Coming out of the locker room at halftime Saturday on the road against Lodi, Glen Rock coach Jim Kurz didn’t know which way his team would go. The score was tied, and one of the Panthers’ best players, running back/linebacker Seve Bilbao, a senior captain, was in the hospital.
“We spoke about two scenarios at halftime,’’ Kurz said, after the Panthers’ 21-7 victory. “We could look back on this day as the day Seve got hurt and we all went in the tank and we felt sorry for him and laid an egg and lost the game, or the day Seve got hurt and we all came together and went out there and honored him and did what we needed to do in the second half and took care of business… He’s the heart and soul of our team; he’s our leader; he’s our guy, and when that kind of stuff happens, you hate to see it. But we couldn’t do anything for him at that point except win the game.’’
Bilbao had been injured scoring the first touchdown of the game, on a 16-yard reception, suffering a painful dislocated elbow as he was hit after entering the end zone early in the second quarter. Without the 6-1, 215-pound linebacker in the middle of the defense, Lodi’s own 215-pound running back, Sean Tocci, was able to run up the middle with success, and eventually tied the score with a touchdown of his own in the final minute of the first half.
But with Glen Rock kicking off to start the second half, the Lodi returner fumbled, and Owen Stephenson recovered the ball for the Panthers. They quickly cashed in when Ashton Dalessio, the team’s top playmaker, caught a short pass from quarterback Greg Schlett and followed Aedan Clark’s block into the end zone for his eighth touchdown of the season to put the Panthers back on top.
The defense then stopped Lodi on their next offensive possession, and Schlett finished a long drive with a bruising, 15-yard run, dragging tacklers with him into the end zone to give the Panthers a two-touchdown lead. Schlett, whose father grew up in Lodi, ran for a total 106 yards in the game, while throwing for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Clark, who broke out in the Panthers’ last game, against Manchester, was the leading receiver, with six catches. Dalessio had five.
Defensively, linebacker Sam Pintel and safety Anthony Scotto each had 12 tackles, while cornerback Justin Douenias had two interceptions. Stephenson had 10 tackles and Pierce Tuttle, whose father is a teacher at Lodi High School, had nine tackles and a sack. Ben Katzman had a fumble recovery that led to the Panthers’ first touchdown.
Kurz pointed to the fumble recovery as a key turning point in the game.
“That was huge,’’ he said. “That gave us a huge lift, because I’m sure (Lodi) were looking forward to getting the ball, because they had momentum coming into the second half. And that sort of took a little bit of wind out of them and the fact that we were able to punch it in there and then make a big defensive stop on the next possession and then punch it in again.’’
The victory improved Glen Rock’s record to 5-1 and almost certainly secured a berth in the state playoffs. The Panthers have two games remaining in the regular season, the first of which will be against Lyndhurst (5-1) on Friday at Alan Deaett Field, beginning at 6 p.m. Glen Rock will be looking for payback against Lyndhurst, which beat the Panthers, 24-14 last season. They will close the regular season Oct. 26 when they travel to neighboring Hawthorne.