NORTH CALDWELL- As Passaic Tech coach Matt Demarest approached his West Essex counterpart Chris Benacquista following Friday night’s season opener for both teams there was an obvious positive exchange of words between both men who knew that each other’s team had gained some positives to take forward following the visiting Bulldogs’ 39-21 victory over the Knights in the first meeting ever between two successful North Jersey gridiron programs.
“Our schedule is so tough and to come in here and gain a victory against a first-class program like West Essex is a great way to start the season,” said Demarest, whose team is looking to rebound from a 2-7 campaign a year ago. “Our special teams had some huge plays and (quarterback) Gabe (Balevski) and (wide receiver) Jaheim (McGuire) hooked up on a couple of real nice touchdown passes plus our defense did a pretty good job against their strong line.
“We’ll see what we can do as far as building off this victory as we prepare to face a very good Hackensack team next week, but it’s a win that feels good right now!”
PCTI scored a pair of TDs off huge special teams plays in the first half. First there was a blocked punt by linebacker Ontray Dixon which gave the Bulldogs the ball at the West Essex 8 yard line followed on the first play from scrimmage by a TD scamper by running back Rahmeir McGuire (16 carries for 97 yards and 2 TDs on the night) for a 21-0 lead with 18 seconds left in the first quarter.
Then, following the Knights’ first scoring play of the night on a 8-yard run by Cristian Cataldo with 2:16 left in the second quarter, PCTI responded immediately in a big way once again as Amair Buffaloe took the relatively short kickoff and returned the ball 75 yards to pay dirt for a 27-7 first half lead.
“We work hard every day in practice on special teams play and that attention to detail really paid off tonight,” said PCTI senior QB Balevski (5-of-8 for 100 yards and 2 TDs). “And, if our offense can make a couple of big plays we’re usually going to be in pretty good shape.”
Balevski’s favorite target, FBS recruit McGuire (3 receptions 86 yards, 2 TDs), was on the receiving end of a 38-yard TD toss with 9:14 left in the third quarter as the Bulldogs built a 33-14 lead. Then, after West Essex pulled to within 33-21 on a Nick Ciaglia to Aaron Gonzalez 6-yard aerial TD toss, PCTI answered yet again as Balevski again connected with McGuire this time on a 41-yard scoring strike and the visitors again had a more comfortable lead at 39-21 with 3:18 remaining in the third.
“Our receivers are the fastest on the field and will make big plays every time,” said Balevski.
McGuire, who has college interest from schools including the University of Massachusetts and Monmouth, also had big play on the defensive side of the ball at cornerback in the first half when he intercepted a Ciaglia pass and returned the ball 24 yards for a TD and a quick 14-0 lead with 1:54 left in the first quarter.