Team VH Insider
Northern Highlands vs Westwood
In the final tune-up before the high school football regular season begins a pair of senior quarterbacks wearing No. 12 got into a shootout thursday night. Both QBs had plenty of weapons to help them.
As the third quarter came to an end Charlie Ratner of Northern Highlands put his team ahead of Westwood, 24-21 when he connected with senior Cooper Richards for a 76-yard score, his third touchdown pass of the game.
“Our line did a great job,” said Ratner. “It all starts with the line and our receivers did a great job catching the ball. Cooper Richards made some nice yards-after-catch plays. Our offense is well-coached. It all comes down to the coaching.”
But Sean Hopkins of Westwood had himself a night too. The Cardinals got off to a slow start, falling behind 10-0, but they rallied to take a 14-10 lead with less than two minutes to go in the half.
“We weren’t ready to play from the get-go,” Hopkins said. “We weren’t hitting hard, they were definitely more aggressive than us. We have to get our minds right early. That was the problem. Once we got the offense going the defense was right behind us.”
Hopkins hit Dartmouth-bound tight end Joe Kramer for a touchdown in the back of the end zone midway through the second quarter and on the next offensive possession he hooked up with junior Alex Daley for a 17-yard TD.
“It’s always nice to have guys who do their best to get open,” said Hopkins. “They (Highlands) have really good DBs and I had a hard time getting the ball to the receivers. We found ways to get them open and the offensive line, especially in the last couple of drives, gave me plenty of time to find the receivers. The offensive rhythm was on point.”
But Ratner and running back Mario Agyen put the Highlanders ahead just before halftime. Agyen ran around and over defenders for 13 yards, while Ratner completed two passes, including a 5-yard touchdown toss to sophomore Zack Saturn.
“We have more than one guy to throw to so it really opens up the field,” said Ratner. “You can’t just target on one guy. I have to make all my reads and it makes it harder to play defense against us when we have a bunch of weapons. My job is to just spread the ball.” Ratner is healthy again after rehabilitating from an ACL injury he suffered last year.
“I feel great – I’ve never felt better,” he said. “Honestly, I can say it was a good thing that happened to me. I found the positives in it and I bounced back as well as I possibly could.”
“He’s coming along,” added Highlanders coach Keith Migliorini. “His season was cut short last year but he did a great job rehabbing. So he’s in good shape. He’s getting better every game.” The Westwood subs actually came back to win the game but it wasn’t without a bit of highlight-reel play.
Sophomore quarterback Sean Pampin led the Cardinals downfield in the final minutes but with less than a minute to go Highlands intercepted a pass at the 5-yard line. That’s where the fun began. The defensive back ran up the left sideline and was hit hard at the 20, He fumbled the ball and a Westwood defender scooped up the loose ball and stepped out of bounds.
A few plays later as the clock ticked down to 0:00, Pampin found backup tight end John Saunders in the end zone to earn the Cardinals a 27-24 victory. Last December Westwood lost a heartbreaker to Mahwah in the North 1, Group 2 final. That game has motivated the team for this season, according to Hopkins.
“It’s the only thing on our minds,” he said. “I’ve been telling everybody the thing on our mind is 546. We were up a touchdown with 5:46 to go against Mahwah. From then on it went downhill.
“That’s what is on our mind – we have to finish games. Thankfully the JV team finished the game right here. We believe we’re the best team. We just have to finish the game.”
Next week Northern Highlands plays longtime league rival Indian Hills in the regular season opener. The Cardinals have a pretty big game too – a rematch with Mahwah.
Article By JC Baumuller
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