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2020 Sports, Small/Medium Newsroom finalist

The Day That Changed Everything

About the Project

History, the old adage goes, is written by the winners.

But what about those who face devastating defeat in youth sports? Is it as simple as brushing the dirt off your shoulders and moving on — or can your entire life change course?

That’s the subject of Matthew Stanmyre’s deeply felt, gorgeously written, resplendently designed “The Day That Changed Everything,” which NJ Advance Media published in December. A deep dive into what many call the greatest high school football game ever played, as well a heartbreaking consideration of how the lives of the losing team members seemed to fall apart thereafter, this story is the product of nearly a year of tireless research, reporting, writing, editing and design.

The story was sparked by the author’s longstanding fascination with the 1990 New Jersey state football championship, which pitted two undefeated teams against each other — Montclair High School and Randolph High School — and ended with a bizarre, come-from-behind victory by Randolph in the final seconds.

Stanmyre spent months tracking down former players and attendees and researching what happened that day, eventually learning that the losing team’s coach never coached again; the quarterback descended into a life of addiction and crime; and virtually every player on the Montclair team couldn’t shake the loss.