With four key players injured in the first half of a challenging home game on Friday, Nov. 15 against the West Essex Knights, one Spartan parent's dread of a season-ending loss - and worse - injuries at the hands of the West Essex Knights - had come true. Indeed, the injuries ranged from concussion, to a possible broken foot, to a dislocated shoulder, and in spite of these injuries, and obvious pain, Spartans repeatedly asked to go back on the turf and continue their fight for a game at MetLife.
The injured Spartans, Paul Gannat, Nick Broccoletti, Brendan Cina and Freshman quarterback Austen Frattura stayed on the sidelines for the duration of the game, shouting encouragement. Broccoletti, who leads the team in interceptions, said leaving this game was "beyond disappointing."
"I'm really sad to see this season end here tonight," Broccoletti said. "But I'm really grateful for all of these friendships I've made, and for so many memories in four years of Sparta High School football."
When asked about the most important takeaway from his Sparta career, Broccoletti gestured toward the field and said, "This team. These people."
Poignant, considering most of the Senior Spartans have also been running the ball with Broccoletti since first grade.
"It's been a very long time with them," he said.
Respectfully holding their 9-1 record and the top seed, the Spartans held their own against the Knights, with 4 touchdowns, 3 of them carried out by RB Austin Castorina. Asked what he was most proud of this season, Castorina didn't mention his impressive season stats that include a total of 1,557 yards run, 23 rushing touchdowns, or 194 carries. He instead offered his thanks for the opportunity to play for Sparta.
"I am blessed to be able to play for this town these past years," he said.
Castorina has been playing football for Sparta since the first grade, carrying big goals with him every year. Asked about the disappointment of missing the State Championship game his during Senior year, Castorina said, "You know, I really thought this year was the year. But, things don't always go our way, and that's life. It hurts knowing I couldn't get Coach Marchiano a state championship, but this program is in good hands with a great group of kids, and I know they will do it."
As the clock ran down and the Spartans conceded to the Knights with a final score of 48-28, hearts were broken, but the Spartan spirit was not crushed. Taking a knee one last time, huddled around the coaches on the empty field, tears fell but laughter could be heard and brotherhood was strong. Head coach Frank Marchiano congratulated his team on an "incredible year" played with "heart and soul."
Looking into the faces of his team, Marchiano said, "You make me proud. Every one of you."
Dismissing the boys one last time, Marchiano opened his arms to hug each boy, one by one, telling them again, individually, how great he thought they were. The final huddle concluded with Spartans hugging, fist bumping and scooping their helmets off the turf to walk to the sidelines to greet parents and well wishers. For the last time, the cheer team lined the exit gate, pom poms rustling, tears falling, waiting for their final Spartan send off of the season, many of the girls finishing their cheer careers, as well.
The last to leave was powerhouse kicker Vinny DeSimone, who left the group to walk to the center of the empty, silent field where he stood quietly. With empty hands, he pantomimed putting his football in place, and took one step back before thrusting his leg forward, high in the air, kicking one last time, watching the phantom ball sail between the splits. DeSimone stood in place for a long moment, gazing at the goal post before turning and slowly jogging off of the field, leaving Sparta High School football behind.