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Following a 13-6 setback to Wayne Valley in the first round of the North 2, Group 4 playoffs on Nov. 8, Wayne Hills football coach Wayne Demikoff couldn’t mask his disappointment in the final result, but is already looking ahead to the 2020 season.
“We weren’t good enough tonight,” said Demikoff in the coach’s office after the game. “Simple as that. Wayne Valley was better up front, they controlled the tempo of the game, especially in the second half, and deserved the win.”
Wayne Hills, which finished 6-4 and won a third conference championship in the last four years, had taken a 6-0 lead over Wayne Valley, in the second quarter and had dominated the time of possesion in the early going.
The Patriots had the ball for 21 of the game’s first 24 plays and could have been up by two touchdowns, but Valley’s defense did the job, forcing Hills to try a field goal, which sailed wide left, then gave up a scoring run by Chris Brutofsky after a long drive, for Hills’ only points of the game.
“We were controlling it early,” said Demikoff. “But we only came up with six points.”
Wayne Valley (8-2) gained a 7-6 lead before halftime, then extended to a 13-6 advantage early in the third quarter, thanks to some crafty running by quarterback Tommy Moran, who escaped a sure sack and ran 22 yards for a first down which rejuvinated an eventual scoring drive that Moran capped off on a short run. Moran also completed a huge pass to the Hills 3 that set up that touchdown.
Valley’s defense was the story of the second half. In a performance similiar to Hills’ effort in a 14-7 win at Valley in the regular season, back in September, Valley held Hills to just one first down, and limited a normally potent offense to 120 yards of total offense.
It was Wayne Valley’s first-ever win at Wayne Hills, after losing its first seven games there. The teams have also met once at Giants Stadium (2007) and MetLife Stadium (2016), with Hills prevailing in sectional finals. Valley, which improved to 3-14 all time against Hills, won its two previous games against its rival, at home, in the 1991 sectional final and in a 2012 regular season game. Hills has a 5-2 advantage on Valley’s home field and is now 4-2 against Valley in playoff games.
Demikoff, who is 8-1 against Wayne Valley as a head coach, wasn’t making excuses after the game.
“We’ll get back to work,” the coach said. “We’re about winning championships here, and we didn’t get it done this year. We did make progress, with a very young team this season and that was encouraging. When you look at our four losses (12-0, at Ridge View, South Carolina; 17-7 at Old Tappan and 35-28, in overtime at Ramapo, before the playoff loss), we were within striking distance, but that’s not good enough.
“Next year, our kids will learn how to finish those games. The last thing we want is to watch another team celebrate a playoff victory on our home field. But that’s what happened and give Wayne Valley all the credit.”
Wayne Hills has lost just three playoff games, at home. It was defeated by Ramapo in the 2000 sectional final, 14-7, while losing to Northern Highlands, 17-14, in the first round, in 2013, and this year’s game to Wayne Valley.
Chet Parlavecchio recently announced his retirement from coaching high school football, after 25 years. Here are a few memories of a friendship that began over 30 years ago.
You know the saying ‘it seemed like yesterday’?
Well, that’s easily the case when it came to my early days of knowing Chet Parlavecchio and a great friendship that’s grown for four decades.
The first time I saw Chet was on a gray November day, in 1977. It was Nov. 5, 1977, a Saturday afternoon, to be precise, and Parlavecchio’s Seton Hall Pony Pirates were in town to play the Belleville Bellboys in a high school football game.
As a point of reference, Seton Hall Prep had a marvelous football team that season. In fact, I’ve said many times that the ’77 high school football season in New Jersey may have been one of the best, ever.
Seton Hall Prep was loaded, but two public high schools, Westfield and Barringer, were at the apex of the Top 20, led by a pair of future NFL players in Butch Woolfolk, a future NFL first-round draft pick of the New York Giants, and Andre Tippett, who is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, after a great career with the New England Patriots.
The playoff format in ’77 was in its fourth year, and it was clear that Barringer and Westfield would meet in a North 2, Group 4 final. For Seton Hall Prep, a Non-Public ‘A’ team, it would probably face arch rival Bergen Catholic for a state championship. (And it did, winning 15-0)
But now, this was about Seton Hall and Belleville. And on this day, the Pony Pirates would have its way against a young Bellboy team, winning 63-0. Chet, a linebacker, actually scored a touchdown in the game, and then vomited in the end zone.
But what most of the Belleville players remember that day was this linebacker, who, in essence, wouldn’t shut up the entire game.
“That Parlavecchio kept talking the entire game,” said Joe Salters, a senior on the ’77 Bellboys team, when we had a chance to talk about that game the following week. “He kept saying ‘it’s gonna be like rainfall boys. Get ready.
“And you know what? He was right.”
Parlavecchio and his teammates were especially incensed when Belleville assistant coach Joe D’Ambola pointed out to a game official, before the National Anthem, that Seton Hall’s Joe Aulisi wasn’t wearing the required hip pad.
The referee concurred and hit the Prep with a penalty before the game began.
“We’re yelling across the way at Joe,” said Parlavecchio years later. “At that point, we said ‘let’s go and really win this game.’ A week earlier, we had finished in a scoreless tie with Paterson Kennedy, and our team was a little surly, anyway.”
Seton Hall led, 42-0, at the half and scored three more touchdowns in the second half.
Instead of whining about a lopsided loss, those Bellboys, who later became Buccaneers, would use that loss as motivation. Two years later, Seton Hall returned to Belleville and the Bucs won, 14-13. A year after that, Belleville dominated the Prep, 34-8, in South Orange and could have scored more that day.
“That shows you what a good coach John Senesky was,” Parlavecchio would say years later. “We had some good teams at Seton Hall. Those Belleville kids were tough.”
Fast forward 10 years, and after playing for three years in the NFL with the Packers and Cardinals, Parlavecchio was a head coach at nearby Bloomfield High. He would coach against Senesky for four seasons, winning two games, losing once and also playing to a tie, the only tie in Parlavecchio’s long career as a high school football coach.
“That (6-6) tie still drives me nuts,” said Parlavecchio with a laugh. “But they were great times. Joe D’Ambola and I would often kid about that ’77 game with the Joe Aulisi hip pad incident. We always respected each other.”
Parlavecchio would be a high school football head coach for a quarter century. He won 123 games and a state championship while making numerous playoff appearances, with five different schools.
In 1987, at Bloomfield, he took over a program that hadn’t won a game in five years and led it to the playoffs by 1989. Parlavecchio often says his two years at Irvington, in 1991 and 1992 were the most rewarding of his coaching career.
“Those kids didn’t have a lot,” Parlavecchio would say. “But they gave me everything on the field. I was so grateful to have had those years.”
Among the players he coached at Irvington was future NFL head coach Raheem Morris and Alshermond Singleton, who played 10 years in the NFL and was a Super Bowl champion with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003. Singleton would later coach with Parlavecchio at Passaic Valley.
Chet would spend 10 years at Passaic Valley, with two 5-year tenures, and was 20 games over .500 for his career there.
Parlavecchio would also coach at Clifton for five years and in 2006, went to Elizabeth and won a state championship in his first season there. He’d guide the Minutemen to three playoff appearances in four years.
Then came ‘The Call’, in 2011, when Chet’s close friend and college roommate, Mike Munchak, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was named head coach of the Tennessee Titans. One of Munchak’s first calls was to Chet, to see if he’d be interested in coaching with the Titans.
Munchak didn’t have to wait long to get that answer, and Parlavecchio was off to coaching in the NFL.
I remember when Chet called me to say he’d be heading to the NFL. I called his older brother, Dr. Marc Parlavecchio, to get some comments and it took Marc a few minutes to compose himself, choking back tears of happiness at his younger brother’s successes.
After three years in the NFL, Chet returned to Passaic Valley for a second 5-year tenure.
Now, it’s time to focus on family.
Chet Parlavecchio has always been about family and friends, first and foremost. His parents, brother, wife and children, and now grandchildren, have shaped his focus.
He’s molded so many young lives with football. And he’s always done it right.
I might have first met him as that boisterous football player yelling about rainfall in 1977. But for over 30 years, it’s been about a wonderful friendship, one that will continue, God willing, for years and years to come.
There was no hesitation in the voice, when I asked him the question about stepping down as Passaic Valley High’s football coach earlier this week.
“Yes, that’s it,” said Chet Parlavecchio. “It’s time.”
After 10 seasons at Passaic Valley, which covered two 5-year tenures, Parlavecchio will no long roam the sideline at PV.
“It’s been a wonderful time here,” the coach said. “There’s no doubt about it. I wouldn’t trade the memories of the boys I’ve coached here, for anything. This is a wonderful community.”
Parlavecchio first arrived at PV in 1994, and led those Hornets to a combined 37-12 record. That included three playoff berths and five straight winning seasons. The 1995 and 1996 Hornets finished unbeaten in the regular season and the ’96 team went on to play for the state sectional title, at Giants Stadium, against the state’s top-ranked team, Hoboken.
Parlavecchio would leave PV after a 7-3 campaign in 1998. Seventeen years later, he was back, and in the next five seasons, guided PV to a 20-25 record, which included a 1-8 mark in that first season, 2015.
“The way I look at it, we had four winning seasons the second time around,” said Parlavecchio. “That first year was tough, in that we were trying to establish something and it would take time. But we came back with 5-4 and 6-3 records the next two years, then qualified for the playoffs (in 2018, finishing 4-4 in the regular season).”
This year’s PV team opened 2-0 for the first time in 10 years and were 4-3 after a win over Indian Hills, in the regular season finale, before losing two games, on the road, to Paterson Eastside and West Milford.
“We’re up 14-0 against Eastside and 6-0 against West Milford, with a touchdown called back in that game,” said Parlavecchio. “That was a tough ending to a season. We lost to four playoff teams this year and probably should have had a better record. But looking back, these kids gave it their all.
“They’re great kids to coach, very respectful and hard working. We just made too many mistakes, with penalties and turnovers. If you look at our losses, really the only game we weren’t in by the fourth quarter was against Wayne Valley, and that was a 7-7 game late the first half.”
Parlavecchio noted that the 2018 team will hold a special place in his heart.
“No doubt, those kids really did something special,” said Parlavecchio. “We started 0-3 that season and qualified for the playoffs. And we went in through the front door to the playoffs. We had to beat West Milford (in a driving rain at PV) and got the job done (in week eight). Those kids earned it, and played well in the playoff game (at Northern Valley/Old Tappan).”
Parlavecchio’s career record at PV was 57-37 and his overall record of coaching high school football for 25 years is 123-117-1, which includes a state championship at Elizabeth, in 2016.
He coached four seasons at Bloomfield (1987-1990), two years at Irvington (1991-1992), 10 at Passaic Valley (1994-1998 and 2015-2019), five at Clifton (1999-2003) and four at Elizabeth (2006-2009).
There was also a year as an assistant coach at Temple University, in 1993, and three as an assistant with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, from 2011-2013.
“It’s been great, but I also know it’s time,” said Parlavecchio. “Joe Paterno once said to ‘know the signs’ when it comes to life, in general, and to prepare yourself accordingly. And that’s what I have to do here.
“My life has changed. I’m almost 60 years old. I have a wonderful wife, two great kids and an incredible family. Now, there’s two beautiful grandchildren, with a third on the way. I’m needed at home more, now, and that’s perfect for me. Coaching football takes a lot of time, and I’ve loved it, but it’s time for a new voice at Passaic Valley.”
Parlavecchio played his high school football at Seton Hall Prep and was part of some great teams there, including the 1977 team, which finished 10-0-1 and had one of the best defenses in New Jersey high school football history.
He then attended Penn State University, where he played linebacker for the legendary Paterno and was a team captain in 1981. From there, it was off to the NFL. Chet was selected in the sixth round of the 1982 NFL draft by the legendary Bart Starr and played two seasons for the Green Bay Packers and later, the St. Louis Cardinals.
An injury cut short his professional career and in 1987, Parlavecchio began his coaching career at Bloomfield High. At the time, the Bengals were mired in a long losing streak, dating back to 1983. Within two years, Parlavecchio had Bloomfield in the playoffs.
At Passaic Valley, the Hornets qualified for the playoffs four times. He also led Elizabeth to three playoff appearances and a state title while guiding Clifton to a playoff berth, after a long hiatus, in 2003.
The Parlavecchio name will continue to be known in New Jersey high school football. Chet’s son, Chet Jr., is in his third year as a head coach at New Providence. Like his dad, Chet took over a struggling program, which was 1-9 in back-to-back seasons (2016 and 2017) and has led the Pioneers to consecutive playoff berths in 2018 and 2019. New Providence is a combined 14-4 the past two seasons, with games still left to be played this year.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am for my son’s success,” said Chet.
He spoke like a man comfortable with his decision.
“In 10 years at Passaic Valley, our teams finished 20 games over .500,” said Parlavecchio. “That’s pretty good. I was surrounded by some great (assistant) coaches and hard-working players.
“Now it’s time for a new staff to come in here. There are some really good kids returning next season and I’ll be pulling for them to have a special season. I’ll always be a PV fan.”
And with that, Parlavecchio bid adieu.
“The most gratifying part of my years at Passaic Valley was seeing young men I coached (from 1994-1998) turn into responsible fathers and leaders in their community,” said Parlavecchio. “And I see the same thing for the guys I’ve coached in this second run. They’re going to do well in whatever they do. As a coach, you try and influence as many as you can to do well, and I’ve been fortunate enough to see that in all my stops as a high school football coach.
“Again, I just want to thank the Passaic Valley community for everything.”
For over 30 years, Wayne Hills has produced some tremendous varsity football teams. Since Chris Olsen’s arrival as head coach in 1987, and continuing with Wayne Demikoff succeeding Olsen in 2013, the program has won 10 state championships, a Bowl Game, qualified for the playoffs 28 times (including this season), won 48 playoff games and had one sub .500 record, a 4-5 mark, in 1988.
The program’s success is a tribute to a lot of good coaching, a myriad of talented players and an uncanny attention to detail.
The Patriots’ tremendous kicking game has been a huge part of the program’s successes, on the vaunted special teams.
Long before kicking became a major part of a high school team’s arsenal, Wayne Hills was excelling, both in place kicking and punting.
Walt Johnson, known to many at Hills as ‘The Czar’, coached special teams for many years, both at Wayne Valley and Wayne Hills.
“It really just comes down to getting good athletes, who want to do the job,” said Johnson, a long-time educator, who is somewhat ‘retired’ as a coach now, but still lends his expertise to the program. “We had some great kids over the years. When I first started working with Chris, I didn’t get a lot of time to work on special teams.
“But Chris wanted perfection, and as time went by, he started to let me run things. It was just a confidence thing, among coaches. I think as Chris got more comfortable with the coaches on his staff, he knew we were all pretty good at our jobs.”
Twenty years ago, the art of kicking a point-after, or field goal, on the high school level wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as it is today. But at Wayne Hills, the point-after became nearly automatic nearly three decades ago.
“When I first started coaching the kickers, a lot of them were kicking straight on, with a shoe that was blocked in the front,” said Johnson, referring to an almost Tom Dempsey-like shoe. (Dempsey, of course, kicked what was then the longest field goal in NFL history, 63 yards, in 1970, for the New Orleans Saints).
“Most kickers now use the soccer-style approach.”
Johnson recalled having all kinds of kickers, size-wise.
“I had a kid named Nick Worzel, who was a 6’4″, 230 pound quarterback, as a kicker one year and another, we had Dave Adamo, who was a 5’10”, 180 pound linebacker. A lot of our kickers also played other positions.”
When Peter Lyons, who played varsity soccer at Wayne Hills approached Olsen about playing football and being the team’s kicker, Johnson remembered taking Peter out to the field for a tryout.
“Chris brought Peter over to me and said that he wanted to try kicking,” said Johnson. “I remember going out to the field and seeing him kick really well, using the soccer-style approach.”
Consistency became a key, and no one was more consistent than Erik Martinez, who played varsity football at Wayne Hills from 2011-2013. Martinez holds the state record for consecutive point-after kicks made, with 105 straight, in a streak that began in the fourth game of the 2011 season and extended for the rest of his high school career.
Ironically, Martinez missed his first point-after kick in the 2011 season opener, against Hackensack.
“Looking back, it was funny,” said Johnson, with a laugh. “Erik misses the kick and Chris is on the sideline, basically saying ‘I guess we’re going to have to go for 2 (points) this year, because we don’t have a kicker.’
“I kind of said to Erik, ‘don’t worry, just stay by me.’ I told Chris to let me work with him, that he could be pretty good.”
In his role as a Physical Education teacher in a Wayne middle school, Johnson knew a lot of the future players long before they ever wore a Patriots uniform, including Martinez, who was originally a soccer player.
Martinez would miss one more point-after, in a game against Teaneck in week four of the 2011 season, then was perfect on the next 105 kicks, through his last game, in 2013, against Northern Highlands, in the NJSIAA playoffs.
“Think about that for a minute,” said Johnson. “One hundred five in a row, means the snap and hold was good, before Eric even kicked it. That’s not easy on the college and pro level, much less high school.”
Martinez also holds the school record for most field goals made, with 16, as well as consecutive point after kicks in a season, with 41, while Scott Schultz’s 60 point after kicks in a season is also a school record.
Johnson would often work a drill with Martinez, after practice, with the snapper and holder doing their thing and Martinez kicking successive point afters, for five minutes, with no break. The drill would be in good weather, or rainy conditions.
“It was good because it created focus,” said Johnson. “Erik was so good at that kind of repetition.”
And that takes us to the long-snapper and the holder, who set up a successful kick.
“When you look back at the long snappers we’ve had here, it’s really astounding,” said Johnson. “Two of them ended up in the NFL.”
Johnson said Greg Olsen was probably the best long-snapper in school history. Greg, Chris Olsen’s middle son, is in his 13th NFL season, playing tight end with the Carolina Panthers after beginning his professional career with the Chicago Bears, in 2007.
But it wasn’t only Olsen. Ryan Neill, who had a standout special teams career at Rutgers and later in the NFL, after playing at Hills, was a long snapper for the Patriots. So were Jason Modak, who currently plays at Holy Cross, Matt Sportelli, who is on the roster at Rutgers University, Jake Schunke, who starred at Towson University, Dave Ogden, who played at Monmouth University, Joe Giampapa, Kyle Hanenberg, John Ihne, Ryan Kardux, Joe Lane and Ryan Daddurno.
Lane, a 2012 graduate of Wayne Hills, who has two state championship rings as a player, is now a coach at his alma mater. He played his college ball at Wesley College, and remembers Johnson’s influence.
“I had made the traveling team as a true freshman, because I could long snap,” said Lane. “I owe all that to Coach Johnson. I remember my first game, at East Texas Baptist, in September. It had to be 115 degrees. And there I was, playing in college. To this day, I’ll never forget it.”
The holder doesn’t get a lot of credit, but certainly has a huge role in a successful kick.
“I’ve seen Anthony Vigorito make a few tremendous grabs of a high snap, and then get it down in time for Martinez to make the kick,” said Johnson. “It’s not an easy job.”
The holder has, in essence, 3 seconds to catch the snap and place it down for the kicker, with the ball’s laces away from the kicker’s sight.
In addition to Vigorito, the holders also included Brendan Monaghan, Andrew Monaghan, Eugene Lowe, Michael Giampapa, Mike Peischl, Justin Horahan, Pete DeCicco, Shaun Salley, Pat Monaghan and Zach Zachmann.
“We always had a system here, in that we’d have two sophomore snappers and holders, two junior snappers and holders and two senior snappers and holders,” said Johnson. “It provided us depth and continuity. Sometimes, we’d have the same kicker for three years, but the snapper and holder could be different each year. It was important and something I insisted on, to have two kids, at each level, working together.”
And its not just place kicking, it’s also punting, and Wayne Hills has had some outstanding players there, too.
Tim Divers, who holds the school record for most point after attempts converted, with 157, was one of the rare players to both place kick and punt at Hills.
“Tim was an outstanding kicker and punter,” said Johnson of Divers, who went on to play at Lehigh University. “We had some kickers who tried to do both, but it’s not an easy thing. And you have to remember, most of the guys were playing multiple positions on the field, so to add another assignment isn’t easy.”
Divers also holds the school record for field goals in a game, with three in 2007, and point-afters in a single game, with nine, also in 2007. Tommy Lyons has the record for longest field goal by a Patriot, a 43-yarder, in 1998.
The punters at Hills over the years featured Brendan DeVera, Mike Hurley, J.P. Lemchak, Brendan Monaghan, Dan DeCicco, Erik Moskal, Jeff Gignac, Ray VanPeenan, Diversand James Millon.
Mike Kelly, a standout football player at Wayne Hills before playing at Fordham University, is now an assistant coach at Hills. He recalls a great season by Gignac, in 2011.
“Jeff was a tremendous punter for us,” Kelly recalled of Gignac, who went on earn a spot on the roster at Rutgers University. “He really boomed it that year. A lot of people will remember the great game he had in the state championship game (at wide receiver), against Old Tappan, but let’s not forget how good he was punting, too.”
Wayne Hills trailed Old Tappan, 12-0, at halftime of the 2011 sectional final and was playing without nine starters. Gignac scored two touchdowns in the second half, including the game winner in the final minute, in the corner of the end zone, off a pass from Kevin Olsen, as Hills rallied to win, 15-12, at MetLife Stadium.
When Johnson stepped down as a coach following the 2012 season, Mike Zaccone, who had started with Hills as a freshman coach, was elevated to the position of special teams coach by Demikoff, the new head coach.
Zaccone had played his high school football at Northern Valley/Old Tappan and was a part of that school’s first state championship team, in 1985. He then played college football at Wagner College, on Staten Island.
“It wasn’t easy, taking over for Wally,” said Zaccone of Johnson, whom many on the staff refer to as Wally. “But he and I are so close, it was an easy transition in that I wasn’t going to do things much different than the way he did. Seriously, how could you?”
The 2013 season was a transitional one, in that Olsen had retired and Demikoff was promoted to head coach. The ’13 and ’14 seasons were not typical Wayne Hills seasons, as the team struggled to 5-5 records in both years. In 2014, the Patriots failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 20 years.
In 2015, Johnson returned to the staff and he and Zaccone worked in tandem with the special teams. The program began to rebound, with the Patriots advancing to the sectional final, at MetLife Stadium. Among the key special team players that year was junior punter Brendan DeVera.
“Hands down, the best punter I ever saw,” said Zaccone, a recently retired Wayne, NJ police officer who was the Student Resource Officer at Wayne Valley High for many years. “Brendan was good enough to punt at any major college and could have punted on Sundays (NFL) one day. He was outstanding.”
In 2016, the Patriots went on to a 12-0 season and its first state title in five years. A key moment in the state championship game that season was a field goal by junior Dario Sirni.
“We’re down 17-7, to Wayne Valley,” said Zaccone. “And we’re in trouble, in the third quarter. We needed some kind of boost.”
Hills had driven into field goal range and on fourth down, Demikoff called for the field goal unit.
“I could tell Dario was a little nervous, but he was also a confident kid,” said Johnson. “I just said to him, ‘Dario, it’s like ‘around the world’, a drill we worked on in practice all the time.”
Sirni would calmly drill the field goal, from 27 yards away, to cut the Valley deficit to 17-10. And bear in mind, the kick was at MetLife Stadium, which has NFL goalposts that are tighter in diameter than high school posts.
NFL and NCAA goal posts are 18 feet, 6 inches wide while high school goal posts are 23 feet, 4 inches wide.
While Valley scored on its next possession to open a 24-10 lead, Hills rallied with a pair of fourth quarter scores to tie it, then won in overtime, 31-24.
“No question, Dario won that game for us,” said Johnson. “If he doesn’t make that kick, I don’t think we come back. I’ll tell you this much, Dario was one of the most mentally tough kickers I ever coached.”
Zaccone wasn’t concerned.
“Dario looked at me and said, ‘Coach, I got this,'” said Zaccone. “I just knew he would do it after he said that.”
That same attention to detail which went into every aspect of winning at Hills was also a key in getting the kickers prepared for the NFL style posts at Giants Stadium, and later MetLife.
“We would put up barriers around the goal posts at our field to make the posts look tighter,” said Johnson. “We needed the kids to understand the dimensions of the NFL-style goalposts.”
The kickers at Hills included Martinez, Schultz, Adamo, Divers, Sirni, Rick Pignatello, Nick Worzel, Sean McDonough, John Reiss, Peter Lyons, Tommy Lyons, Kevin Hanenberg and Maher Haghour.
The current kicker at Wayne Hills, Jordan Thiel, made an immediate impact in 2018, when he nailed all four point-after kicks as a sophomore in the season opener, at Timpview High, in Utah.
Thiel has continued to excel in 2019. The team’s punter this season, Ryan D’Argenio, has been a model of consistency. The snapper is Gabe Kuhn while the holder is Christian Puntilillo, both of whom are team captains.
Johnson would coach again in 2017, then stepped down for the 2018 season. Zaccone would coach through the 2018 season, then gave up some of his coaching responsibilities as his children got more involved with athletics. Mike’s son, also named Mike, is now playing football at Hobart College after starring at Hills and playing in the 2016 state final with a fractured leg. Zaccone has two younger daughters who are also talented athletes in soccer and lacrosse.
The new special teams guru is former Hills quarterback Mike Peischl, a 2006 grad, who guided the Patriots to a state championship as the starting signal caller in 2005 and currently has four state championship rings, two as a player and two as a coach.
Peischl, now an educator at Hills, enjoys his new role with the team.
“Honestly, when it comes to coaching specials, I can say I’ll defer to Walt Johnson,” he said with a laugh.
But Peischl appreciates what it takes to coach kickers and punters at Hills.
“Coaching the kickers is an honor,” he said. “We’ve had such great special teams for such a long time, and that’s a tribute to the work Walter and Mike have done through the years. We have always placed such a great emphasis on it, and we have had kids that have bought in to what we are trying to do on special teams.
“This year’s group is no different – (Place kicker) Jordan Thiel and (punter) Ryan (D’Argenio) are both doing a great job, and they both want to be doing it, which is probably the most important part. It’s not just them either – Gabe (Kuhn) has done a great job snapping and Christian (Puntolillo) is rock solid as the holder.
“It’s important that those guys are involved, too – that’s two captains (Kuhn and Puntolillo) who are involved in the operation. The younger guys are all in as well – it looks like we have some really good kids coming up in the kicking game that should allow us to continue to be good for the foreseeable future.”
Zaccone and Peischl both agreed that the desire to play special teams is of the highest priority.
“When it comes to kicking, punting, snapping and holding, you have to want to do it,” said Zaccone. “You can have all the talent in the world, but you have to want to be there. It’s a lot of drills, over and over. Not everyone will buy in.”
Peischl was a holder on kicks in high school and at Muhlenberg College.
“I was a holder in high school and college, so I was always involved in the operation, which maybe gives me a different perspective,” he said. “I know that small changes make a big difference when it comes to kicking the football. When I came through, we were really good in the kicking game and we had some tremendous snappers back then, like Joe Giampapa, Dave Ogden and John Ihne.
“The kicking game has always made big plays – the one I remember was against Mainland in 2002. Dave Adamo made a field goal with a few seconds left to win the game against Mainland, who was ranked in the state, and I thought the bleachers were going to come down. We also won a state title in 2004, against Demarest, because their all-state kicker missed an extra point and we made ours and won the game, 17-16.”
There weren’t many hiccups, but one that continues to rankle Johnson occurred in 1996, when Hills lost to arch rival Ramapo, 20-19, in a regular season game, in Wayne, before the usual massive crowd which accompanied that game for so many years, and still does.
“We lined up for what would have been the winning field goal, in the last seconds,” recalled Johnson. “Our guy kicked it well, and I’m telling you, that kick was good. The only ones who didn’t agree were the officials.”
The few disappointments are what make special team coaches even more diligent in their duties.
“It comes back to detail, working over and over,” said Zaccone. “You love the victories, but also remember the ones that didn’t work out. It’s what drives you.”
Johnson agreed, but admits the work does wear on a coach after a while.
“It’s a lot of time, and it’s a great experience, especially with the success we’ve had here over the years,” said ‘The Czar’. “But I know this, it’s good to be away from the day-to-day. I enjoy coming to the games and Wayne (Demikoff) always welcomes my input, but it takes a toll.
“It’s great to see the special teams doing well, especially the kicking game.”
With the regular season concluded, Wayne Hills football coach Wayne Demikoff reminded his team shortly after a 51-14 victory over Indian Hills that every game could now be its last.
“This is it,” said Demikoff. “The regular season is over. We can play as many as four more games, but it’s up to you, now. We’ve been here before. Do you have it in you for four more weeks of practice? It starts with next week, and one game at a time.”
Wayne Hills (6-3) won five of its last six games in the regular season, with the only loss a 35-28 setback, in overtime, to undefeated Ramapo. The win over Indian Hills clinched the Freedom Red Division title for the second straight year. The Patriots have won three conference titles over the past four seasons.
Wayne Hills will host Wayne Valley (7-2) in the first round of the North 2, Group 4 playoffs, on Nov. 8, at Hills, as it seeks an 11th state sectional championship. The Patriots got the home game because it defeated Wayne Valley in the regular season, 14-7.
Hills leads the all-time series with Valley, 14-2, which includes a 4-1 advantage in the playoffs.
“It’s always a tough game with Wayne Valley,” said Demikoff. “They’re a really good team, no doubt. We’ll work hard and prepare for what should be a very exciting game on Friday night.”
Versus Indian Hills, Wayne Hills was led by senior quarterback Mike Casasanta, who rushed for 99 yards on five carries and scored three touchdowns.
With a big lead in the second half, Demikoff was able to use some of his younger players. Ben Contella. a sophomore, rushed for a team-high 124 yards and freshman quarterback Tyler Demikoff threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Joe Daskus.
It was Demikoff’s first-ever varsity appearance and the scoring pass came on his first varsity throw.
“Yeah, it was nice to see my son play,” said Tyler’s dad, Wayne Demikoff. “It was different, for sure. Tyler has been playing on the freshman team, but with some injuries to our back up varsity quarterbacks, I knew Tyler could get some playing time against Indian Hills, if we had a big enough lead in the second half.”
Also playing well for Hills was starting tailback Chris Brutofsky, who gained 118 yards on the ground and Dan Gerard, who scored a rushing touchdown.
Jordan Thiel converted six point-after kicks and also added a field goal.
Injuries have been a problem for Hills in the late stretch of the season, but Demikoff is hoping a lot of the players who were held out of the game with Indian Hills will be ready for a big week of practice.
“I wanted to give as many kids as possible some rest last Friday,” said Demikoff. “I think we’re coming along, but know we have to amp it up, too.”
The Belleville-Passaic football rivalry might have lost a little luster, but when the teams meet for the first time since 2009, on Nov. 7, in a NJSIAA cross over game, there should be some excitement in the stands, at Belleville’s Doc Ellis Field.
The Buccaneers (7-2) are looking to close out its best season, ironically since 1982, with a win over the improving Indians, who come to town with a 5-3 record. Passaic still has a regular season game to play, on Thanksgiving Day, against Clifton, and has a chance for its first above. 500 season since a 6-5 campaign in 1998, with a win against Belleville and/or Clifton. (There have been four 5-5 seasons for Passaic, since 1998).
In a once-proud rivalry, this game will be the first matchup since 2007 in which both teams meet with winning records. In that season, the Bucs clinched a playoff berth, and improved to 5-3, with an exciting 19-18 victory over Passaic, which came in with a 5-2 record, on Nov. 2, 2007. That was also the last season Belleville qualified for a playoff berth.
Belleville leads the all-time series with Passaic, dating back to 1950, 15-14. The teams met regularly from 1968-1988, with some exciting games, especially those classics from 1977-1987. During that span, Passaic won 6 of the 11 games.
Among the huge Indians wins in that era was a 7-0 thriller at Municipal Stadium, in 1981, when Melvin Ross scored a second quarter touchdown and Belleville almost tied it late in the fourth quarter, before the Indians stopped the drive at its 5 yard line in the game’s losing seconds. Both teams came into that game with 3-0 records. Passaic went on to an 11-0 mark and the first of three straight state championships, in the playoff era, while the ’81 Bucs finished 7-2, with both its losses to eventual 11-0 teams.
Passaic also won a 28-7 game that was much closer than the score indicated, in 1983, en route to another 11-0 season.
In 1979, Belleville rallied from a halftime deficit to defeat Passaic, 26-14, at Municipal Stadium. Passaic had an incredible quarterback during that era, in Mark Stevens. He was the best I ever saw at the position in high school. Ralph DiPaquale had a huge interception in the third quarter that turned the game around.
The Bucs also had a big win in 1980, 13-9, at Passaic. The Indians had a freshman running back named Craig Heyward, who would soon be dubbed ‘Ironhead’.
And, of course, there was the greatest game I ever saw, in 1982, at Municipal Stadium, when the huge underdog Bucs won a 3-2 classic. That was a game in which not one, but three players eventually made it to the NFL. (Belleville’s David Grant and Passaic’s Tyronne Stowe and Heyward).
Belleville’s head coach, John Senesky, and his counterpart at Passaic, Tom Elsasser, had each instituted a weight training program for their teams in the late 1970’s. At the time, the ‘weight room’ wasn’t what it is today, and the training made a huge difference for both programs, elevating them to much higher standards.
After the 1988 game, which Passaic won, 27-0, on opening day, the teams didn’t meet for 11 years, and then waited seven more years to play again. The Bucs and Indians then met for four straight seasons (2006-2009), but haven’t played since ’09.
Belleville has already clinched its first overall winning season in 29 years. It won its biggest road game, arguably since 1980, when it defeated Millburn, on Nov. 1. The team’s 5-0 start this year maybe the best of all time, in program history.
Since becoming the Buccaneers in 1978, the team has had two eight victory seasons, in 1979 and 1982 and a nine win season, in 1980.
Honestly, it would be nice to see these two renew a regular rivalry. The towns are just a few miles apart, and both programs are on an upsurge. Would be nice to see.
The Belleville High boys’ soccer team put together a very good season, finishing 12-6-1 and earning a third seed in the state sectional tournament.
Belleville won its first round sectional game, defeating Orange in a thriller, 3-2, at Doc Ellis Field, on Oct. 29. Kevin Manjarrez and Kevin Riera scored goals for Belleville while Fernando Fajardo registered an assist.
Belleville goalie Fernando Pesantez was brilliant in goal, with 10 saves, including a few brilliant stops from close range.
The victory moved the Bucs into the sectional quarters, on Nov. 1, where it lost a 1-0 game to West Morris Central, also at Doc Ellis Field.
On the gridiron, the Buccaneers won its biggest game since 2008, defeating a strong Millburn squad, 15-14, in Millburn, on Nov. 1.
Belleville improved to 7-2, as it closed out its best regular season since 1981. Head coach Jermain Johnson and his team will now see if it qualifies for the program’s first playoff berth since 2007, in North Group 4.
The official playoff bracket will be made available on Nov. 3, by noon.
The Bucs have already assured itself the program’s first overall winning season since 1990, when that team finished 6-3. If Belleville doesn’t qualify for the post-season, it will still play a NJSIAA crossover game later this week. A victory there would give the team an eighth win for the first time since 1982.
Belleville coach Jermain Johnson was obviously elated with his team’s win at Millburn.
“Our kids really wanted it,” said Johnson. “We were up against a very good team in Millburn, and we knew it would be a challenge, especially on the road. I’m really proud of these guys.”
Johnson hopes a 7-2 record, along with some quality wins over Barringer and Millburn, can elevate his team to the playoffs.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” said Johnson. “It’s hard to just look at the numbers and say we’re in, or not. But I know this, these kids have earned a chance to be in the playoffs. I’m really hoping we’ll get good news on Sunday.”
Chris Freid, a senior captain, clinched the victory. After scoring a touchdown, on a touchdown pass from Anthony Cecere to Zier Stevens, the Bucs trailed 14-13, in the game’s closing seconds. Johnson opted to go for 2 points and Freid, a lineman, took a handoff and crossed the goal line for the winning points.
“There was no question that I was going for two points there,” said Johnson. “We didn’t want to go to overtime.”
Millburn, which was in position to clinch the final playoff berth in North, Group 4, made a valiant attempt to score on the final play.
“It was almost like the ‘Music City Miracle’,” said Johnson, of the 1999 Tennessee Titans improbable win over Buffalo in the AFC playoffs. “Millburn was lateraling the ball all over the place. But we hung on.”
It was the biggest win for the program since 2008, when Belleville defeated Nutley, 22-12, on Thanksgiving Day, at Doc Ellis Field, to clinch a 5-4 regular season mark.
It’s been a good season for the Passaic Valley cross country program. The final phase of the season commences on Nov. 9, when the Hornets compete in the state sectionals, at nearby Garret Mountain.
If any of the runners qualify, they will move on to the Group 3 championship, on Nov. 16.
Head coach Walter Bleuler has seen steady improvement from all the runners, with a good core of underclassmen that should continue the program’s ascent into 2020.
“As the season winds down, the Hornet Harriers are proud of this season’s roaring success,” said Bleuler. “Katharine Cottone had a phenomenal season, as the Big North Independence and Passaic County freshman champion.”
The Hornets saw some major improvements on times, as well as earning two wins at an invitational meet, according to Bleuler. Cottone was scheduled to run her first 5K race of the season, at the Frosh/JV Championship at Darlington Park, on Halloween. She’ll then compete in varsity competition, at the sectionals, on Nov. 9.
“The backbone of every team is the JV group,” said Bleuler. “This year the top seven spots on the varsity team has been a constant battle. Our JV squad has performed very well, and have all ran times that could easily put them on the top seven. The JV crew has been led by Edward Bennett, Eduardo Rodas, Maurico Manaya and Jesse Spadaccini, who earned the top seven spot in our last invitational meet before our conference meet.”
At the Big North Championship, the boys JV squad placed second and then took third at the Passaic County Championship. The Hornets were led by Bennett, Rodas, Zakaria Dehan and Justin Idolfonso.
“The boys team has been on a roll, seeing success at major invitational meets, as well as in the league and county meets,” said Bleuler. “At the Shore Coaches invitational we placed 10th out of 27 teams, which is big at such a huge meet.”
Elliot Whitney led the Hornets to a respectable finish in the Big North Conference meet, finishing seventh. Whitney’s effort earned him First-Team, All-Conference accolades.
At the Passaic County championship meet, PV finished fifth overall, the team’s best performance in the counties in 11 years. Whitney led the way, taking 14th overall and earned Second-Team, All-County.
Also at the county meet, Jessier Soriano, Steven Garrity and Akram Lechguar all placed in the top 30, which earned them a medal.