Quirk: Farewell to a legendary coach
It’s the type of story they make Hollywood movies about, although if you pitched this to Disney they might tell you it’s a bit of a stretch.
No way coach Vin Ascolese coaches long enough to stand on the sideline with his grandson Vinny. No way after fifty years of coaching does Ascolese still have it, and there’s certainly no way North Bergen beats double-digit favorite Montclair in the state championship in Ascolese’s last game.
But as the saying goes, that’s why they play the games.
In what can only be called the most fitting of endings to a remarkable career that has spanned five decades, Ascolese’s North Bergen Bruins upset Montclair 14-13 in the North 2 Group 4 finals. It was the best finish ever at MetLife Stadium and certainly one of the best in state finals history.
“Number one,” Ascolese said of where this game ranks all-time in his book. “I really can’t believe it, it’s a miracle. We did it. We did it.”
The Bruins jumped out to an 8-0 lead after Eric McMullen’s 9-yard touchdown run but would find themselves trailing 13-8 at the half after two Khalif Herbin touchdowns for the Mounties. The score would stay that way until the very last drive of the game.
With :02 on the clock and the Bruins driving, quarterback Sergio Rodriguez rushed his team to the line for a spike and the chance at one final play. With 22 yards separating North Bergen from its fairytale ending, Rodriguez locked in on wide out Debray Tavares and lofted a ball high above triple coverage.
“I knew he would catch it and I knew we would win this game,” said the always-confident Vinny, who in fairness said this team would win states before the season even started. “I wanted this so badly for my grandfather and I’m just so happy to get it for him, what a game, what a year.”
Tavares ascended high into the night sky and when the four players separated, No. 3 in white had the ball and the massive celebration was on. Players and coaches cried and embraced one another, not entirely sure they had actually seen what just took place.
“This beats anything that I ever did in 50 years,” said coach Ascolese. “It means everything to me. I can’t even believe it.”
“I have no idea,” young Vinny said when asked how his team pulled it off. “I’m in shock. I mean, I knew we could do it, but I don’t think anyone thought it would go down like this. It’s awesome.”
Vinny’s grandfather took over the Bruins program in 1972 after 11 seasons as a coach at Hoboken High School and before Vinny was even born. Years later, the two discussed the prospect of someday becoming coach and player when Vinny was still in grade school and coach Ascolese wasn’t so sure it would ever happen.
“I never doubted that he would play for North Bergen, I just didn’t know if I would still be around,” Vin explained. “I won it with my sons and now I won it with him, it’s pretty special stuff.”
All three of Ascolese’s sons -- Mike, Vinny and Greg -- won state championships in 1978, 1984 and 1990, respectively. Now the Ascolese’s have a title in the new millennium, trophy number six for the mantle.
Ascolese finishes with a career record of 359-124-7, a career win percentage of just over 73 percent. This perhaps was the most trying of all seasons for the Ascolese family, both because of the team’s tough 1-2 start, as well as the failing health of the clan's patriarch.
Vin has been fighting cancer and at times was almost too weak to even make it to Bruins practices, something that wasn’t overlooked by young Vinny and his mates.
“He’s the toughest man I’ve ever known,” Vinny said of his granddad. “Week in and week out he gave us every ounce of energy he had at age 73. To have that passion like he’s still a young man, it’s been an inspiration to all of us.”
After a ceremony in James J. Braddock Park early last month, Bruins Stadium was renamed ‘Vin Ascolese Field’ but the occasion was marred by the Bruins dropping its final regular season game to Peddie in disappointing fashion.
Ascolese would deliver a speech post-game in which he talked about each day being a game of Russian Roulette and that he didn’t have a lot of time, that he wanted to win now.
His team responded by ripping off the three straight wins it would need to hoist the crown and the entire Ascolese family embraced and celebrated at the 50-yard line, just like in Hollywood.
Contact John Quirk at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @QuirkMedia