When senior Anthony Pizzuti made the decision to play football for the first time in high school, it provided Lyndhurst with the type of big receiving target it has been missing in recent years.
On Friday night in Newton, Pizzuti’s immense potential was on full display and with it, the Golden Bears nearly pulled off a comeback for the ages.
Trailing by 23 points in the fourth quarter, the 6-foot-4 Pizzuti caught four touchdowns from Shawn Bellenger in the final period and also recovered an onside kick. Despite the heroics, Lyndhurst’s comeback attempt fell just short as Newton held on for a 33-30 victory in the first round of the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 1, Group 2 playoffs in Newton.
Down 33-10 with less than 10 minutes remaining, Pizzuti made three dynamic plays in a span of eight seconds to bring the Golden Bears back into the game. First, he beat double coverage to catch a 43-yard TD pass from Bellenger to make it a two-possession game. Pizzuti then recovered the ensuing onside kick by Lyndhurst at the Newton 28. One play later, Bellenger found Pizzuti down the left sideline for another touchdown that made it 33-23.
The Bellenger to Pizzuti connection struck again for a 30-yard touchdown with 3:19 remaining. Lyndhurst regained possession with 2:46 remaining after the defense forced a turnover on downs, but the home Braves held on for the win forcing a fourth down incomplete pass with 1:10 remaining.
Pizzuti finished with five receptions for 174 yards and four touchdowns. Bellenger, a junior, overcame two early interceptions to throw for a career-high 292 yards on 16-of-23 passing for Lyndhurst, which finishes the season 4-5.
In North Jersey, Section 1, Group 1, eighth-seeded North Arlington got off to a fast start when Sean McGeehan tossed a 30-yard TD pass to Robert Carselda, but its comeback bid ultimately fell short with a 24-8 loss at Park Ridge.
Carselda, in his final game, had career-highs in receptions (10) and yards (107) for the Vikings. Fellow senior Ian Crudele had seven catches for 80 yards and McGeehan completed 19-of-32 passes for 189 yards.
The loss marks the end of a historic two-year run for North Arlington and its 14 seniors as the Vikings qualified for the state playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history.
With the football season has come to a close for The Observer area teams, five of our local soccer teams are still alive as we enter the second week of the state tournament.
In girls soccer, 11th-seeded Kearny continued its late-season hot streak with a 5-1 victory over sixth-seeded Bloomfield in the first round of the North 1, Group 4 tournament. Keala Cicchino (three goals) and Olivia Covello (two goals, one assist) continued to show why they are one of the area’s premier offensive tandems as the Kardinals move on to face Essex County finalist West Orange in the quarterfinals on Monday afternoon after The Observer’s deadline.
Another one of the area’s dynamic duos – Lia Cruz and this week’s Observer Athlete of the Week Laurynn Teixeira each had three goals and three assists when North Arlington rolled to a 6-1 victory over Dayton in the North 2, Group 1 first round. The Vikings, seeded fourth, host fifth-seeded Cedar Grove in the quarterfinals on Monday.
Belleville, which won the SEC Colonial Division title this year, saw its season end on Thursday with a 3-2 loss at Colonia in the first round of the North 2, Group 3 tournament. A day earlier, Nutley was shut out at Somerville. In North 2, Group 2, Harrison was shut out at Madison and Lyndhurst was blanked at Hanover Park.
In boys soccer, Kearny extracted a piece of revenge on Saturday in the North 1, Group 4 quarterfinals when it earned a 3-0 win against a West Orange team that eliminated the Kardinals a year earlier. Gabe Gomez led the way with a goal and an assist for Kearny, which blew out Paterson Kennedy, 7-1, in the first round on Wednesday. Kearny will host a dangerous seventh seed in Livingston in the semifinals on Wednesday, with the winner playing for a sectional title on Saturday.
In North 2, Group 1, top-seeded North Arlington rallied to defeat Verona, 3-2, on Saturday night with Vincent Richard scoring two goals to spark the comeback. North Arlington, which defeated BelovED Charter, 8-2, in the first round, will host Weehawken in the semifinals, the third matchup this season between the division rivals on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, Lyndhurst, fresh off a 2-1 upset of top-seeded Harrison, will go on the road for a third time in the row to face Somerset County power Bernards in the North 2, Group 2 semifinals.
Belleville, which won the SEC Colonial Division title this fall, saw its season end in the first round of the North 2, Group 3 tournament with a 2-1 loss to a historically Chatham team. Nutley met the same fate in North 2, Group 3 with a 1-0 loss at Somerville as did Bloomfield, which lost 2-0 to Union City in North 1, Group 4.
In girls volleyball, Belleville, the top seed in North 2, Group 3, defeated North Plainfield in the first round on Thursday, setting up a quarterfinal matchup with eighth-seeded Chatham. Lyndhurst got the second seed in North 2, Group 2, earning a bye into the quarterfinals where it will host West Morris on Wednesday.
Nutley, who at 13-11 exceeded its win total of the previous three years combined, saw its season come to an end last Thursday with a loss to Mendham in the first round of the North 2, Group 3 tournament. In North 2, Group 4, Kearny was defeated by Hudson County rival Union City. Bloomfield’s season came to an end with a loss to Passaic Tech in the first round of the North 1, Group 4 tournament and in Central Jersey, Group 1, Harrison was defeated by New Providence.
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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.)