Offensive coordinator John Jacob had gathered the Wayne Hills High football team into the meeting room the morning after an improbable 42-35 win over Roxbury on Friday night.
Hills had opened a 21-7 lead in the second quarter, only to watch the Morris County school register 28 unanswered points bridging the final minute of the first half, the third quarter and early into the fourth. Hills was trailing 35-21 with about nine minutes left in the game. The momentum was clearly in Roxbury’s corner.
Worst yet, the Patriots had committed numerous turnovers, dropped more passes than it wanted to admit and were hit with four personal foul penalties.
Jacob had actually told the team, at the half, that while the Patriots weren’t playing its best, the bottom line was getting a win, over a good team, on that team’s home field, and getting out of Dodge. “That what’s championship teams do,” Jacob implored the Patriots at halftime. “They find ways to win.”
Hills found that way in the fourth quarter, scoring 21 straight to win a wacky 42-35 decision. The ‘Czar’, special teams coach Walt Johnson, turned to team trainer Corinne Scarpa in the closing seconds of the game, pretended to take his own pulse and asked if he was having a cardiac moment.
“I’ve never been around a game like that,” said Johnson, who has been coaching the better part of 30 years.
Jacob, who has been coaching over 20 years and was a head coach at one time, agreed.
So, getting back to the Saturday morning meeting, Jacob pulled out some interesting info.
“Going back to 1970,” said Jacob, “there have been 3,601 NFL games where a team has had a distinctive edge in the turnover game. And we’re talking about the best of the best, in the NFL. And do you know how many times the team with the higher turnovers won? Try 12 percent. Another words, 88 percent of the teams with the advantage in turnovers wins games. You found a way to win last night, which is commendable.
“But you’ve used up the 12 percent. You’re not getting that opportunity again. The odds are against you. So you need to cut back on the mistakes, catch the ball and enough with the penalties.”
Wayne Hills (2-1) won the game thanks to some tremendous passing and overall leadership from senior Brendan DeVera, who threw for five touchdowns, and the play of the Hayek brothers, senior twins Hunter and Tyler, who caught two touchdown passes each, and sophomore Jaaron Hayek, who made a marvelous catch for the game-winning score in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.
But Wayne Hills’ good start has also come from the usual hard-nosed players whose contributions normally don’t make a box score.
In the win over Ramapo a week earlier, Danny Moussa made his impact on defense, as did Omar Tskhovrebov. Chris Pusterla continues to get better with each game. Mike Zaccone missed the Roxbury game because of a shoulder injury, but he should be ready to play when the Patriots are host to Old Tappan in a huge game on Sept. 23.
Nick Petracco continues to play well, after a serious knee injury kept him out in 2015. Hunter Goldberg broke his ankle early in the ’15 season. He’s back now and his tremendous play on special teams, downing a DeVera punt on Ramapo’s one yard line, sealed that victory.
Senior tailback and team captain Luca Grave continues to be that performer who always steps up, when needed most.
Ky Salley and Anthony Couso have also been big-time contributors. Salley was very vocal at the end of the Roxbury win, imploring his teammates to use the momentum of that victory to carry it forward for the rest of the season.
Hunter Hayek’s speed saved a touchdown in the Ramapo game and his defense has been solid. Jason Modak and Tyler Costello continue to excel on the line.
And how about the play of junior lineman Scott Fischgrund, who started in place of the injured Zaccone at center, and played well against Roxburg. Fischgrund’s teammates applauded him after the game, and again the next morning.
“Next man up,” said Jacob about Fischgrund’s play. “Zaccone is a tremendous player, and we needed a big effort from Scott, and he delivered.”
Head coach Wayne Demikoff was proud of his team’s resolve against Roxbury, but warned it had to start playing better.
“I’m proud of the way you rallied back, it showed a lot,” said Demikoff. “But Old Tappan is as good as they get (on Wayne Hills’ schedule), and we need to step it up now. You’ve seen what you can do when we play. I think we all know that we haven’t played our best game, yet. We’re 2-1 and coming around as a team. Our best football is still ahead of us.”