Mountain Lakes runs over Shabazz and into the Group 1 State Finals, 49-12

Photo by Bobby Crudele

Mountain Lakes’ business as usual style of football proved too be to much for an upstart Shabazz Team. 

Shabazz, the 6 seed in the North 1, upset the No. 1 seed Butler last week in the sectional final. 

Mountain Lakes had other ideas about how the semifinals would turn out. With a trio of running backs led by senior Jordan Hernando, 203 yards rushing, a touchdown and the smart and patient play of Quarterback Ben Miniter’s 78 yards rushing, two rushing touchdowns, the Herd had success running the ball right out of the gate. 

“We needed to establish the run consistently, that starts up front with our line,” Head Coach Fusco said. “Ben had success with the bootleg early on and that set the tone.”

 Miniter also got it done with his arm finding TE Marco Dzamba for a 78-yard touchdown. The senior QB threw two touchdowns on the night. Mountain Lakes played a nearly perfect half of football, leading 35-12 at intermission. 

The difference in the first half was the offensive line. 

“Coach Reid, our offensive line coach, stressed all week about staying low and using our speed,” offensive guard Michael Mucci said. 

Mucci, an undersized lineman, also spoke about his teammates. 

“We have a very strong bond as a team and especially as a unit on the offensive line,” Mucci said.

They say offense wins games but defense wins championships — and Mountain Lakes’ defense was up to the task. They were able to neutralize Shabazz’s offensive lines’ drastic size advantage with exceptional linebacker and edge play. Senior offensive lineman and linebacker Cosmo Fusco said: “We are giving up 100 pounds on some of our line matchups but at the end of the day we just fought harder, we had something to prove.” 

Fusco will continue his football career at the University of Pennsylvania next fall.

The D-line did a very good job keeping Shabazz’s elusive quarterback, Nazir Smith, in the pocket, not allowing him to scramble and run. However, if I’m giving out a game ball, it’s going to the secondary, great zone coverage accounting for multiple coverage sacks. 

 The defense caused three turnovers, two fumbles and an interception which played a huge factor in getting the win. 

“Last week we had some breakdowns in the secondary, so we really worked on that in practice this week,” senior defensive back Aiden Manati who came up huge for the Herd in the second quarter making a big tackle on 4th and 3, setting up another scoring drive for Mountain Lakes, said.

 Mountain Lakes’ running backs rushed for a total of 441 yards for the game.  In the 4th quarter, Hernando broke free for a 42-yard touchdown which made the score 42-12. A few minutes later, Redzpagic put the game to bed when he scored his third touchdown of the game. 

“Shabazz has talent and is explosive. All week we heard about how good they were how many stars they have. But our mindset all year was we will be back,”  Redzpagic said, referring to last year’s loss in the final. “We run the Wing T and we run it well. We cleaned up any issues we had on defense, our goal was to not let up the big play, we kept everything in front of us.”

Coach Fusco gave all the credit to his staff and players. More importantly the players gave all the credit to their coaches. That’s called believing in each other and that’s a recipe for success!

Mountain Lakes improves to 10-2 on the season and will return to the NJSIAA Group 1 state championship for the second year in a row. They will play Glassboro, 9-3, at Rutgers Stadium. Time and date to be announced.

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Bobby Crudele | Special to The Observer

Det. Sgt. Robert Crudele (Harrison Police Department) is a freelance sports journalist who covers high school sports outside The Observer's coverage area.