When It Comes to Foley Field, There's No Place Like Home
After spending two seasons on the road, the Bengals football team is thrilled to be back on home turf
Music blared in the background as Jeovan Santos, fresh off a 21-tackle performance, soaked in all of the sights around the new and improved Foley Field. Seeing several of the nearly 1,500 fans who watched Bloomfield deal Belleville a 42-7 season-opening defeat still milling around the facility, a smile to creased across his face.
“Last year we would be lucky if we had 50 fans,” the junior linebacker said. “It's just incredible.”
After two seasons as road warriors while Foley Field underwent its makeover, Santos and his teammates are happy to playing on their home turf again, on a field that is so much a part of this township's fabric.
Just as they did in their first two home games, the Bengals will march out of their old fieldhouse for Saturday's Homecoming game at 2:30 p.m. against Millburn, past a table selling the “There's No Place Like Home” t-shirts so many Bloomfield backers wear so proudly, then sprinted down a black carpet leading to the freshly installed synthetic turf where they will continue their quest for a state playoff berth.
“We're real thankful for everything we've got here,” Bloomfield head coach Mike Carter said. “The kids are ecstatic about it.”
At a pep rally earlier in the day, excitement among the student body exceeded the usual levels for an opening-day game. Even though everyone got a glimpse of the new Foley Field when it officially re-opened Sept. 7, the buzz grew more and more palpable as each minute ticked down toward kickoff.
Since coming back home, Bloomfield (2-1) has scored a decisive victory over one of its chief rivals and challenged perennial state power Seton Hall Prep before dropping a 27-17 decision Sept. 16. Both games were played before hundreds of fans thrilled to travel mere blocks to watch their hometown team.
Over the previous two falls, the Bengals played all 20 of their games on opposing fields, going 3-7 last year after posting a 4-6 mark in 2009. The aftermath of every game, win or lose, resulted in what Santos called “a terrible bus ride home.”
Said Carter: “It's (been) a long couple of years, I'm not going to lie to you.”
Although Foley Field is without some familiar amenities – temporary bleachers line both sides of the field and the press box is now three tiers of scaffolding – beauty is in the eyes of the facility that has breathed fresh life into the student body and the Bengals' fanbase.
“We went from having one of the least safe facilities to having one of the most safe facilities,” said BHS Athletic Director Steve Jenkins, who noted Foley Field will be completed next fall. “For some people when they upgrade, they go from middle to top. We took a quantum leap.”
Already, the Bengals have won their first season opener since 2008 – coincidentally the last season they played at Foley Field before Friday night. They reached the NJSIAA North 1, Group 4 playoffs that fall, the last time they were penciled into a tournament bracket.
“Knowing that we have all our fans back, a new team, a new uniform, we have our confidence back,” Santos said. “The way we carry ourselves is much better.”
In the surrounding community, businesses have embraced the rebirth of Foley Field, from Angelo's Restaurant and Pizzeria (which provides the Bengals' pre-game meals) and The Essex Bar & Grill to Obal's Inn and The Town Pub.
"I was born and raised in Bloomfield," Obal's Inn owner Robin James said. "I graduated from Bloomfield High. My parents graduated from Bloomfield High. Everyone in my family did."
"We're so excited about the new Foley Field because we're basically a neighborhood bar, " she said. "This is great for the morale of the town."
And great for the Bengals themselves, as proven by their performance thus far this season.