Last Ride: Six-man Point Boro contingent eager for final game in Gridiron Classic
Getting the chance to play one final football game with some of your teammates before everyone heads their separate ways in college is an opportunity most players do not receive. After a special career at Point Boro that culminated with the program’s best season in a decade, the Panthers players participating in the All-Shore Gridiron Classic are soaking it in.
“It’s definitely nice,” said senior quarterback James Fara. “In our last game we didn’t go out the way we wanted to so now to have it back and be able to play together again, it’s a lot of fun.”
The Panthers will be represented by an Ocean County-best six players on Thursday when the 41st Shore Sports Network All-Shore Gridiron Classic kicks off at Brick Memorial High School. Fara will be joined by running back/wide receiver Brandon Cipriano, running back/linebacker Tanner Gordon, linebacker Nate Chiarello, offensive lineman Gabe Fattizzi and defensive lineman Anthony Bonavito when Ocean County tries to prevent a second straight win by Monmouth County and close the gap in the all-time series.
“Given how special the senior class was it’s certainly well-deserved,” said Point Boro head coach Brian Staub, who will serve as an Ocean County assistant in the Gridiron Classic. “They have a lot of talent and are great all-around kids, so it’s awesome they got the invite. They’re excited to play football, it’s what they love to do.”
As the leader of Point Boro’s triple-option offense, Fara had a great season en route to being an SSN first-team All-Shore selection and being named the Class B South Offensive Player of the Year by the coaches. Fara was fourth in the Shore in rushing with 1,628 yards and 24 touchdowns on an average of 7.8 yards per carry and also threw for 611 yards and seven touchdowns with a 60 percent completion rate.
A second-team All-Shore selection, Cipriano was a key dual-threat player for the Panthers, rushing for 825 yards and 12 touchdowns on an average of 11.9 yards per carry and catching 25 passes for 451 yards and five touchdowns. Fattizzi was a standout up front for the Panthers and his blocking helped them rush for 3,457 yards and 49 touchdowns in their triple-option offense. Fattizzi was a third-team All-Shore selection.
Gordon missed some time with an injury but still ran for 708 yards and eight touchdowns and also had four sacks on defense. Chiarello was an important player in all three phases, playing valuable snaps at linebacker, scoring five touchdowns as a running back and kicking 48 extra points as the Panthers’ kicker. Bonavito was a presence in the trenches for a defense that allowed the fourth-fewest points per game in the Shore Conference.
Together, they helped Point Boro go 11-1, win a third straight Class B South division title and reach the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 2 championship game. The 11 wins were the most since the program’s only 12-0 season in 2005 and the championship-game appearance was the Panthers’ first since 2007. Point Boro’s offense ranked No. 7 in the Shore scoring 32.5 points per game while its defense was fourth allowing just 12.9 points per game. Former head coach Matt Cilento, who resigned in May, was the Shore Sports Network Football Coach of the Year.
“It’s huge to have this many of us playing, I don’t know the last time we had six players from Boro,” Fara said.
“It’s really cool getting back on the field suited up together and also with these kids that have been across from us as opponents,” Chiarello said.
The Panthers didn’t get the storybook ending they were looking for as they fell to Hillside, 20-13, in the sectional final. And although the memory of that game is hard to shake, there are plenty of other moments over the course of their careers that stand out.
“I think about the Central game our sophomore year when we came back from 21-0 (to win 26-21), the Lakewood game last year (a 35-28 comeback win), the Manchester game (28-27 win) our junior year,” Chiarello said.
The game that stands out the most for many of the Point Boro players is last season’s 27-6 win over Manasquan in the Central Jersey Group 2 semifinals. Manasquan was the defending champion in the bracket and a slight favorite in most people’s minds even though Point Boro was undefeated. The dominating victory sent the Panthers to a sectional championship game for the first time in 10 years.
“The most memorable game in my whole high school career was Squan,” Fara said. “Everything that went into it – them talking and saying we couldn’t beat them -- and the atmosphere was crazy. It was the most insane game to be a part of.”
Friday nights at Al Saner Field were electric this past season with huge crowds packing the stands to cheer on the Panthers.
“It was awesome,” Fara said. “You knew every game there was going to be a huge crowd out there. It’s a small town and everybody loves the football team. At the North-South game banquet, the Matawan coach (John Kaye) was talking to me about how he came to the Squan game and there were people out in front of their houses barbecuing and tailgating for a high school game. It’s crazy how much everyone is so into it.”
“I would get chills,” Chiarello said. “It shows how seriously we take it, how serious the coaches are and how much time we put in.”
On Thursday, Fara, Cipriano, Gordon, Chiarello, Fattizzi and Bonavito will pull a red Ocean County jersey over their heads and buckle the chin strap on their black and gold helmet one final time. From there it’s onto the next chapter of their lives, but the memories of playing high school football, bringing their program back to greatness and playing in the longest running high school football all-star game in New Jersey will stay with them forever.
“It’s great they can suit up and play together one last time,” Staub said. “And also, the friendships they’ll make this week. They all kind of know each other from the different towns but you see the personalities clicking. They’re going to make friends for life from this game, and that’s what makes it so special.”
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.