2021 01 RA Ravens

The Jr. Ravens 12U football team went undefeated and won a title this year. Front, left to right: Brett Bearden, Cooper Briehler, Nick Usmiani, Ryan Gavrish, Grayson Vlasac, Tommy Surtz, Alexander White, Matt James, Max Guzicki, Jack Thielmann, Akshay Sagar and AJ Hanuscin. Center, left to right: Tony Migliaccio, Julian Malunow, Jake Rollins, Dante Vazquez, Ethan Barker, Jacob Pasquito, Nicholas Straka, Will Raftery, DeShawn Jones, Nicholas Pelzcar and Akhilesh Ramesh. Back, left to right: Jack Vlasac, Andy Surtz, Frank Pasquito, Matt Gavrish and Keith Raftery. Not pictured is Tyler Shane.

For the second time in league history, a Robbinsville PAL Jr. Ravens football team went undefeated. It just so happens that the game that sealed the season was a title game.

Robbinsville’s 12U squad won the league championship this year, on top of finishing undefeated. The title was the first 12U championship since 2011 and the third for the program overall. The team also led the league in points scored and was second in the league in points allowed.

“[We’re] just really proud of the team,” said head coach Andy Surtz. “They put the work in at practice each week. We say that you win the Saturday game by winning on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. They committed to practice, and it showed.”

Surtz said the success of the season was truly a group effort. The team was made up of Ethan Barker, Brett Bearden, Cooper Briehler, Ryan Gavrish, Maz Guzicki, AJ Hanuscin, Matt James, DeShawn Jones, Julian Malunow, Tony Migliaccio, Jacob Pasquito, Nicholas Pelczar, William Raftery, Akhilesh Ramesh, Jacob Rollins, Akshay Sagar, Tyler Shane, Nicholas Straka, Tommy Surtz, Jack Thielmann, Nick Usmiani, Dante Vazquez, Grayson Vlasac and Alexander White. Gavrish, Raftery, Surtz and Vlasac served as co-captains.

On the sideline, Surtz specifically cited assistant coaches Keith Raftery, Frank Pasquito, Matt Gavrish and Frank Pasquito, as well as safety coordinator Andrew Usmiani.

“All the players stood out in my mind,” he said. “Whether it was their game or practice contributions, the team embraced their roles and each other. The team’s success was due to having depth in our roster, the ability to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and, lastly, our players stepped up in big games when it mattered most.”

And there were some big games—and challenges—this season, both on the field and off. The first, Surtz said, was simply getting the season up and running. Athletic leagues of all sizes nationwide grappled with how to proceed with sports in the wake of COVID-19.

“Our board members, Clarke Paulus and Andy Hanuscin, did a great job working with our league and town to ensure we had the necessary ‘return to play’ plan in place,” Surtz said. “I also want to recognize our parent base for being patient in the early days and for their commitment to our safety protocols. It was definitely a team approach in every way.”

The team also saw its share of challenges once the season started, though. Naturally, the championship game was the most difficult.

Robbinsville faced off against Gloucester City in the title game and went down by six to the “perennial powerhouse.” It was the first time the Ravens trailed in a game all season.

“However, the team responded by scoring the next 14 points and played great defense to secure the win,” Surtz said. “We talked all year to the kids about how football is as much a mental game as it is physical. You need to be able to weather the ups and downs that occur in a game and stay mentally strong. The team accomplished just that in rising to meet the challenge in the championship.”

The win was a little bittersweet, though, Surtz said. But not too much.

“[The Ravens were] very happy, although they did not want the season to end,” he said. “The kids took many pictures with each other and with the trophy. It was nice to see so many smiling faces.”

The team will look different next year—several players will move up to 14U, though some will stick around for another year in 12U. Both groups are looking forward to 2021, though. And Surtz is looking forward to watching his players grow as athletes and as people.

“I think the most important thing for these kids is to continue to be active in their community, whether that is with football, other sports or any activity that involves working as a team towards a common goal,” he said.