New heights

New heights

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New heights

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Just two weeks ago, Jefferson head coach Joe Mattessich had questions about his team and the direction in which the Falcons were headed towards.

Not anymore.

The Falcons have posted consecutive impressive victories over Hanover Park (37-17) and three-time defending NJSIAA North 2, Group II state champs Madison (32-12) last weekend to improve to 5-1 overall.

The wins have catapulted the Falcons into first place in the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference-Freedom Division standings. The wins have also given Jefferson 85 power points, which is good for third place in the latest NJSIAA North 1, Group III standings.

Needless to say, Mattessich feels a lot better about his team now than he did two weeks ago.

“Those wins were really big for us,” Mattessich said. “Both of those teams are very good, good programs. It was our turn to turn on the switch. They heard the calling and knew they had to pick up the pace.”

The biggest reason for the Falcons’ recent surge has been the brilliant play of senior quarterback J.R. Reese, who has run and thrown for more than 100 yards in each of the last two wins.

In the win last Friday night against perennial state power Madison, Reese rushed for 233 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns and threw for 220 yards and two more scores. Reese, the son of New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese, is playing like a true Player of the Year candidate.

“He’s a fourth-year senior,” Mattessich said of the younger Reese. “He’s doing the things he has to do. He’s taken on the responsibility of the whole team. It’s to the point where he tells me to give him the ball and I do. J.R. calls it as he sees it and then he’s off to the races.”

Mattessich said that Reese is playing like a true college prospect.

“No doubt,” Mattessich said. “I would think others have noticed that J.R. is just a fine athlete. He does the things you just can’t coach. He’s comfortable now with what he’s doing back there. He’s like a man amongst boys.”

Mattessich also likes the production he’s getting from running back Kyle Neuschatz, who had 97 yards in the win against Madison.

“He’s been getting to the outside,” Mattessich said. “He’s been doing a great job.”

Vin Ginefra at tight end and Vinny Cannarozzi at tackle have been playing well for the Falcons.

Jason Valentini has returned to action after an injury and has been solid at defensive end.

“He’s made our defense more secure,” Mattessich said.

Another key to the Falcons’ success has been their overall health. In the past few years, the Falcons were devastated by injury.

“Being healthy means a lot,” Mattessich said. “Everyone is healthy and everyone giving 100 percent.”

Mattessich knows that the Falcons control their own fate in the NJAC-Freedom race. The Falcons have two league games remaining against Kittatinny and Hackettstown. Win both and they have their first league championship since 1992 in the old Sussex County Interscholastic League.

“If we go out and play like we did the last two games, I think the boys can do it,” Mattessich said.

Mattessich said that a goal would be to get a home game in the state playoffs, so they have to finish among the top four in the bracket.

Whenever a Jefferson team does well, there’s always the quick comparison to the last state champion, the 2008 team that won the North 1, Group II crown.

“It’s easy to make comparisons, but this is a totally different team,” Mattessich said. “But we do have a lot of talent like that team did. The kids are the ones who make you look good.”

Breaking the slide

It wasn’t easy for the Crusaders of Morris Catholic to endure the first five games of the season, all of which were losses.

“We were close in the first three games,” veteran Morris Catholic head coach Greg Lusardi said. “I thought we had a chance to win those games (Boonton, Whippany Park and Kinnelon) but we didn’t. We then faced the best two teams (Butler and Mountain Lakes) in the league. We definitely needed a win to validate their hard work.”

So last Friday night, the Crusaders traveled to Sussex County to face Wallkill Valley.

“I thought we had a shot,” Lusardi said.

Sure enough, the Crusaders posted a shutout, winning 24-0 to break the five-game losing streak.

“I thought the key to the game was the way we played defensively,” Lusardi said. “We talked about facing a tough offense that’s more complicated than most. It was a tremendous effort defensively.”

Senior defensive end Pat Vidal and junior linebacker Steve Lahoe had excellent games for the Crusaders.

“Pat is an exceptional football player,” Lusardi said. “Steve was up and down the line of scrimmage and was responsible for the quarterback in the option. He was making a lot of plays.”

The secondary, led by senior defensive back Justin Connolly and junior safety Connor Fitzpatrick, also made their share of plays to help with the shutout.

The offensive line, led by Vidal and guards Mike Masotti and Matt MacMillan, helped the Crusaders gain more than 350 yards on the ground.

“Getting a win motivates you, no question,” Lusardi said. “We’re real excited about the win and we hope to build on it. I feel good about our improvement and I’m confident we will have more success.”

The Crusaders face Hopatcong this weekend.

Power point update

As we get closer to the eight-game cutoff for the state playoffs, let’s take a closer look at the locals’ chances to qualify for the states.

NORTH 1, GROUP I: Butler is sitting in great position in second place with 82 points. Hopatcong is sixth with 66 points. Boonton is 10th with 42 points and will need help to get in.

NORTH 1, GROUP II: Lenape Valley is third with 63 points, with surprising Newton fifth with 60, Kittatinny sixth with 57 points and defending champion Kinnelon seventh, tied with another huge surprise Sussex Tech.

NORTH 1, GROUP III: Jefferson is sitting third with 85 points, followed closely by Sparta with 83. Morris Hills is 10th and will need assistance.

NORTH 1, GROUP IV: Morris Knolls, enjoying its best season in years, is fourth with 71 points, followed by Randolph sixth with 66. Roxbury, the defending champ, is 11th and will need a lot of assistance, same with Mount Olive (12th).

NORTH 2, GROUP II: Mountain Lakes is tied for first with 99 points. Hanover Park is sixth with 71 points, followed by Dover in eighth with 65 points. Three-time defending champ Madison is 10th with 44 points, but the Dodgers have only played five games.

NORTH 2, GROUP III: Parsippany Hills is fourth with 77.5 points.

NORTH 2, GROUP IV: Defending champ West Morris is third with 70.5 points, with Mendham third with 54.5 points. Morristown is eighth with a 2-4 record, but the new state brackets will permit teams with less than .500 records into the states to even off the brackets.

NON-PUBLIC GROUP 1: Morristown-Beard has 83 points and the Crimson has already clinched a berth and will now play for a home game.

NON-PUBLIC GROUP 3: Pope John is second and Delbarton third. Both teams have also clinched berths in the state playoffs and are playing for seeding.

Extra points

After losing starting quarterback Willy Hansen to a transfer, the Scarlet Knights of Morris Hills might have found a more than capable replacement. Freshman Daymon Fleming completed five of 10 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns in the Scarlet Knights’ 20-14 win over Mount Olive last Saturday. It looks like Fleming has a bright future.

Rushing leaders

J.R. Reese, Jefferson 17 carries, 233 yards, 2 TDs; George Scalley, Dover 15-201, 2 TDs; Christian Cuccinello, Mountain Lakes 12-159, 2 TDs; Connor Thompson, West Morris, 12-148, 2 TDS; Mike Marra, Morris Knolls 11-144, 5 TDs; Wayne Patterson, Morris Catholic 12-134, 1 TD; Thomas Rieg, Hopatcong 21-133, 1 TD; Anthony Fano, Montville, 12-131, 1 TD; Anthony Bassolino, Hanover Park, 12-123, 1 TD.

Passing leaders

Glenn Reger, Butler 16-of-38, 272 yards, 1 TD; J.R. Reese , Jefferson, 10-of-21, 220 yards, 2 TDs; Christian Bassolino, Hanover Park 9-of-15, 209 yards, 3 TDs; Brandon Katzenberger, Parsippany Hills, 16-of-37, 202 yards; Guiseppe Bevacqua, Delbarton 7-of-10, 192 yards, 2 TDs;Alec Oriolo, Mount Olive, 14-of-26, 162 yards, 1 TD.

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