For the next three days, I’ll be blogging daily updates on the Wayne Hills football team, as it prepares to play a HUGE game against arch rival Ramapo on Friday, Oct. 9, in Wayne. The 4-1 Patriots are seeking to get back on the winning track after losing a tough game on Oct. 2 to Pascack Valley, 23-20. Ramapo will be a tough assignment. The Raiders will come to town with a 3-1 mark. In it’s three victories, head coach Drew Gibbs’ team has averaged 45 points a game. The lone setback was a 32-28 loss to undefeated Old Tappan.
Days 1 and 2 are up and posted on the blog. Check them out, in case you haven’t tuned in yet.
TUESDAY, OCT. 6: It was, by far, one of the longest practices of the season. Following a meeting, the Patriots hit the field around 3:30 and weren’t off until nearly 7 p.m. The weather was picture perfect and as head coach Wayne Demikoff would say in his post-practice talk, there’s a lot of work to do.
After all, Ramapo is in town this Friday.
“This isn’t just any game,” Demikoff reminded his team. “Ramapo is coming here. Wayne Hills-Ramapo is as good as it gets when it comes to a high school football rivalry in New Jersey. This is your last (regular season) home game. If you guys want a few more home games next month (when the NJSIAA playoffs begin), you have to win on Friday night. It’s as simple as that. If not, we’re probably on the road for the playoffs.
“It’s up to you. Ramapo is good, they always are. We had a tough game with them last season (Hills won, 22-21, in Franklin Lakes). Do we rebound from Pascack Valley, or make the same mistakes we did last Friday? Again, it’s up to you.”
Special teams was a big focus in practice today.
Matt Sportelli is having a tremendous season for Wayne Hills, both as a lineman, as well as the team’s outstanding long-snapper on special teams. “He’s one of the best long snappers I’ve ever seen,” said the Czar, Walt Johnson, who tends not to extend compliments freely.
“Ramapo is always well prepared and have tremendous special team players,” said the ‘Czar’ of Wayne Hills special teams, Walt Johnson. “Everything we do has to be fast, and precise. No excuses, no mistakes. They’ll block point after attempts if we’re not ready. And they’ve got athletes who can make plays on specials. On the other hand, I think we do, too.”
Johnson has been coaching high school football for the better part of 30 years. And during a long practice, he always enjoys talking about some of the great players he’s seen, coached and coached against. “Craig Heyward may have been the best I’ve ever seen,” said Johnson of the one-time Passaic High legend known to most as ‘Ironhead’. “But we had a pretty good one here (at Hills) named Greg Olsen. Tommy Vigorito (a DePaul High legend who later played for the Miami Dolphins) was darn good. And Ramapo had Chris Hogan (who now plays wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills) and that kid was as good as they got.”
Johnson has been around the Hills-Ramapo rivalry for a while. “We’ve had some good success against them since we started our (championship) run,” said Johnson. “But there was a time they had so many good athletes that we didn’t match up well with them, at all.”
Ramapo’s last win over Hills, in Wayne, came in 2004. Ironically, Hills would not lose again for nearly five years, running off the epic 55 game winning streak, that included five straight state championships. Hills avenged the 2004 regular season loss to Ramapo in the playoffs that season and are 9-1 against the Raiders since. The only loss in that 10-game run still sends shivers down the spines of the Hills coaches who are still on the current staff. It came in the 2009 NJSIAA sectional championship game at snowy Giants Stadium, when Ramapo won, 16-8, ending the five year run of state titles for the Patriots.
“Probably one of the toughest losses we ever had here,” said Demikoff.
There have been some epic games in the series, including the 2005 encounter, in Franklin Lakes, when Hills trailed, 26-7 at halftime before rallying to win, 27-26.
The coaches still have some time to have fun in practice, usually at the expense of each other. When offensive coordinator John Jacob asks if any of the stations were running behind, Demikoff noted that special teams went over by two minutes. Johnson, in mock horror, countered it was only a minute over, and if Demikoff wanted to fire him, that would be fine. (The two are always kidding each other and Johnson likes to say that he needs to ‘steal time’ in a typical practice for extra work on special teams).
Jacob, who has maybe the driest sense of humor on the staff, shoots back and says he’s owed a few extra minutes to run the offense, and Demikoff, a defensive guru, will say that defense wins championships. It’s back and forth, and keeps what could be a mundane practice up beat.
As the players trudge to the locker room after practice, assistant coaches Anthony Vitale and Mike Kelly are exchanging recepies for a good chicken dish, as well as tasty meatballs. Vitale loves a good chicken with papryka and lemon and was bragging about how his young daughter made him soup. The conversation is pretty in depth, and anyone listening was sure to be hungry.
Demikoff realizes the practice was long and says to his coaches that it won’t be as extended, on Wednesday. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be some raised voices if the intensity level isn’t what is expected.
Again, Ramapo is coming to town…in just three days.