SATURDAY, NOV. 7, 10 a.m.: The battle for conference supremacy and unofficial high school football bragging rights in Wayne went to Wayne Hills, in a big way, on Nov. 6.
Following a scintillating pre-game, which featured bag pipes and a tribute to the Wounded Warriors Project as the Patriots marched onto the field at Valley, Hills fell behind, 18-0, early in the second quarter, then rallied back to win, 28-18. Wayne Hills improved to 7-2, while Valley lost for the first time in the regular season, and will take an 8-1 record into the post-season.
The win assured Wayne Hills a Big North Conference title. The Patriots also improved to 8-2 in its rivalry with Wayne Valley. The schools first met in 1991 and have played continuously since 2009. Wayne Valley last won in 2012.
Hills will visit Roxbury on Nov. 13 in the first round of the playoffs while Valley heads to Morris Knolls, most likely on Nov. 14.
The ensuing celebration at the Outback was one of euphoria, and some relief. The post-game ceremony, which included the presentation of the first of a what will be the annual Preakness Cup (or Mayor’s Cup, whichever one prefers) to the victor, incorporated a little superstition in that the Hills coaches, or players, chose not to touch the hardware, instead following the lead of NHL teams, who upon winning a conference championship, avoid touching the trophy, eyeing the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup.
Wayne Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Mark Toback, holds the Preakness Cup, and is about to present it to the winning Patriots.
In this case, head coach Wayne Demikoff accepted the Cup, with graciousness from Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Mark Toback, then asked his athletic director to escort the Cup back to the school. The message had been sent quickly. The trophy this team wants to hoist will come in a few weeks, for a state championship.
But the next morning, during film sessions, there was anything but a feeling of accomplishment from the coaching staff. A three-hour film room gathering had plenty of criticism, along with some well-placed compliments on the team’s effort against Valley.
“You showed heart, you showed fortitude,” said offensive coordinator John Jacob. “But that’s not enough, any more. In a week, do you want to say ‘I’ll see you on Monday (for practice)’, or are we saying ‘great season fellas’? We’ll see you at the beefsteak (the annual event held the night before Thanksgiving).
Wayne Hills players taking in a championship moment.
“We have to play better. You’re playing a great team next Friday. Can you win? Of course, I have no doubt. But watch the (Wayne Valley) film, and you’ll see the mistakes. They have to be corrected. And we will correct them this week, in practice. Be assured of that.”
There were few pats on the back, during film review, but the notable efforts were accentuated. Once again, Leyshawn Askew was a force on the defensive line. Luca Grave’s marvelous play in the end zone led to a tremendous interception by junior Hunter Hayek.
Joe Kenny recovered from a slow start to dominate in the second half. Kenny scored a touchdown and was marvelous on defense, including a huge play on special teams when he snuffed out a fake punt by Valley in a key moment.
“Dude,” Jacob said to Kenny. “You see how good you were in the second half? You can take a game over. Do it for a full game. You’re that good.”
Quarterback Brendan DeVera was outstanding, playing, by far, his best game of the season.
“You were all-in during practice, and it showed in the game,” said Jacob to DeVera. “That’s the kind of player we all know you can be, and will continued to be. You stepped up.”
As the film work continued, Jacob continually said to DeVera, ‘Great job. You looked confident. That’s how a quarterback plays.’
But on other instances, Jacob and assistant coaches Anthony Vitale and Eric Magrini, would lower the boom on a player who wasn’t exerting the effort deemed necessary.
It was good to see Matt Sportelli play a key role. Sportelli was back in the lineup after a knee injury two weeks ago. The best long-snapper in the conference and a dynamic lineman, ‘Sport’ will be vital to the team’s ultimate success in the post-season.
Billy Tedeshi was a big-time contributor in the game, and was commended in the meeting.
Mike Fiumarelli was part of a huge sack on defense that kept Valley off the board in a big moment, and while “Foom” heard it on occasion from his coaches, he stepped up, when needed most. And when Fiumarelli made a good play, the entire room would start chanting “Foooommmmm”, in unison.
While the criticism was needed to get the players’ focus back for the playoffs, there were some light moments, too, with laughter on certain plays, as Jacob, who could occasionally be confused for a stand-up comic, dropped some classic lines. Magrini and assistant coach Mike Kelly, who were once teammates for the Hills football team nearly 20 years ago, also had input.
The two newest players on the team, junior twin brothers Hunter Hayek and Tyler Hayek have effectively been working themselves into the rotation, after transferring to Hills from St. Joseph (Montvale) High School.
On defense, Demikoff notes the first half span, when Valley jumped out to the big lead, were more Hills miscues, than Valley dominating. “We will not survive this next week,” said Demikoff of mistakes caught on film. “We won’t survive it.”
As the film session finally broke up around 1:15 p.m., the day is just starting for the coaches, as preparation for Roxbury is in full gear. Demikoff and defensive coordinator Jermain Johnson decide to get some sandwiches at a nearby deli, before beginning more work in Demikoff’s office, breaking down defensive schemes and assignments. Jacob opts to say in the film room and cut down more footage of Roxbury.
The team will resume practice on Monday afternoon. Demikoff plans on three busy days of practice, which also includes weight lifting and film work, leading up to the usual Thursday routine before a Friday game. The traditional Monday evening coaches meeting should have plenty of juice, with the main question, of course, whether (freshman coach) Chris Dowling brings the coffee and doughnuts.
After the win over Valley, the best line of the night probably came from Vitale.
“This long week is finally over,” said Vitale.
Amen to that.