As Wayne Hills football coach Wayne Demikoff surveyed a critical situation late in his team’s North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 semifinal against West Morris Central, the coach called for his trusted assistant coach, ‘The Czar‘ of the special teams, Walt Johnson.
The situation was simple. Hills had a 28-14 lead with 3:30 left, and faced a fourth down at the West Morris 24. The Patriots could either go for a first down, or try a 41-yard field goal.
“I asked Walt if he thought Dario (Sirni) could make it, and Walt said ‘yes’.,” said Demikoff with a smile. “That was good enough for me.”
Sirni, a junior, stepped onto the field and calmly booted a 41-yard field goal, off the snap from Jason Modak and a solid hold by Zach Zachmann, giving Hills a three-possession lead, and the Patriots went on to win, 31-14.
The win was the 10th straight for top-seeded Wayne Hills (10-1), which will move onto the sectional championship game, at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands, on Sunday, Dec. 4. There, it will face third seeded Wayne Valley (9-2) at 7 p.m. West Morris finished an excellent season with a 9-2 record.
“Once Dario made that kick, I knew we had the game won,” said Demikoff. “Let me tell you this. West Morris was tough, and I mean really good. Those kids can play. They run the Wing T really well, kept us off balance, and made us work really hard for this win. I have the highest respect for their coaches, and their players. A game like this will only help us prepare for the final.”
Wayne Hills will seek a ninth state championship on Dec. 4. It last played Wayne Valley in a state final nine years ago and won, 27-7. The schools also met in a 1991 state championship game, which Valley won, 7-0. Hills leads the all time series with Wayne Valley, 9-2, which includes a 2-1 record in the playoffs. Hills has won the last four meetings between the schools, including a 25-24 win on Oct. 28.
Wayne Hills will be appearing in its 16th state championship game since 1997, as the team seeks a ninth state championship and first since 2011.
Demikoff knew that West Morris would be a tough customer.
“I told our kids this was going to be a physical, hard-hitting game, and that’s just what it was,” the coach said. “Even with a 21-7 lead at the half, we all knew what a really good team West Morris was.”
Hills opened the scoring on a 59-yard run by Tyler Hayek in the first quarter, followed by Sirni’s point after kick. West Morris countered on a three-yard run by Ryan Finlay, off an excellent drive, to tie it. Hills regained the lead late in the first quarter on a 32-yard scoring strike from Brendan DeVera to Luca Grave which gave the Patriots a 14-7 lead.
Before the end of the first half, the Patriots added a key score, which was highlighted by an incredible catch by senior wide receiver Evidence Njoku, who hauled in a one-handed pass, in traffic, which set up a key first down. Hills later scored when DeVera scored on a 14-yard run, making it 21-7 at the half.
The Patriots extended to a 28-7 lead in the third on a DeVera touchdown pass to Hunter Hayek of 34 yards. West Morris closed to 28-14 early inn the fourth quarter on a run by Cole Draghi, on fourth down. Draghi was outstanding for the Wolfpack, rushing for over 200 yards.
“That kid was tremendous,” said Demikoff of Draghi.
Hills’ running game, led by Grave, who rushed for 101 yards, controlled most of the second half, and Sirni’s field goal sealed the deal for Hills.
DeVera was outstanding again and tied Christian Olsen’s school record for career touchdown passes, with 56. DeVera also has the new school record for passing yards in a season, with 1,919.
NOTES: On defense, Tyler Costello had 11 tackles, Nick Petracco finished with 10, Ky Salley and Omar Tskhovrebov had eight each and Modak had six tackles and a quarterback sack.
Modak has 10 sacks on the season. Hunter Hayek set a new school record for receptions in a season, with 53, and now has 863 yards in receptions this year, also a new school record. Bill Monan held the old marks, which were set in 2001.