Rob Meyers was sure that he'd left his heart-stopping football finishes behind him after he engineered two thrilling comeback wins last autumn to send Pompton Lakes to the North Jersey, Section 1, Group 1 championship.
Well, the scenario for another one presented itself Tuesday night and Meyers was up to the task, if only for old time's sake.
Meyers connected with Mount Olive receiver Justin Maksimow on a 42-yard scoring pass with 2:12 to play and Kyle Corry of Morris Hills kicked the decisive point-after to rally the West to a 13-12 win over the East at the 20th Paul Robeson Football All-Star Classic at Robeson Stadium in East Orange.
With that, the West--comprised of players from Morris, Sussex and western Passaic counties--snapped a three-game losing streak and claimed just its third victory in the series. The East (Essex, eastern Passaic) seemed poise to win for the 18th time, but then a young man with vast experience in these matters stepped forward.
"It's nerve-wracking. I thought I was done being in the middle of those," Meyers said. He will be heading to Franklin Pierce in New Hampshire this fall, where he will continue his lacrosse career. "But it's awesome; a great way to close out a career. I wouldn't want it any other way."
A good many of Meyers' All-Star teammates will play football in college, and guys like Maksimow (East Stroudsburg, Pa.) and Wayne Valley defensive tackle Elvis Romero (Bridgewater State, Mass.) will move on certainly looking as if they're ready for competition at the next level.
Maksimow caught five passes for 101 yards to lead all receivers and Romero racked up four sacks for minus-22 yards and was in on several other tackles to anchor the defense.
"They (Bridgewater) wanted to see a good game film. Now I have a big game for them," Romero said. "We knew this was gonna be a defensive battle. We knew we had to win this game on D."
The East defense-led by East Orange Campus lineman Baja Rowe and Shabazz linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton--limited the West to negative-eight rushing yards, but did get stung by Meyers in a few crucial spots. Meyers completed 8 of 16 passes for 182 yards and fellow West QB Tyler Simms of Parsippany Hills was 6 of 13 for 48 yards, but left early in the fourth quarter with an injury.
The decisive drive was just two plays, the first an incomplete pass by Meyers following an East punt. On the next play, Meyers threw across the middle for Hanover Park receiver Jaquill Scott. He leaped in front of two defenders and it caromed off his finger tips. Maksimow had ventured off his route to lend assistance, and the ball glanced into his hands at the 10-yard line and he turned and bolted toward the end zone.
"The ball wasn't even supposed to be thrown to me," Maksimow said. "I came around the end and I saw everybody swarming in. I saw that the quarterback was rolling out and I went to roll with him in case he wanted to throw across the field. He made the throw and it just landed in my hands."
Meyers' first touchdown pass was also tipped by the initial receiver and into the hands of Delbarton's Van Johnson to tie the game at 6-6 with 5:05 remaining in the first half.
"Two circus catches, that's awesome," Meyers said. "It's a great team win and it feels good to finally get one back for the West."
"Both teams came to play, but in the end they made the plays and they were the better team today," Caldwell quarterback Sonny Puzzo said. "That's what happens in football."
Puzzo, who will continue at Trinity College in Connecticut, opened a 6-0 lead with a 1-yard run to cap the East's first drive of the game, and he snapped a 6-6 tie with another 1-yard run to cap an eight-play, 36-yard drive with 9:26 left in the game. He completed 7 of 11 passes on the day for 72 yards while Orange Q B Safee Fisher was 3 of 5 for 58 yards.
"This was a good football game, and that's what makes it so special," Puzzo said. "The West had won only twice, but they put that all behind them. They played their game, we played ours, and in the end they were the better team."
The West was hit with two unsportsmanlike conduct calls for a total 30 yards on the kick following the go-ahead score, allowing the East to set up camp at the West 42.
Montclair's Michael Million launched the drive with a 12-yard run and followed that up with a four-yard gain. Seton Hall Prep's Kevin Taylor ran for four yards to the 26, but the East lost three yards on the next play to set up a fourth-and-five with only seconds remaining. John Gallagher of Caldwell came in to attempt a 41-yard field goal, but it was blocked by 6-4 Doug Bobo of Lakeland.
"This was a heckuva run. I couldn't have asked for a better team," Scott said. "We all went to the first practice and thought this was something special. We just had to keep working hard here and not give up."
E: Puzzo 1 run (kick blocked)
W: Johnson 27 pass from Meyers (kick blocked)
E: Puzzo 1 run (pass failed)
W: Maksimow 42 pass from Meyers (Corry kick)
Mike Kinney covers football for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS