In 1984, East Stroudsburg University had a solid defensive unit, spearheaded by a linebacker named Kevin Hennelly and a defensive end named Chris Hull.
“Kevin was a really good linebacker,” Hull said. “He was one of the best linebackers around at the time. I am a couple years younger. I was a sophomore when he was a senior.”
A few years later, Hennelly and Hull ended up on the same coaching staff at Cranford High School. The two became very close friends.
“He won’t admit it, but we’re good friends,” Hennelly said.
“I was in his wedding party and he was in mine,” Hull said.
In recent years, the two friends have had to put their relationship on the backburner, considering Hennelly is the head coach at West Morris and Hull heads the program at Morristown.
“There’s no question that there’s something special about West Morris and Morristown,” said Hull, who will lead the 1-2 Colonials into action against the 2-1 Wolfpack Saturday afternoon at Morristown. “It’s a great rivalry. There’s a different intensity. This isn’t any week. It’s a West Morris week. It’s as intense as we’ve had in long while.”
“I think a lot of the teams in our conference are in the same boat,” Hennelly said. “There’s a lot of parity, so there are no weeks off. A lot of our games can go either way and they come down to the fourth quarter. It’s not going to be any different with Morristown.”
The two old friends have met nine times since Hull took over at Morristown in 2005. The Colonials have won five times and the Wolfpack were victorious in four. The two programs have dominated the NJSIAA North 2, Group III bracket in recent years, with West Morris winning state titles in 2009 and last year and Morristown taking the trophy in 2010.
The last two meetings have resulted in one-sided results, with the Wolfpack winning 42-13 in 2011 and again 35-8 last year.
But Hennelly realizes that this year’s get-together will be much different, considering the Colonials’ dramatic improvement over last year.
“They are significantly better,” Hennelly said. “I think they changed a lot of the things they do. The kids have experience now. I think they’re playing with a little chip on their shoulders now because of what happened last year and that helps. They didn’t have the success they usually have (a 2-7-1 record), but they’re playing everyone tough this year. They’re a good team.”
Hennelly believes that the Colonials are much stronger defensively.
“Traditionally, they’ve been strong on defense,” Hennelly said. “Last year was an abnormality. They do fly to the ball defensively. We have to do a few things differently to loosen them up a little, but I anticipate this to be somewhat of a low scoring game.”
Hull knows that his team has improved leaps and bounds since last year.
“That absolutely just was not Morristown football,” Hull said. “The kids knew that. They still feel like they have a lot to prove and get the respect they want throughout the county. They’re working very hard to get that respect.”
The Colonials have been swarming to the football every game, allowing just three touchdowns all season. They are coming off a solid 21-3 win over Chatham, but Hull was not pleased with the effort.
“We weren’t happy,” Hull said. “That’s where the bar has been raised. Coach Don Zak (the defensive coordinator) said that we still have a long way to go.”
Hull knows that facing the Wolfpack is a tough chore.
“With what they do offensively, if we’re not prepared for it, they can score 50,” Hull said. “You have to play your best against them. You can’t fall asleep. We have to be ready for anything. We’ve done a lot of film study to get ready. We need to play our best game in order to contain them.”
The Wolfpack, coming off a solid 21-10 win over Roxbury last week, has been getting solid performances in the backfield from Connor Thompson and Javier Murray. Thompson had 170 yards last week.
“Thompson has been our workhorse,” Hennelly said. “He has to get the ball 15 times. He runs hard. Javier had three touchdowns in the game against Morris Knolls.”
Hennelly has been keeping his son, Kevin, strictly with the defense, because he has been suffering almost every game with leg cramps.
“We’ve done everything we can with him to help treat the cramps,” Hennelly said.
Kevin Sears and Rob Eichelsdoerfer are doing a great job in the secondary, with Jake Butkus and Ryan Pruss anchoring the defensive line.
The Colonials are getting strong play from linebacker Justin Danielson, safety Jordan Powell and inspirational linebacker Freddy Ruiz.
“Danielson is flying to the ball and really stepped up his game,” Hull said. “Powell is a real nice athlete who has bailed us out several times. It seems like Freddy has been with the program for five or six years. He gets everyone fired up. He’s the guy who organizes lunchtime meetings.”
Hull said that his team realizes the importance of the game, because teams don’t usually recover from 1-3 starts.
“They all know what’s at stake,” Hull said. “It’s a great challenge.”
Here’s a look at this weekend’s other games:
Boonton (2-1) at Hopatcong (1-2): Safety Josh Corporan looks to continue his solid play for the Bombers, who have already matched last year’s win total. The Chiefs have a high-powered offense with QB Ryan Clarke and RB Johann Lara.
Kinnelon (2-1) at Butler (3-0): This has evolved into one of the best rivalries in the county, thanks to the emergence of the Colts. Liam Nelson is a solid running back for the Colts. Ryan Cirillo had 185 yards in the Bulldogs’ latest win.
Dover (1-2) at Hanover Park (2-1): The Tigers got 252 yards and three touchdowns from workhorse George Scalley in their crucial win over Jefferson. The Hornets, led by gritty quarterback Matt Hoberman, recorded their biggest win in recent years by snapping Madison’s 39-game winning streak last week.
Parsippany (0-3) at Jefferson (2-1): The Red Hawks have been getting solid running from Andrew Massefski, but still haven’t been able to get coach Flip McGuane his first win. J.R. Rees has to get the Falcons back on track after their loss to Dover last week.
Pope John (3-0) at Montville (1-2): Chester resident Sonny Abramson has thrown for five touchdowns in each of the Lions’ last two victories. Gunner Entholt is a solid two-way player for the Mustangs.
North Warren (2-1) at Pequannock (1-2): The Golden Panthers, led by tough-as-nails running back A.J. Adamczyk, will try to control the line of scrimmage against a very formidable North Warren squad.
Parsippany Hills (3-0) at Roxbury (2-1): The Vikings might have revenge on their mind, having lost a tough 14-7 decision a year ago. Brandon Katzenberger has been brilliant at quarterback with Tommy Bluj doing a little of everything. The Gaels have junior Peter Bartek to call the signals in this matchup, one of the best of the weekend’s slate.
Whippany Park (1-2) at Wallkill Valley (0-3): The Wildcats have to make the long sojourn to Sussex County and Wantage with the idea that they have a chance to even their record. Mike Poulter has been doing a little bit of everything for the Wildcats.
Morris Catholic (0-3) at Mountain Lakes (3-0): The Crusaders, with QB Joe Rosenski calling the shots, will look to get off the losing side, but it won’t be easy, especially with the Herd’s tough defensive approach. Zach Kuehm is a monster in the middle of the line. He’s been dominating games.
Sparta (3-0) at Morris Hills (1-2): The Spartans have a solid squad, with LB Randy May leading the way. The Scarlet Knights have been a little banged up, but RB Jose Delgado is one tough customer with the ball.
Mount Olive (1-2) at Morris Knolls (2-1): Zack Heeman is a dominant two-way player on the line for the Marauders, who have to try to handle the Golden Eagles’ veer option, with QB Joe Leonardis and RB Mike Marra leading the way.
Randolph (1-2) at Mendham (1-2): The Rams and Minutemen face off in a crucial game for both in terms of conference and state playoff chances. Randolph will look to senior leader Sean Murphy, while the Minutemen have talented QB Jack Horan.
Chatham (0-3) at Delbarton (2-1): The Cougars, led by senior Scott Lynch, will look to get coach Jason Izsa his first win. It probably won’t come this week, considering the Green Wave, led by Matt Oplinger, is the top team in the county.