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Cedar Grove linebacker Brian Catanzarite (25) closes in on Butler quarterback Evan Smith (7) during Friday night's North 1, Group 1 playoff semifinal action, while Panthers running back Tyler Rummel (middle photo) looks for daylight and Cedar Grove's O-Line, led by Nick Christiano (77, left) and Sebastiano Loccascio (right in bottom photo) lead the way for running back Michael Marinelli in Panthers' 34-19 win over Bulldogs to earn a berth opposite Boonton in next Friday's (Nov. 22) N1G1 final. (Photos by Greg Corbo)

Cedar Grove ‘D’ Forces 6 Turnovers
While Advancing Into N1G1 Title Tilt

By Bob Anthony
For sidelinechatter.com 

CEDAR GROVE- With Butler facing Cedar Grove in the North 1 Group 1 semifinal, many were expecting a shootout between two teams with high-scoring offenses.

As is often the case at this point of the season, it is the defenses that make the difference.

The Cedar Grove defense turned in a superb effort, forcing six Bulldog turnovers and cashing in four for touchdowns as the second-seeded Panthers reached the sectional final for the first time since 2015 with a 34-19 triumph on Friday night in Cedar Grove.

“They’re tough to prepare for. We had a long week. The coaches did a great job on defense” beamed Cedar Grove coach Rob Gogerty. “The past two weeks I’ve tried to play an attack mode on defense. I didn’t want to play on our heels. This week I knew they were spread, they’re gonna create mismatches, but we put our guys in position to win one-on-one matchups and the kids did it.

Both teams started off slowly with each team punting on their first two possessions. Cedar Grove came up with the first big play when soph DB Michael Marinelli picked off a Butler pass and returned it 13 yards to the Bulldog 22. Two plays later, Marinelli took a middle screen from junior QB Dario Bryant, slipped a tackle and found the endzone for a 22-yard score and a 7-0 Panther lead with 32 seconds left in the first quarter.

Another Panther sophomore made a play on the next series. DB Nick Coletta intercepted a Butler pass at the CG 18, and it took only three plays for Cedar Grove to double the lead. Bryant found junior WR Anthony Bilotta deep down the left side and Bilotta made a juggling catch and outran the Butler secondary to the house for a 77-yard touchdown and it was 14-0 Cedar Grove.

Butler got on the board midway through the second quarter behind the arm of senior QB Evan Smith. Starting from the CG 43, a pair of completions to senior WR Jason Polons and a run by Smith set up the Bulldogs at the 19. Smith found senior WR Tucker Lynch on the left side, and  after breaking a tackle, Lynch sprinted to the endzone for a touchdown to cut the lead in half at the break, 14-7.

Cedar Grove took the opening kickoff to start the second half and they used some key runs to sustain the drive. Senior RB Peter Johnson started the drive with a 9-yard scamper to the Butler 48. Bryant’s 15-yard scramble on 2nd-and-11 brought the ball to the Butler 30. Johnson followed with a 5-yard run to give the Panthers a first down at the 19. On the next play, Bryant found junior WR George Slattery for the touchdown to make it 21-7 and the Bulldogs would get no closer.

Midway through the third, the Panther defense forced another Butler turnover with junior LB Tyler Rummel recovering a fumble at the Bulldog 29. Two plays later, Bryant found Bilotta on a fade pattern for a 30-yard score to put things out of reach at 28-7.

This is a young Cedar Grove team with only five seniors on the roster, and there were some doubts before the season about how far this team could go.

“Almost everybody that I’ve talked to, even my friends that don’t play football, they all doubted us.” said Bryant. “They all said we’re weren’t going to make it, we weren’t going to do anything because we lost 16 seniors from last year. All the people that doubted us, they’re coming on our side because of what we’re doing.

And the Panthers are just one win away from an eighth sectional title and the first since 2011. They will face fourth-seeded Boonton next Friday night. The Bombers surprised top-seeded Cresskill 59-55 to reach the final.

NOTES: Bryant was 12-23 for 187 yards and 4 TDs. Bilotta had 4 catches for 124 yards and 2 TDs. Soph Patch McCarthy led Cedar Grove with 62 yards on 8 carries. The Panthers had no turnovers.  Butler’s Smith was 27-47 for 279 yards, 2 TDs and 5 INTs. Lynch had 11 catches for 128 yards and 2 TDs and Polons had 5 catches for 50 yards and 1 TD. The Bulldogs were the defending North1 Group 1 champion.

Butler (8-3)             0          7           6          6          -19
Cedar Grove (8-3)  7          7          14         6         -34

CG – Michael Marinelli 22 pass from Dario Bryant (Anthony Bilotta kick)
CG – Bilotta 77 pass from Bryant (Bilotta kick)
B – Tucker Lynch 19 pass from Evan Smith (Smith kick)
CG – George Slattery 19 pass from Bryant (Bilotta kick)
CG – Bilotta 30 pass from Bryant (Bilotta kick)
B – Lynch 5 pass from Smith (kick failed)
CG – Tyler Rummel 7 run (pass failed)
B – Jason Polons 5 pass from Smith (no try)              

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Coach Rob Gogerty (top photo) is pointing the way to North 1, Group 1 final, while Cedar Grove's ground game had plenty of contributors including sophomore Michael Marinelli.

Cedar Grove senior tri-captain and linebacker Gerard Dente (7) zeroes in on Butler's Joseph Conti during Friday night's North 1, Group 1 semifinals on way to 34-19 victory.

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