Wayne Hills had dropped a 21-17 decision, at home, to Passaic Valley on Oct. 25 and the mood wasn’t good the following morning when the Patriots met for a team meeting and film review.
Following the film, defensive coordinator Jermain Johnson issued a plea for his team to play to its capabilities. The plea was emotional and heartfelt, as a way of telling a group of teenagers the passion that is needed to succeed on the gridiron at this time of year.
Johnson’s message did indeed resonate for the Patriots, which had a good week of practice leading into the Nov. 1 game at undefeated Passaic County Tech. There were changes to be made last week, beginning at quarterback where Pete Palczewski took over for Justin DeGroat, who hurt his ankle in the PV game.
When it was clear DeGroat wouldn’t be available for the PCT game, offensive coordinator John Jacob didn’t flinch.
“We’ll be fine,” Jacob said at last Monday’s practice. “Pete knows what he’s doing. We have a week to get ready. You watch, he’ll be more than ready.”
And Palczewski, a 6’3″ junior with a good arm, was more than ready to meet the challenge of his first varsity start, in a week eight game that had huge playoff implications against PCT.
It’s become a cliché to say a quarterback manages a game, but Palczewski did more than that. He gained a great deal of confidence as the game progressed, drawing PCT offsides on numerous occasions with a hard count and cadence.
After getting through some jitters in the first series, Palczewski began to find his rhythm later in the first quarter, completing a big pass to Frank Falzarano and then throwing a majestic 75-yard scoring bomb to Steve Pusterla that made it 14-0 in the second.
Erik Martinez’s kicking continues to go under the radar, but really shouldn’t. The senior converted on five more PAT kicks and hasn’t missed a PAT since his first attempt as a sophomore in 2011. He also booted six kicks into the end zone for automatic touchbacks against PCT.
Martinez, also a team captain, sounded the rallying cry, so to speak, when at PCT last Friday, the P.A. announcer introduced the ‘undefeated Passaic County Tech Bulldogs’.
“That really got us going,” Martinez recalled after the game. “We were determined to put an end to that.”
After getting hurt in the first half of the Sept. 20 game against Wayne Valley, lineman Chris Lohmann was back in the Patriots lineup last Friday and played well. He threw a few crushing blocks, including a pancake in the PCT end zone on a running play.
Pusterla continues to show marked improvement since he broke his collarbone on Aug. 7. Originally, the senior captain returned for the Wayne Valley game, but he needed some more time to get back in shape and missed the next two games before playing significant minutes at Teaneck three weeks ago.
Pusterla’s TD catch in the second quarter was a sure sign he’s almost 100 percent back. Pusterla also played defense for the first time this season and punted well, too.
Sophomore lineman Joey Kenny and his older brother, Anthony, are usually in head coach Wayne Demikoff’s dog house more than most, but both guys have played well for the Patriots, especially lately. Joey Kenny may be the most enthusiastic player on the Hills roster.
Demikoff also noted the improvement of junior lineman Derek Bastinck, who showed plenty of energy and drive in the PCT game.
“It’s the effort,” Demikoff reminded his player of Bastinck’s performance. “That’s what we want to see and he’s giving it to us.”
That same effort is true of Kyle Brackett, another talented underclassman who contributed mightily at defensive end.
“Again, Kyle makes some mistakes, but he’s always improving and he gives us that push that shows us he cares,” said Demikoff.
Senior captain and offensive lineman James Kelly continues to play well for the Patriots.
“We’ll need a complete effort over the next four weeks,” Demikoff told his team during film work on Saturday. “If we get it, then you could be fitted for another (championship) ring. For the first time all season, we played four quarters of Wayne Hills football against PCT, and you saw the result.”