NORTH CALDWELL- Although it seems like a natural rivalry, Caldwell and West Essex rarely met prior to the 2009 league realignment. It’s still not a perennial matchup, and Friday’s meeting in North Caldwell was the first since 2019.
The Chiefs had a sloppy night offensively, committing five turnovers but got a superb defensive effort, led by junior linebacker Julian Casale (5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks), and it was enough in a 16-13 Caldwell victory on a chilly, windy evening. West Essex managed just 191 yards of total offense. The Knights had 32 rushes for 40 yards.
It was Caldwell’s first regular-season win over West Essex since 2010, breaking a seven-game losing streak against the Knights. The Chiefs have now won 19 straight games, their last defeat was 33-27 to Cedar Grove on November 6, 2020.
“It’s a big game, I mean we haven’t played them in four or five years, we’re getting hype across town”, said Casale. “It’s probably our biggest game on our schedule this year. They’re a great team, we’re a great team, we prepared all week. We had a different set for every single one of their plays.
Caldwell started out by scoring on their first possession after holding West Essex to one first down. Junior RB Joey Marinello (15 carries for 96 yards) started it off with a 12-yard scamper to the WE 37. Senior QB Luke Kurzum’s 9-yard run moved the ball to the 13, and on 1st down senior Harry Bolland went off tackle to the left, broke a pair of tackles and found the endzone to give the Chiefs a 6-0 lead with 7:02 left in the first.
The Chiefs defense gave the ball back to the offense in great field position at the WE 47, but a fumble gave the ball back to the Knights. Two other drives ended with interceptions deep in West Essex territory and Caldwell also missed a 30-yard field goal.
The Knights had trouble moving the ball but were able to tie the game on a big play. Seniors Jack Massotto and Dante Sellari hooked up for a 70-yard touchdown to tie the score 6-6 with 4:31 left in the half.
“We knew they were gonna take big shots at us and they did that, that’s how they scored” added Boland. “We knew they were gonna try to run and we knew they were gonna sprinkle passes in, and that’s what they did.
West Essex had one more chance following a Luke Struss interception, but Casale came up with consecutive tackles for loss, and the Knights were content to go to the break tied.
They’re outstanding defensively and we knew that coming in” said first-year Caldwell coach Todd Romano. “We knew it was gonna be tough sledding but we went in there (at halftime) we said guys we got to put the ball in the endzone, we’ve got to finish drives and do what we do.
It wouldn’t stay that way for long, with Caldwell taking the lead on the initial drive of the second half. The key play was a 15-yard roughing-the-kicker penalty which gave the Chiefs a 1st down at their 40.
Kurzum then hit senior Lucas Lattimer for 28 yards over the middle to the WE 32. A 9-yard run by Kurzum made it 1st-and-10 at the 18. It looked like the drive would stall but on 4th-and-11 from the 19, Kurzum and Bolland connected for 13 yards and a 1st-and-goal at the 6. Two plays later, Marinello found a big hole up the middle for a 4-yard TD and the PAT made it 13-7 Caldwell midway through the third.