The Sparta High School football team was unable to hold onto a 19-point halftime lead, falling to Ramapo on a 48-yard field goal in the final seconds of a 37-34 loss in the North Jersey Section 1, Group 3 championship Saturday at Kean University.
Sparta held a 26-7 halftime advantage, but Ramapo roared back in the second half and tied the score at 34 with 2:28 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Ramapo's ensuing kickoff pinned the Spartans deep in their own territory and a midfield interception gave the Franklin Lakes school the ball back just moments later.
With six seconds remaining, senior David Bonagura kicked the game-winning 48-yard field goal to propel Ramapo to its second sectional title in four years.
"It was all the same plays in the second half. Sometimes playmakers make plays. I'm happy with the way our kids played offensively and defensively," Sparta coach Frank Marchiano said.
"I told the kids, 'It stings now, but when it stops stinging you are going to realize that you guys had great season, led by a great group of seniors who overcame a whole lot of adversity to make it to the state finals and go up against a team nobody gave us a chance to win. People should respect Sparta football. We have a lot of fight in us and that's a testiment to our seniors.'"
Sparta opened the scoring with a pass to Nick Shlala from quarterback Jake Melville just eight minutes into the game. In the second quarter, Melville led his squad 71 yards up the field topped off with a 27-yard touchdown run from Codie Aromando.
Sparta held Ramapo on the next series and when forced to punt, the snap sailed over Bonagura's head. Sparta took advantage of the mistake and scored on a Aromando 2-yard run. The Spartans took a chance and went for the two-point conversion and scored to make it 24-7 with just a minute and a half left in the second quarter.
Stopping Ramapo again, the long snapper sailed the ball over Bonagura's head and into the end zone for a safety.
Ramapo came out of halftime on fire and scored three touchdowns of its own in the third quarter to grab a 27-26 edge. Sparta fought back and Melville scored a touchdown on a 10-yard run with six minutes to go in the game. With the successful two-point conversion, Sparta lead 34-27. But Ramapo came back and tied it up at 34 with two and half minutes to play.
Following the kickoff, Sparta was deep in its own end. Melville put the first offensive play in the air, but was intercepted at the 49-yard line, setting up the game-winning field goal.
Meville went 11-for-20 for 202 yards, a passing and a rushing touchdown, and 93 yards rushing.