By Hayden Fruhling
A special group of athletes sat at home in late August disappointed by the news they had just received. Section One would only be moving forward with a few sports in the fall of 2020, and unfortunately, football was not included. A lot of questions were being asked, and frustration was building. However, the culture that had been built over the past four years took over, and the preparation continued.
16 months after falling in the Section Final, the Byram Hills Football team finally got to touch the field. They faced the Westlake Wildcats in their first matchup, and the game was physical, with both teams delivering blows early. Senior Steven Franco ran in the first touchdown of the season, but the Byram offense stalled shortly after. Going into halftime, it was all knotted up at 7-7. Nevertheless, Byram came out strong in the second half, and a bruising offense line led by senior Eli Ratzan opened gaps that senior and Super 11 running back Matt Weiler took advantage of. The Bobcats’ defense held an explosive Wildcats backfield to just six points, led by the dangerous senior linebacker duo of Ryan Abetamarco and Daniel Ahern. Byram finished 1-0 with a 26-7 win over Westlake.
Week two proved to be a defensive matchup, with the Byram defense holding Hendrick Hudson on countless possessions, but mistakes on the offense killed several drives. Finally, late in the first quarter, senior quarterback Hayden Fruhling ran in a touchdown to cap off a great drive. In the second half, Matt Weiler broke off a huge run, putting the Bobcats up 14-0. The game was closed out by Fruhling’s interception, which he returned for a touchdown. Byram shut out Hendrick Hudson, winning 21-0.
In week three, the impact of the pandemic was felt once again. The scheduled Pearl River game was cancelled, and the Byram staff went to work to find a new opponent. In no time, the Bobcats were set to face Section 9’s Burke Catholic on limited preparation. The Bobcat’s air attack was in full display, as both senior captains Ryan Abetamarco and Steven Franco caught touchdowns. Hayden Fruhling and Matt Weiler also combined for three rushing touchdowns, and sophomore Gavin Javorsky showed that the future is bright as he broke a big run for his first varsity touchdown. Ben Weinhoff returned a huge interception for a touchdown to seal the deal. The team’s passion and love for the game shined as they beat a talented Burke squad 48-14.
Week four was a game that went way back on both sides. In fact, many of the Byram seniors remember losing a grudge match to a strong Pleasantville squad under the lights in an important playoff game during their underclassmen days. Once again, Byram came out slow, and at half they were all knotted up with the Panthers. Special teams are a huge part of football, and Ben Weinhoff showed just that when he sparked the Bobcats with a blocked punt, which he picked up and ran in. Eli Ratzan and Matt Weiler provided constant pressure on the defensive end, while Daniel Ahern walked away with an interception. Offensively, Weiler and Fruhling both brought in two apiece. The Bobcats were able to get their revenge with a 34-7 win over the Panthers.
The closing game of the regular season also had history: Byram would go head-to-head with Ardsley, which had beaten them in the Section 1 Championship the year prior. It was obvious early on that this game was going to be a physically demanding dogfight. The Byram defense was dominant initially, allowing for short drive opportunities for the offense; however, a strong Ardsley defense endured. Finally, in the late first quarter, the Bobcat offensive line was able to make room for Weiler to break for big yardage on several occasions. Fruhling walked in a quarterback sneak from one yard out after a strategic drive. Late in the second quarter, Fruhling connected with tight end Abetamarco for a huge touchdown giving the Bobcats momentum going into halftime. In the second half, the Byram defense held strong, and once again, Weiler had consecutive big runs that set Fruhling up for a short yardage touchdown. Tillinger capped off a strong defensive performance with an interception as the clock hit 00:00, and he also forced a much needed turnover in the first half when he punched the ball loose on a tackle.
A dream was close in hand, as the Bobcats had earned their spot in the Section 1 Class B Championship. They would face their week one opponent, the Westlake Wildcats, in a much anticipated rematch. The Wildcats struck first, and the Bobcats trailed for the first time all season. Byram responded quickly as Fruhling found Weinhoff in the endzone. Westlake struck again going up 14-7. With little time left in the half, Weiler ran in a short touchdown to tie the game up. In the second half, the Byram squad did what they do best: Fruhling broke off a big run on a fourth down conversion that brought the Bobcats within the Wildcats’ territory. Soon after, Weiler ran in for his second touchdown of the game. Later in the third, Fruhling found Weinhoff for his second touchdown of the game. Fruhling capped off the season with a short run that was boosted by senior guard Eli Ratzan. The Bobcats had finally accomplished their goals and were named the Section 1 Class B champions.