Highlanders’ Football Team loses ‘nail-biter’ to Vernon

West Milford. The Highlanders fell short to the Vernon Vikings at home Friday night, 28-25.

Sep 18 2019 | 12:02 PM

In a game that went right down to the wire, the West Milford High School football team lost its home opener to the Vernon Vikings last Friday night 28-25.

”(It was a) tough loss for us,” said Head Coach Steve Maslanek. “I feel like we controlled most of the game in terms of time of possession and yardage.”

After the Highlanders’ defense forced Vernon to punt late in the fourth quarter, running back Dylan Connors had a huge run that put West Milford in position to tie or win the game.

A fumble and a false start penalty, however, would drive the Highlanders back, leading to a final desperation pass attempt on fourth down that was intercepted in the end zone.

Connors finished the game with 143 yards on eight carries and a touchdown, while fellow running back Joe Palmentieri also had a strong game with 103 yards on 19 carries.

Palmentieri scored the first touchdown of the game to give West Milford a 7-0 lead with about four minutes left in the first quarter.

The Vikings, however, came right back to tie it up at the end of the quarter.

The Highlanders capitalized on a second-quarter interception to retake the lead before the extra point was blocked, making the score 13-7.

Vernon then completed a long screen pass on the ensuing drive, a play that was effective throughout the half for the team, to get into West Milford territory.

The Vikings finished the drive with a third-down touchdown pass, taking its first lead of the game with the extra point, making the score 14-13 at the half.

The Highlanders received the second-half kickoff but fumbled on the first play from scrimmage, giving Vernon the ball at midfield.

The Vikings ran it in to increase the lead to 21-13.

Palmentieri got his second rushing touchdown of the game to close the gap in the fourth quarter, but the team missed the two-point conversion, making the score 21-19 in favor of the Vikings.

Vernon, however, would have the answer once again, scoring on a long touchdown pass to make the score 28-19 with about 10 minutes to go.

West Milford had a nice return on Vernon’s ensuing kick-off to start the next drive around midfield before a pass interference penalty against the Vikings pushed the Highlanders even further up-field.

Quarterback Ralph Utter finished the drive with a touchdown pass to receiver Christopher Coyle, but again, the extra point was blocked, making it a three-point game.

That led to the big stance by the West Milford defense with under four minutes left in the game, followed by Connors’ long run to put the Highlanders in scoring position.

From there, the mistakes in the form of a fumbled snap and the false start penalty would back West Milford up, leading to Utter’s late interception.

Utter went 5-of-14 for 95 yards in the game.

“We made too many mistakes in critical situations and Vernon capitalized,” Maslanek said. “We are young and we are only going to improve on limiting these mistakes."

The Highlanders (1-1) will get a chance to show signs of improvement Friday night, when they’re scheduled to travel to Montville to play the Mustangs.