By Ryan O’Reilly
On any given Saturday, 40 North Jersey boys lace up to take on the best of Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey amateur football. There are no egos allowed, no big paychecks given. They just show up to play the game they love.
The New Jersey Irish semi-pro football team, based out of Wayne, hit the road Saturday, July 10 for their only exhibition game against the Long Island Hurricanes.
The grey skies and rain showers accompanying the team could not put a damper on a 21-6 Irish victory in the organizations first ever game.
Led by co-owners Keith Correal — also the head coach — and Nick Dilworth, the Irish began what they hope to be a successful campaign in the semi-pro Five Star Football League.
This is the inaugural season for the full-pads amateur football league as 16 teams from the tri-state area compete in a ten game regular season. The Irish roster is stocked with former New Jersey high school standouts from Clifton, Parsippany Hills and Dumont.
The first quarter breezed by as both teams exchanged possessions with nothing to show on the scoreboard. Defensive tackle Dashawn Frazier provided the only first quarter highlight when he overpowered the Hurricane offensive line to force a fumble in the backfield which was recovered by the Irish.
The second quarter, however, provided plenty of fireworks as 20 points were put up by both teams. It started when Irish quarterback John DiGirolamo, a graduate of Montclair State, rushed in from just one yard away for the first touchdown in Irish history.
After Frazier recorded a sack on a Hurricane fourth down, Digirolamo led the Irish on a 49 yard drive that ended with Louis Aboyoun on the receiving end of a three yard Digirolamo passing touchdown. The touchdowns on consecutive possessions showed the potential explosiveness of the Irish offense that otherwise struggled to find a rhythm for most of the afternoon.
Of the offensive struggle, Digirolamo said, “We moved the ball fine and completed passes but we just couldn’t finish when we got close.”
Finishing indeed proved to be a problem as the offense fumbled the ball twice inside the red zone and two more times outside the 20 yard line. Correal said he expected some sloppiness but also expressed some frustration with the number of mistakes. However, he did find a positive after the game. “The good thing is this was a wakeup call for the coaches, players and whole organization,” Correal said. “Now we have two weeks to correct our mistakes and practice the things we struggled with today.”
In contrast, the defense seemed to hold together against an offensive featuring a dangerous running back in Alton Lucas, a former starter at Hofstra University.
Lucas ripped off a long run on a draw play in the final two minutes of the first half. The played ended with a 15 yard personal foul penalty, bringing the Hurricanes to the Irish four yard line. The defense held stout until Long Island scored on a counter play. The extra point was no good and the six points were all the Hurricanes would muster.
After the half, the Irish received the kickoff and defensive back Rashid Darrisaw provided an electric 75 yard kick return to put another six on the board. After the successful extra point conversion, the Green and White led 21-6. That would be all the scoring on the afternoon, but Darrisaw continued to shine in the second half. The corner from Grambling State was in on several tipped passes and came close to two interceptions. Correal expressed his excitement for Darrisaw following the game. “Rashid was a great addition,” he said. “We got him from the New York Bandits and he was great today from the return to the pass break-ups. If it’s possible, he exceeded our expectations.”
Darrisaw also spoke about how he wanted to help the Irish. “I joined the team to make plays and help us win any way I can,” he said. “It could be returns or playing defense, I’m just trying to do whatever I can to win.”
The rest of the second half featured an Irish offense able to move the ball, but unable to finish. The Hurricanes could not do much of anything as the clock ticked away.
Although the play was sloppy at times, the Irish walked away happy with the victory, but aware of the work that needs to be done.
Correal said, “On offense, we need to focus on ball security and finishing plays. On defense, we need to work on tackling. The defense had no problems but workings as a unit for the first time. So, they need to just get chemistry because we definitely have the talent.”
Digirolamo was 9-of-13 passing at one point in the second half, but finished the day 13/28 passing with 211 yards and the one passing touchdown. He also had the rushing touchdown in the second quarter.
Frazier was a force all afternoon as he outmuscled the Hurricane offensive line and found himself in the backfield breaking up plays all game long. He had one forced fumble and could have had two if not for a referees inadvertent whistle.
The Irish did not punt once in its first game and converted just 1-of-3 fourth down
Star of the Game: Rashid Darrisaw: Darrisaw gets the nod for his touchdown on the kick return to open the second half where he was untouched and was a force in stopping the Long Island passing game.
Play of the game: To open the second half, Darrisaw ran 75 yards untouched with
the help of excellent blocking, giving the Irish a 21-6 lead. His electric playmaking
ability bodes well for special teams coach Drew Bertolotti and his impressive unit.
On the horizon: The Irish have two weeks to prepare for its regular season opener
at Kean University on July 31 at 7 p.m. against the New Jersey Bears.
For more information, visit www.njirishfootball.com.