As Johnny Lembo walked off the field at Lyndhurst High School for the final time, the Golden Bears vocal quarterback and leader was at a loss for words
“It just feels amazing because I grew up here and have been playing on this same field since I was four years old,” said Lembo. “I have no words to explain this feeling.”
Whether it was playing with old teammates for the final time, or lining up with future teammates for the first time, Saturday night’s (June 25) Bergen County Football All-Star Game provided plenty of emotions and smiles even with the unusual result of a 16-16 tie.
“Man it meant the world to me to go out with the whole South side here and play one last game with everyone, my teammates,” North Arlington wide receiver Jaivon Aquino said. “We didn’t get the win, but we all came here, we all had fun, we had a great time. I’m blessed to be here at this moment. I love all of my seniors and I love everyone from North Arlington. It meant the world to play one last game with them.”
Aquino, who will continue his career at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, was one of four Vikings selected for the game, joining Dylan McDermott, Iker Bouzas and Edardo Aguilar. Host Lyndhurst also had four representatives in Lembo, Ricky Rainey, Jake Schutt and Ethan Rodriguez.
“It always is (being on the same team as some of your rivals), but it’s always fun because they come together and it’s a beautiful thing to see the teams come together and be one,” said Lyndhurst head coach Rich Tuero. “That was our message before the game, to be one. We’re the South team today.”
With the score tied at 8, Lembo seemed poised to be the hero on his home field, when he used his legs to power the South team’s 69-yard drive that culminated in him rushing for 20-yard TD run with 3:14 remaining before succeeding on a designed run for the two-point conversion that made it 16-8.
“It got me really excited. I was hyped for that,” said Rainey, his longtime teammate and top passing target. “I’ve never seen John run like that in my life and he put it all out there tonight. That’s my boy, I love him.”
“I can’t really explain it. I thought I was back in my blue and gold for a second,” the FDU Madison-bound Lembo said. “That last drive, it really hit me when I scored.”
Incredibly, fireworks could be seen behind the far end zone following Lembo’s conversion, which seemingly made for the perfect cinematic ending for him and the South. The North team had other ideas, marching down the field.
With just 37 seconds left, Devin Miller-Singh of St. Joseph Regional rushed for a 3-yard touchdown on a play that was initially ruled a fumble recovered in the end zone. The referees confirmed that Miller-Singh crossed the goalline before losing possession and afterward, he successfully ran in the conversion to ensure the draw.
While the final score might not have been what it hoped, for Rainey the game provided a proper sendoff. His last “official” game for Lyndhurst — a regional crossover against Pequannock — was cut short due to an ankle injury.
This time, for Rainey and others, it was a chance to share one final on-field memory with those he played with for his entire football life.
“Together, we started from the flag (football) days. I remember when we were young and it’s great to finish it off with each other,” said Rainey, who will play at Montclair State. “It was a great time with them and I’m going to miss them when I go to college and I’m sure they’re going to miss me too. But they’re my boys for life.”
CAPTIONS: Captions: in picture 3, that’s Jaivon Aquino in the two-toned helmet on the sidelines.
In the group photo: left to right is Jack Schutt, Johnny Lembo, assistant coach Mike D’Errico, Ricky Rainey and Ethan Rodriguez
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)