The scoreboard may have read an Old Tappan victory in the North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 championship game at MetLife Stadium on a gorgeous afternoon. But for Wayne Hills, it was representative of more work to come, and a sincere appreciation to a really good group of football players.
Old Tappan prevailed, 17-0, scoring all of its points in the second half after Hills pretty much dominated the first 24 minutes, but had no points to show for it.
Leading to the trip to MetLife, the Patriots had practiced well for two weeks. Head coach Wayne Demikoff and defensive coordinator Jermain Johnson had a near-perfect game plan to slow down an Old Tappan offensive attack which was averaging nearly 45 points a game in its first 11 contests.
On the offensive side, John Jacob had a good idea of what it would take to move the ball, and for most of the first half, the Patriots did just that. But two key scoring opportunities came up short, and Old Tappan would capitalize in the second half on a few Wayne Hills errors.
“A good team does that,” said Demikoff afterwards. “You give a team like Old Tappan extra chances, and they’ll find a way. We had held them to 47 yards of total offense in the first half, and I felt we should have been up at least 7-0, maybe 14-0. But, again, give (Old Tappan head coach) Brian (Dunn) and his staff a great deal of credit. They made more plays, simple as that.”
The day had started with the Patriots arriving at the school before 8 a.m. It had a spirited walk through on its field before a good breakfast in the school cafeteria.
As the team prepared to head back to the school, a few coaches and players spoke, briefly. Team captain Frank Petracco gave a stirring speech, talking about an evening, last summer, during the 10-day break the Patriots had in their summer schedule, and referring to a streaking star in the galaxy, while spending time with some of the team’s other captains.
“I know sounds corny,” said Petracco. “But it meant something. We wanted to get this program back to where it belonged, and that’s in a state championship game. A couple of us were hanging out one night, and, it told me something was going to be special about this season. And it was. We’re here today, going to MetLife.”
Assistant coach Eric Dagati, who was vital to the team’s incredible off-season conditioning program, also spoke.
“I had asked Dem what I could to do help, after the team had to play in that consolation game,” Dagati recalled. “And he wanted to get the team tougher and less injury prone. I had to be 100 percent on board, because if I wasn’t, you guys would have seen right through me. You bought in, and the end result was practically no kids in the training room with injuries this year. We became a tougher football team, and you guys have earned this moment.”
Justin Hogan, a 2015 Hills grad, was a freshman the last time Wayne Hills had played in a final. He was the heart and soul of the team from 2012-2014, but wasn’t able to play in a state final. He is now a freshman linebacker at the University of Rhode Island.
Jacob once called Hogan perhaps the hardest-hitting player he’s ever coached.
Hogan has often said that playing college football is great, but there’s nothing like the times he had in high school.
“I don’t think anything can top the days I had while playing here,” said Hogan. “I wish I could have played at MetLife, but I’m so happy for these guys.”
Demikoff often said that he wished he had Hogan for another season.
“Justin epitomized what it means to be a Wayne Hills football player,” said Demikoff. “He belongs here today, joining us at MetLife. He did a lot to show this year’s team the toughness it takes to be successful on the field.”
And let’s not forget the five team captains this year, who were simply incredible. Demikoff couldn’t thank them enough for the marvelous season, in which the Patriots were 9-3, and won a Big North championship.
Joe Kenny, Tom Skiba, Vincent LoVerde, Sal Abbracciamento and Petracco were not just outstanding players, but great kids, too.
“I told them today, and I mean it, “said Demikoff. “Of all the years I’ve been coaching, this may have been the best group of kids I’ve ever worked with. There was never a day I couldn’t wait to come to work and coach these kids. And that goes for the coaching staff, too. We had great chemistry.
“I feel bad we didn’t win it today, but I’ll be be appreciative for what this team provided me. I can’t thank them enough.”
Head coach Wayne Demikoff (center) was thrilled last summer when the team chose, from left to right, Sal Abbracciamento, Frank Petracco, Joe Kenny, Tom Skiba and Vincent LoVerde as team captains at the end of summer camp at East Stroudsburg University.