The amount of offense the Woodbridge and Colonia high school football teams lost to graduation can be measured, incredibly, in miles not yards.
Colonia’s Greg Jones and Woodbridge’s Kyle Anderson rushed and passed, respectively, for a combined 2.97 miles or single-season school records exceeding more than 2,000 yards apiece last season.
In their absence, both teams have stepped up defensively, giving their offenses a chance to find an identity.
How each side responds will be the key in tonight’s Home News Tribune Greater Middlesex Conference Game of the Week at Priscoe Stadium.
The Patriots (4-0), ranked No. 7 in the Home News Tribune Top 10, have yielded a league-best 13 points this season, while Monroe has been the only team to score a touchdown against 10th-ranked Woodbridge’s (3-1) defense.
“If you look at both defenses and what they have done thus far, I would tend to agree,” Woodbridge coach Bill Nyers said of tonight’s game being a defensive battle.
“Obviously our strong point thus far has been defensively, and when you look at Colonia, they’ve played some real good defense in the games they’ve played so far. That’s really both teams’ M.O. right now.”
Colonia appears to be ahead offensively with incumbent quarterback Trent Barneys remaining a dangerous threat to run or pass and Sam Pero emerging as the Greater Middlesex Conference’s second-leading rusher with 541 yards (just eight yards behind Carteret’s Jerod Johnson).
Woodbridge, meanwhile, has relied on a stable of running backs to amass 753 rushing yards while quarterback James Rueb continues to efficiently manage the offense.
“Both teams are going to have to throw the ball a little bit and complete some passes to even things up,” Colonia coach Ben LaSala opined.
Nyers said, “I don’t know if I agree with that. In my opinion, field position is more of a key than anything.”
Colonia opened the year with impressive offensive showings, scoring four touchdowns per game in victories over J.F. Kennedy and St. Joseph.
But the Patriots struggled in the red zone and hurt themselves with penalties each of the last two weeks, rebounding from a 3-0 halftime deficit to defeat New Brunswick 21-3 and overcoming more than 200 yards in flags for a 6-0 victory over Perth Amboy.
“We’ve been leaving a lot of points on the field the last couple of weeks,” LaSala said. “We have to put points on the board that we didn’t get.”
LaSala said Colonia, playing the first home night game in school history, “got lost in the moment” against Perth Amboy last weekend.
“Not taking anything away from Perth Amboy,” he said, “but we’ve got young kids. It was like going to Disney World for the first time. The lights were on. We got away from focusing on what we should be focusing on.”
Colonia and Woodridge – the series dates back to 1967 with the Barrons leading 22-19-4 – played on Thanksgiving Day from the 1990s until last year. The contest was moved to midseason with Woodbridge dropping from the Red Division to join the Patriots in the White Division, where the teams are battling for position in the standings and power points (both schools are in the Central Group IV playoff section).
“The best part of the game is it means something now,” said LaSala, noting last year the squads met following NJSIAA playoff losses. “It’s where it should be – in the middle of the season.”
Linebackers C.J. Cimilluca (11.3 tackles per game) and Pete Melendez (6.0 tackles per game) anchor a Colonia defense that has recorded 12 sacks but created just three turnovers.
Woodbridge, led by Jesse Lammers (8.3 tackles per game) and Manny Santiago (6.5 tackles per game), has a +6 in the takeaway department with five interceptions and six fumble recoveries.
Despite returning just four players with significant varsity experience, the Barrons find themselves in contention for a division championship.
“To me,” Nyers said, “experience is very important. Having said that, never underestimate the determination and drive of a group of players. Our current group – this is their time.
“They’ve sat and waited the last two years. Now this is their opportunity.”