Joe Lusardi isn’t one to get out the calculator, slide rule and mathematical theories to determine the NJSIAA football power point system, determining which teams get into the postseason and which do not.
“My assistant coaches know that I tend to stay away from most of that,” said Lusardi, the veteran Randolph coach. “They’re the mathematicians. I have no idea. I like the old-fashioned way of four teams getting in. That wasn’t hard to figure out. Now, the way it is, I can’t figure it all out. I just wait and let someone tell me when we’re playing and who we’re playing and I’ll go from there.”
However, when the Rams travel to face Parsippany Hills on Saturday afternoon, it will be a meeting of huge playoff ramifications.
Not so much for the two teams qualifying in their respective brackets. The 4-2-1 Rams look solid in the NJSIAA North 1 Group IV bracket, while the 5-2 Vikings have already clinched a spot in North 2 Group III.
But the two teams are still in the hunt for a higher seed in their respective pairing and are aiming for a possible home game in the first round of the playoffs in two weeks.
In fact, the winner of this NJAC-National showdown will clinch a home game in the states. The loser will more than likely have to travel for the first postseason matchup.
However, that idea doesn’t factor in Lusardi’s way of thinking. He has only one item in mind.
“Parsippany Hills beat us the last two years,” Lusardi said. “That’s enough motivation for me.”
Sure enough, the Vikings won the last two meetings, taking a 33-23 decision in 2011 and a thrilling 27-21 double overtime win last year that was played on the Saturday night prior to superstorm Sandy’s arrival.
Because of the storm and the subsequent postponements of school and all athletic activities, the Vikings’ huge overtime win was almost an afterthought — except in the eyes of Lusardi.
“We don’t forget about that one,” Lusardi said. “That was a rough one to swallow.”
Parsippany Hills got off to a tremendous start, winning its first five games. But the Vikings suffered a lopsided loss to Delbarton two weeks ago and last weekend dropped a heartbreaking 22-21 decision to West Morris in the closing seconds.
So Vikings head coach Dave Albano is just hopeful that his team can find the groove they had for the first five weeks and forget about the setbacks the last two weeks.
“At this stage, we just want to win a game after losing two in a row,” Albano said. “We have to get back on track. We were up, 14-0, last week and had a chance to put it away. But West Morris came back and that was tough to swallow. We just had to learn from it and move on.”
Albano is impressed with the way the Rams have been playing lately. After the 38-38 tie with Mendham, the Rams have rolled off three straight impressive wins against Chatham, Morristown and Roxbury, the latter being a 31-3 handling of the Gaels in their big rivalry game last Friday night.
“Their two losses are to Pope John and Delbarton,” Albano said. “They’re doing so many different things offensively, throwing more than I can remember. They have a quarterback (Connor Logoyda) who can throw and they have two kids (Sean Murphy and Brennan Corcoran) who can line up at either tight end or wide receiver. They are spreading the field from that double tight end set and that gives you a lot of problems. It’s not your normal Randolph football team.”
Lusardi likes using the two tight end formation.
“It’s very tough to defend,” Lusardi said. “I like it because of the run, but it also opens up other things. It gives us a little more balanced attack. We always had it, but we’re just using it more this year.”
Much like the New England Patriots did last year with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
“Just don’t put me in the same class with Bill Belichick,” Lusardi laughed. “He knows a little more football than I do.”
Lusardi realizes his team is playing much better than they did when they started the season.
“We’re getting there,” Lusardi said. “Every game, we have weak moments. It’s like they tend to zone out a little, but we’re coming along and getting better. We weren’t used to giving up all those points like we did against Pope John, Delbarton and Mendham.”
But the Rams have surrendered only 22 points in their last three games. Middle linebacker Anthony Santo, outside linebacker Brett Gundy, cornerback Dan Limone and Corcoran at safety are big reasons for the Randolph defensive surge.
Lusardi also credited kicker/punter Frank Raggo, who has won the battle of field position in each of the last three weeks.
“He’s been with me for four years, so he’s been through the wars,” Lusardi said of Raggo. “He’s been keeping us in games.”
Lusardi has been impressed with the Vikings’ offensive production, keyed by quarterback Brendan Katzenberger and receiver Tommy Bluj. The Vikings have been bolstered by the return of running back Angelo Gallego from an early season injury.
“We have to control the ball,” Albano said. “That’s exactly what happened last week. West Morris controlled the ball on us in the second half. We can’t allow that to happen again.”
“Katzenberger is an excellent quarterback,” Lusardi said. “They’re going to challenge us. They also have a nice defense.”
The Vikings’ defense is spearheaded by Temple-bound defensive tackle Michael Dogbe, who continues to make plays all over the field.
“They’re a good football team,” Albano said. “We’re going to need to play a very good game in order to have a chance to beat them.”
But it’s a team that has won three straight facing a team that’s dropped two in a row.
“I’ve been more of a psychologist this week than a coach,” Albano said. “Our confidence has been shaken a bit by the two losses.”
And after the dust clears late Saturday afternoon, one of these teams will know for sure if they’re at home for the first round of the state playoffs — maybe longer.
Here’s a look at the rest of this weekend’s schedule:
Butler (6-1) at Hopatcong (5-2): A battle of two playoff-bound teams with a lot of offensive firepower, with the Bulldogs featuring QB Glenn Reger and RB Ryan Cirillo and the Chiefs countering with QB Ryan Clarke and RB Johann Lara. The winner of this game has an inside track to a first-round home game in North 1 Group I. It could very well be that these two teams meet again in two weeks.
Chatham (0-7) at Roxbury (2-5): The Cougars, led by Kyle McGeough, are still looking for their first win of the season and the first win for head coach Jason Izsa. The Gaels are struggling, but see good things from young QB Grant Dixon.
Dover (4-3) at Lenape Valley (4-3): Here’s a game with gigantic playoff ramifications. The surging Tigers, winners of three straight, will look to RB George Scalley (three straight games of 200-plus yards) and QB James Quiles (303 yards passing last week) to seal a North 2 Group II berth, while the Patriots, losers of two straight, try desperately to keep their state playoff streak alive.
Morris Hills (3-4) at High Point (2-5): The Scarlet Knights, led by RB Jose Delgado and do-everything Joe Bencel, will look to build on their current two-game winning streak.
Hoboken (5-2) at Jefferson (6-1): The Red Wings of Hudson County, the defending North 2 Group I state champs, lambasted the Falcons, 55-0, last year. J.R. Reese and Kyle Neushatz will try to use that loss as motivation as ungracious hosts this weekend.
Kinnelon (3-4) at North Warren (5-2): The Colts will hope that QB Kyle Presti can turn their recent troubles around against the Patriots, who are playing for playoff seeding.
Parsippany (1-6) at Newton (3-4): The Red Hawks, coming off their big win over Sussex Tech, will look to RBs Andrew Masseffski and Sheldon Ealy to continue the winning ways against the Braves, who have been a tough squad all season.
Vernon (0-7) at Montville (1-6): Something’s got to give, as the Mustangs, losers of six straight take on the winless Vikings, who almost came back to catch Morris Hills last weekend.
Whippany Park (2-5) at Boonton (3-4): The Wildcats look to get back on the winning track after last week’s setback against North Warren. The Bombers look to Josh Corporan to make the defensive plays from his safety slot.
Hanover Park (5-2) at Hackettstown (1-6): Hornets LB Cody Niedzinski has been stellar making plays, as Hanover Park shoots for a home game in North 2 Group II. QB Matt Hoberman has returned from injury to guide the Hornets.
Morris Catholic (1-6) at Pequannock (2-5): The Crusaders, led by RBs Steve Lahoe and Wayne Patterson, will look to control the ball against the Golden Panthers, who have QB Tim Horgan playing well of late.
Pope John (7-0) at Mount Olive (3-4): The Lions look to lock up the NJAC-American Division championship with a win. QB Sonny Abramson, the Chester native who leads the state in touchdown passes, leads the way for the Lions. For the Marauders, WRAnthony Verrone has become a nice receiving target for QB Alec Oriolo.
Delbarton (6-1) at West Morris (5-2): One of the top matchups of the weekend, with the Green Wave, paced by QB Giuseppe Bevacqua and top target Matt Oplinger, travel to the mist and fog of Washington Township and the tough Wolfpack, paced by RB Connor Thompson. Both teams are fighting for higher seeds in the state playoffs.
Madison (4-2) at Kittatinny (4-3): It’s do-or-die for the three-time defending North 2, Group II state champs, as the Dodgers, with QB A.J. Schmitz and RB Pat Zimmerman (163 yards, three TDs last week) travel to Sussex County to take on the Cougars, battling for a spot in the North 1 Group II playoffs. Madison desperately needs a win to get in.
Hamden Hall of Connecticut (4-2) at Morristown-Beard (5-2): The Crimson, playing in their final season as an independent, welcomes the Connecticut private school having a solid season. Matt Rella returned last week to rush for 181 yards and two TDs in the Crimson’s heartbreaking 36-35 loss to Immaculate Conception of Montclair last week.
Sparta (6-1) at Morris Knolls (5-2): One of the weekend’s top games, pitting the Spartans and Randy May against the Golden Eagles and the “Mike and Mike” show, namely RBs Mike Sweeney and Mike Marra. Both teams are already in the state playoffs, so seeding is in play here.
Wallkill Valley (1-6) at Mountain Lakes (7-0): The Herd will look to clinch their fifth straight NJAC Independence Division championship at home, with RB Christian Cuccinello leading the way.
Morristown (2-5) at Mendham (3-3-1): Both teams still have hopes of North 2 Group IV playoff berths, with the Minutemen currently fifth and Colonials seventh in the power point standings.