Pent-up emotion built over the last rocky seasons by a veteran Watchung Hills’ team was unleashed Friday night with a 31-9 romp over Warren Hills, something they hadn’t done to a league opponent in years.
Senior back/cornerback Anthony Prus — the Courier News Player of the Week — had his second straight impressive outing, running out of a new “spinner” offense. He rushed for three touchdowns, a career-high 225 yards on 18 carries and forced a fumble from his cornerback post.
Prus is among a group of three-year starters who’ve experienced back-to-back seasons of 2-8 and 1-9. Friday night’s win, in fact, was the Warriors’ first against a Skyland Conference school since 2008 when Prus and teammates were in the eighth grade. The Mid-State 38 is a football-only league.
“These kids have been banged around the last couple of years, so it was good to go out and do it against somebody else,” said head coach Marc Crisafi.
One element the Warriors are counting on this year is the leadership of more than 20 seniors. Players like Prus, wide receiver Frank Mercuri, linemen Anthony Rizzolo and Frank Vrindten, wide receiver Andrew Gildenberg and quarterback Tom Giaimo.
The offensive line of senior center Matt Schenk, junior guard Anthony Carbajal and senior guard Anthony Rizzolo, senior tackle Ryan Vrindten and junior tackle Tom Loeffler and senior tight end Frank Urso helped the Warriors run for 340 yards on 41 carries.
“It’s not hard to gain that kind of yardage with those kinds of linemen,” Prus said.
Prus ran for a touchdown and 103 yards on 13 carries a week ago Friday in a 17-14 season-opening loss at defending North Section 2 Group III champ Cranford. A couple of touchdowns called back on penalties were just part of the chippy game. The Warriors led 14-6 at the half. But the outcome could have been called a moral booster compared to some of the losses the Warriors have experienced recently.
“Two years ago we reached our break or bend point,” said the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Prus. “We took our beatings, but we got a step closer. This year we want to be role models for the players who are coming up. We’ve got experienced players.”
Prus and the rest of the offense have embraced the new offense coordinator Tony Maglione brought with him to his alma mater this year. The offense is similar to one run by former Watchung Hills’ coach Jim Benedict. He was in his last year as head coach in 2009, so the freshman team also used it. The Junior Warrior Pop Warner team also used it when Prus was in the eighth grade.
During the off season, Prus said he worked on getting stronger, working to be tougher for defenders to drag him down.
“Anthony’s a real competitor,” said Crisafi, in his third season with the Warriors. “He’s one of those kids who just have it. His football IQ is pretty high. He’ll play whatever position you put him in.”
Deception is what the offense works, and the Warriors have come to appreciate it.
“We have two backs behind the center, myself and Tommy,” said Prus. “We can run or pass. Tommy can run or spin, hand it to me and our wingback Andrew Keller. But we can also pass from it.”
Friday night the Warriors are out to win their second straight since they beat Westfield and Plainfield in week two and three of the 2009 season. The Warriors begin their Mid-State 38 Watchung Division schedule against North Hunterdon (1-1) at home.
“This year there’s a sense of family, and you want to do the best for your family and not let them down,” Prus said.