst people there. It really was amazing. These kids brought the town together. They did it. This team will never be forgotten in the history of Lyndhurst.
Added Tuero, “I always heard about how great it was at one time. Now I got to watch it happen. It was awesome. I got chills just watching it. We had people standing two, three deep. We had hundreds of Lyndhurst people sitting on the Rutherford side. It really was great.”
The leader of the Bears was actually someone with a fitting nickname.
Piotr Partyla was given the nickname “Misiu” when he was a baby. Misiu is Polish for “Little Bear.” The junior running back was certainly a Golden Bear, with his blond hair.
Partyla had a legendary season, rushing for 1,696 yards and 26 touchdowns. Defensively, he collected 87 tackles, including 15 quarterback sacks. That is really an epic season, one of the finest seasons in Lyndhurst history.
It puts Partyla in the same category as Lyndhurst legends like Tom Longo and Ted Shoebridge and Brian Kapp and yes, even Petey Guerriero, the latter two who were named Observer Male Athlete of the Year their senior years.
“He has to be right there,” Tuero said of Partyla.
But there were others who contributed.
Jeff Grasso was a devastating middle linebacker and fullback.
“He was the captain of the defense,” Tuero said of Grasso.
There were other seniors like Paul Cimicata and Jay Lauria and quarterback Brian Podolski.
“The reason why we became so good is that there were so many kids who accepted their roles,” Tuero said. “I always said that they all had to be 1/11th of the team. That’s what they all were.”
Podolski ended his career on a high note, throwing for 280 yards and actually catching a touchdown pass from Partyla on the Golden Bears’ first possession.
“He was electric,” Tuero said of Podolski. “His touchdown catch was great.”
Fellow seniors Shane D’Andrea was a solid contributor.
“They were a big part of it all, great kids,” Tuero said.
The seniors were upset and rightly so. They tasted the elusive state title, coming so close.
“They were all devastated,” Tuero said. “Some were inconsolable.”
Monday afternoon, the Golden Bears were slated to gather together one last time as a unit to collect equipment and reflect. There’s a ceremony that all the 13 seniors go through, as the remaining members of the team form the letter “L” on the field and the seniors go one by one shaking the hands of the returning players.
Players like two-way lineman James Blake, wide receiver/cornerback Anthony Lembo, fullback/linebacker Chris McLaughlin, center/defensive end Tom Ryan and wide receiver/cornerback John Rodriguez, who has to now turn around and get ready for the basketball season, all return for Tuero next season.
“We have 28 juniors coming back,” Tuero said. “So there’s always hope.”
Tuero remembers August when practices first began in earnest. Now, the season is over.
“The time flew by,” Tuero said. “They say time flies when you’re having fun. Well, we were having a lot of fun.”
August of 2018 will always be memorable in the Tuero household, because Rich and Koriann welcomed their second daughter, Camila, into the world, to join older sister Sophia, on Aug. 7.
“Camila came and brought us a really good season,” Tuero said. “She brought this all to us. It was a great year.”
But still, there was the sting of the final defeat.
“It hurts,” Tuero said. “I’m not going to lie. All I want to do is go back to work and get one. I had the discussion with Piotr this morning and he was ready to go.”
All things said, it was a great season, one for the ages.
“Hey, I’m a Lyndhurst kid,” Tuero said of his alma mater and the place where he now works and lives. “I’m proud to be a Lyndhurst kid. Lyndhurst is back on the map, baby. We’re back.”
Lyndhurst senior defensive back Emanuel LaLuz suffered a broken fibula during the Golden Bears’ loss to Rutherford in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II championship game Saturday, an injury that required surgery. The Golden Bears all reflected on a great 2018 season. Photo by Jim Hague
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”