Sardinha, Dolaghan play in Phil Simms North/South Flag Football All-Star Game

Both Morgan Dolaghan and Rebecca Sardinha have seen firsthand the tremendous growth girls flag football has enjoyed since the sport first came to their respective schools in 2022.

Perhaps the biggest example of that came on Sunday as both were a part of Phil Simms North/South All-Star Girls Flag Football Game, which was held at Kean University.

Led by dynamic Irvington QB Janasia Wilson and a strong defensive effort, the North team rolled to a 37-12 victory over the South in what was the first ever standalone flag football all-star game in New Jersey.

Last year’s inaugural game was held at halftime of the traditional Phil Simms North/South Game.

“This is what it should be with the way that the sport’s growing nationwide and especially here in New Jersey.,” said Harrison head coach Dan Nankivell, who also served as a member of the North’s coaching staff. “Last year it was the first time, but this was the first real one. I think we pulled it off, we did pretty well and it will continue to grow from here.”

“It’s crazy (how much it’s grown),” said Dolaghan, Nutley’s standout QB. “I love this sport and I think flag football is going to take off to a new level.”

“I expect it to be way less competitive than it is now, and in only three years, everything is happening so fast,” said Sardinha, Harrison’s star edge rusher. “I can’t wait for next year to see how much it grows.”

While most of the game’s 55 selections were seniors, Sardinha was one of the few juniors selected to compete. She quickly showed why, making four sacks on the afternoon. She also made a key fourth down stop early in the second half.

“It’s hard to make this team as a junior and I think her play today speaks volumes as to why she was chosen,” Nankivell said. “She’s an athlete, she’s a player, and on the defensive side of the ball, there’s not many things that can stop her.”

“I love defense,” Sardinha said, who also plays soccer, basketball and softball at Harrison. “My main (identity) playing is defense in every sport that I play.”

All spring, Sardinha proved herself to be one of the state’s best defensive players after posting 54 tackles, 24 for loss, and 13 sacks to go with seven passes defended to help lead the Blue Tide to a 9-1-1 record and a NJIC Championship.

While Sardinha has made a name for herself on defense all year long. Dolaghan’s prolific passing numbers were among the best in the state. The senior threw for 22 touchdowns and more than 1,600 yards this season to help lead Nutley to a 7-4 record and a SFC Liberty Division title.

For this game, however, Dolaghan was selected to play as a defensive back, a role she quickly took to leading up to and during the game.

“It was not really (an adjustment),” said Dolaghan, who plays soccer and is a thrower on Nutley’s track team.. “I had great coaches back in Nutley that taught us both sides of the ball, so I knew how to play that.”

Next year, Dolaghan will be throwing the javelin at Caldwell University.

Lia Cruz, North Arlington’s standout receiver/safety was also selected for the game, but was unable to play.

Just like their male counterparts, the flag football counterparts spent three days at Kean and participated in several off-field events leading up to Sunday’s game.

It’s just the latest example of how the sport continues to rapidly blossom in term of not just size and attention, but in level of play.

“It was a high scoring game with big playmakers on both sides of the ball on both teams,” Nankivell said. “I think that we’re going to continue to see that kind of talent and it’s just going to get better. The more kids are playing, the more people are involved, the better the sport’s going to be.”

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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 (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)