Best season in Bernards history comes to an end in Group 2 finals loss at Westwood

Beranrds and Westwood in the handshake line after the Cardinals topped the Mountaineers at home 17-0 to reach the Group 2 finals. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

It may be tomorrow, it may be next week, or in 2024, but when all is said and done, and Bernards looks back on its 2023 season, everyone associated with the program will look back at it for what it was: the best ever in almost 120 years of high school football.

Some even were thinking about it as the clock reached zero up in Bergen County Friday night, where the Mountaineers lost to Westwood 17-0 in the Group 2 semifinals, shut out for the first time this season.

Bernards – which finishes the season 12-1 with a program record for wins and their first ever playoff sectional championship – couldn’t get anything going on offense the whole night.

Westwood plugged up the run game, and the passing game didn’t start clicking until the final minutes of the game, with the clock their biggest enemy.

Westwood – which is now 12-0 and headed to the Group 2 title game the week after Thanksgiving against Rumson-Fair Haven (8-4) – came out fired up, hitting hard, and just a step quicker than the Mountaineers.

But some early penalties on them stymied their opening drive, and the game sunk into a defensive battle between two teams that combined to allow single digits in points all year, on average, with seven total shutouts.

The teams were scoreless after one quarter, with neither team managing much on the ground or in the air. But late in the second quarter, the Cardinals were able to break through.

Getting the ball early in the period, Westwood went 60 yards in just seven plays and 3:40 to set up a chip-shot 22-yard field goal, a win for Bernards’ defense, which bent, but didn’t entirely break.

But after a Bernards three-and-out – and they had the time of possession edge to that point – Westwood went 67 yards in eleven plays in the next 3:25, capping the drive off with a three-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Robbie Carcich to receiver Joe Klein, and it was 10-0 Cards going into the half.

After halftime, the struggles continued for the Bernards offense. The line protected Laverty, who rarely had to scramble, but Westwood sacrificed that pressure to stuff the run game, which then limited the effectiveness of the passing game, stymieing the Mountaineer offense even after the break.

At that point, Westwood’s goal was to eat the clock, and they did just that ona drive that took 15 plays and 7:14 to go 70 yards, culminating with a two-yard touchdown run by Aidan Dugan to make it 17-0, the backbreaker that put the game out of reach.

It was the first time Bernards had been shutout since October 20, 2017. 2017, when they lost 35-0 at Voorhees in a 3-7 season, a year after going to a state final.

For Bernards, it was a tough loss, one game short of their season goal: to play 14. They go in 13, won a school record 12, and brought home the first state sectional title in school history.

There were few tears on the field. Players ran to the spot for their post-game huddle with head coach Jon Simoneau. There was a lot to be proud of. He let them know it.

And he’ll remind them of it for the rest of his life and theirs.

Click below for postgame reaction with Mike Pavlichko presented by Sportsplex at Metuchen:

Bernards senior wide receiver Jake Caldwell
Bernards head coach Jon Simoneau

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