The mind-set Shore Conference football fans have toward Mercer County teams is going to have to change.
On Friday night, Hopewell Valley made another statement for the growing strength of Mercer County football by dominating Ocean in a 30-14 win in a Central Group III semifinal at Carrelli Field.
Hopewell Valley (9-1), which had not made a playoff appearance until this year, will meet the winner of today’s Carteret at Lawrence game in two weeks at a neutral site to be announced in the Central III championship game.
For many years, the Shore Conference dominated what was then the Colonial Valley Conference (the conference in which Mercer County schools played.)
|However, with the creation of the West Jersey Football League – which encompasses more than 60 schools in the southwestern part of the state – Mercer County teams have been able to play outside competition, rather than just themselves. They have held their own against teams from Burlington County.
“You look at the play of many teams (in Mercer County). You look at Allentown (a western Monmouth County school that is a member of the CVC), West Windsor South, us now and Nottingham (Hamilton North) winning (Central III) last year, I think the competition is increasing in Mercer County. We’re stepping it up,” Hopewell Valley coach Dave Caldwell said.
Hopewell Valley has a balanced offense. The Bulldogs ran for 192 yards on Friday night, with senior tailback Andrew Yuska running for 177. They threw for 199 yards, for 391 yards of total offense against a defense that had allowed just nine points a game in its first nine games.
“You could tell they’re a complete football team,” Ocean coach Don Klein said. “They have the ability to hurt you on the ground and through the air. “They’re very balanced. When we watched film, we knew we were up against a really good challenge.”
Ocean (9-1) had probably not been up against an offense that had the balance Hopewell Valley possesses. Shore Conference Class B North, which Ocean won outright for its first divisional championship since 2006, consists of mainly run-oriented teams.
“They’re geared to stop the run. They’re aggressive,” Caldwell said. “We’ve been a 50-50 team (in terms of balance between the run and the pass). We’ve passed for 1,800 yards and we’ve run for 1,800 yards this year. We knew they were aggressive, so we felt we could pass the ball if we could protect the quarterback.”
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Yuska was able to get much of his yardage because of his vision and ability to cut.
“What he does real well is he has great agility and great explosiveness and he’s slippery,” Klein said. “We would play good defense, come up and be in position to make the tackle, but he was able to slip through some of our tackles, get squared and get some extra yardage there.”
Perhaps’ Yuska’s biggest run of the night came on a fourth-and-2 from the Ocean 7 early in the third quarter with the game tied at 14. It looked like Yuska was going to be dropped for about a 3-yard loss, but he squirmed away and leaned forward for 2 yards and the first down. He then put Hopewell Valley ahead for good with a 5-yard TD run on the next play with 7:47 left in the third quarter.
On the first play of Hopewell Valley’s next series, Yuska raced for 57 yards to the Ocean 10 to set up a 24-yard field goal by Bryce Caton that made it 24-14 with 2:29 left in the third quarter.
Ocean (9-1) never threatened to get back in the game. The Spartans had just one first down and 31 yards of total offense in the second half. Hopewell Valley put the game away with a 5-yard TD run by Joe Immordino.
The Spartans’ TDs came on a 2-yard run by Cole Mehr, which he set up with a 41-yard run, and an 82-yard kickoff return with 6.8 seconds left in the half. Sophomore tailback Tyler Thompson was held to just 43 yards.