Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley will meet for the fifth time in the NJSIAA playoffs, and the second time in a state championship game, on Dec. 4, at MetLife Stadium, in the Meadowlands Sports Complex.
Hills has won three of the first four playoff matchups, and has an overall 10-2 lead in the series.
The first-ever meeting between the schools was in the 1991 sectional final, which Valley won, 7-0, before an overflow crowd at Wayne Valley.
Ten years later, Hills defeated Valley in a sectional playoff, 41-6. The Patriots also defeated Valley in a 2010 playoff game, 48-0.
The last time the schools played, with a state championship on the line, the Patriots won a hard-fought game, 27-7, on Nov. 30, 2007, at Giants Stadium, in a battle of two 11-0 squads. Chris Olsen was, of course, the Wayne Hills coach while Brian O’Connor was the Indians’ coach. (Wayne Demikoff, now the head coach at Hills, was an assistant to Olsen from 1999-2012).
(The teams didn’t start playing each other in the regular season until 2009, and the series has been held regularly since, with Hills winning seven of eight games, including an exciting 25-24 win on Oct. 28).
Mike Giampapa was the quarterback of that ’07 Hills team, and with his alma mater preparing to play Valley on Dec. 4, Giampapa took a few minutes to recall the last championship tilt with Valley.
“I can’t believe it’s been nine years already,” said Giampapa, from his home in San Francisco. “I remember there being a lot of hype leading into the game. Back then, we didn’t play each other in the regular season, so there was just two (playoff) games between the teams leading into our (2007) championship game (in 1991 and 2001).”
Giampapa noted that the emotions were running high, especially on game day.
“By the time we got to Giants Stadium, I remember just wanting to go out and play,” Giampapa recalled. “We all said we have to just trust our guys and we’ll be okay. We were so fired up, and I’m sure Wayne Valley was, too.”
The ‘hype’ that sometimes gets associated with a game like this is usually not a sentiment shared by the players, according to Giampapa.
“The fans really get into it, and obviously, the players want to win, but you have to remember, a lot of the guys on Valley were good friends. Some of my best friends were on that team. We all grew up, and played together on the youth level. We had a lot of respect for them, and they did, too, for us. That year, we were both undefeated and, I’m pretty sure, neither team had lost a game on any level (freshman, JV and varsity) that season, heading into that final.
“I remember it being the longest two weeks of my life, leading up to the game. I had dreamed about playing in that type of game since I was a water boy for my older brother’s (Anthony) team in 1999, when (Wayne Hills) played in the championship game at Giants Stadium (against Hoboken). From that point, I became obsessed with getting back there, and winning. I thought about it every day.”
Giampapa recalls running out of the tunnel “was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. It was loud.”
Most fans there recalled that the lower bowl of Giants Stadium was completely full, something which should be the case this coming Sunday at MetLife. (Giants Stadium closed after the 2009 season and MetLife opened in 2010).
“All of our players were business-like,” recalled Giampapa. “We had played in these games before, and that gave us a lot of confidence.”
In 2007, Hills was in the midst of the legendary 55-game winning streak, which had begun six games into the 2004 season and would last until nearly midway through the 2009 season. Hills would win five straight state championships from 2004-2008.
“I think that this group of seniors at Wayne Hills could feel the same way,” said Giampapa. “They played at MetLife last year in a state championship game.”
Hills scored first in 2007, but Valley rallied to tie it in the second quarter on a touchdown run by Matt Dortch.
Giampapa felt the key to the game was on the ensuing kickoff, when Carlton Marcin, who played a tremendous game for Hills, returned the kick for a score, to give Hills the lead for good, 13-7.
“That was huge for us,” said Giampapa. “Valley had just tied it, and we got the lead back quickly. I thought it was the key to the game.”
Hills would score a touchdown each in the third and fourth quarter to seal the 27-7 win. Marcin rushed for 65 yards that day, scored two touchdowns, had an interception and recorded five tackles.
Tim Waller, a linebacker for Hills, was a force, with 15 tackles and a quarterback sack.
Dan DeCicco rushed for 92 yards in the game to lead the Hills offense. Dortch rushed for 52 yards in the game to pace Valley.
“Winning that game, almost 10 years ago, is still one of my fondest memories,” said Giampapa.’ “I still have the game ball on my dresser.”
Giampapa feels this year’s contest will be a tremendous game.
“These types of games always go the distance — you can bet it will be an emotional roller coaster. The team who can block out the ups and downs and just focus on executing the next play typically comes out on top.
“Your stars certainly need to perform, but there’s always someone you may not expect who needs to step up and make a big play. It will be a total team effort.”