Victory for Jefferson meant more than a tournament win

By Mark Kitchin


JEFFERSON TWP. — The game ball in the Jefferson-Morris Hills state tournament game didn’t go to the goalie that made the great save or the player who scored the winning goal. It went to the father of an athlete that never put on a Falcons uniform but that’s what made the Falcons victory a special one.

Dylan Pickard fired a hat trick and Jefferson survived a late surge to defeat Morris Hills 8-7 in preliminary round North Group II state tournament play on Saturday.

Dylan Johnson scored twice and goalkeeper Connor Chirico stopped 11 shots including one by the Scarlet Knights’ Eric Turner with 35 seconds left to secure the victory. Dan Brown, Dan Curren and Brad Fisher added goals for the Falcons. Fisher had the eventual game-winner when he connected off a Zach Douman’s pass with eight-tenths of a second left in the third quarter to make it 8-6. Jefferson will travel to face Chatham in the next round on Tuesday.

Anthony D’Amico fired a hat trick and Turner scored twice for Morris Hills. Zach Berkowitz also connected for the Scarlet Knights.

Jefferson’s Chris Holleritter tries to get the ball past a Morris Hills defender during Saturday’s state game.

When the contest was over, the players ran over to the endline and encircled Mark McNabb, the father of Dakota McNabb. Dakota played lacrosse in the Jefferson youth leagues but died in 2009 before he had a chance to wear a Falcons uniform. He would have been a senior this year.

“All these kids played in a junior program with him,’’Jefferson coach Scott Reid said. “He would have been in the senior class that is graduating now. He had a brain tumor and there were complications when they did the surgery and he died of those complications. … He was just a special kid. They all thought the world of him. For four years we really felt like he was part of what we do and we dedicated this year to him. We knew Mr. McNabb was going to be here today.’’

A pavilion, which was part of an Eagle Scout project by a former teammate, was built in a courtyard within the confines of Jefferson High School and dedicated to McNabb earlier in the week. Jefferson was going for its 11th victory on Saturday which made the victory even more poignant.

“We realized in the locker room that it was the chance for us to win our 11th game and he wore number 11, so that’s when it all came together,’’ Reid said. “We dedicated everything to him. Today was the last time we were going to be on the field with these seniors and the chance to win number 11. They were so excited about the opportunity.’’

Morris Hills standout Eric Turner is jammed by a Jefferson defender in the first half of Saturday’s state tournament action.

Jefferson defeated Boonton 8-2 in its  final regular-season contest on Friday, so there were some concerns that the 15th-seeded Falcons might come out sluggish. Morris Hills is not the most technically sound team in the tournament. The 18th-seeded Scarlet Knights dropped some passes and made mistakes but by the end of the game their grit, tenacity and determination could not be denied.

“They ran a decent wheel (early) and our slides just couldn’t get to it,’’Jefferson goalie Connor Chirico said. “They were more aggressive. They upped their level of lacrosse a lot.’’

Jefferson was familiar with the athletic play of Eric Turner. However, since they played the Scarlet Knights in the pre-season other players including D’Amico, who was prominent in running their attack from the back of the net, stepped up to make them a more dangerous foe.

“He was on our radar,’’ Reid said. “Overall, they were very well prepared.’’

Jefferson goalkeeper Chris Chirico just beats Morris Hills attackman Anthony D’Amico in a race for the ground ball.

There were three ties and a lead change during the pivotal third quarter, but Jefferson forged ahead for good with two goals in the final 30 seconds of the period.

Midfielder Dylan Johnson found net on a lefty bounce shot to make it 7-6 with 28 seconds left. Pickard, who battled Turner on the draw much of the day, then won the subsequent faceoff. The Falcons worked the ball around quickly when Zach Doumas found Fisher for a score that occurred with :00.8 seconds remaining.

“I don’t remember anything,’’ Fisher said. “I just turned around and shot it.’’

 It’s been an eye popping year for the junior attackman who has around 20 goals and 15 assists despite taking a four-game detour as a long stick middie because of the team’s injury woes.

 “He’s capable of so much,’’ Reid said. “He can be a leader. He has a lot of game. He plays a lot out of season. He has a good lacrosse IQ and he’s really stepped it up.’’

Dylan Pickard (3) fired a hat trick in Jefferson’s triumph on Saturday. The Falcons face Chatham next.

The goal made it 8-6. Morris Hills got to within one when Turner beat his defender on a face dodge and scored with 6:46 remaining. Neither team could score in the final minutes. Johnson had a goal taken away on a crease violation at the 3-minute mark that would have secured a win for the Falcons. 

A holding call on Morris Hills’ starting goalie Mike Beattie complicated matters inside of two minutes but the Scarlet Knights Anthony Vergera picked off a Falcons pass and cleared the ball inside a minute remaining. Morris Hills got off one good shot by Turner from the top of the restraining box but Chirico corralled it with 35 seconds left. Morris Hills was able to gain possession one more time and the teams scrambled in front of the Jefferson net for the final 20 seconds until time ran out.

“It was crazy,’’ Chirico said. “Your heart is racing. You have to leave it all on the field. That’s it.’’



About mcvbb

Mark Kitchin is a boys varsity basketball writer for the Morris County New Jersey area

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