The team on the other side of the field was undefeated, had the better record, and was the top-seeded team in the section.
Parsippany Hills was not intimidated. The Vikings were undaunted and unfazed.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
“We don’t look at scores. We don’t look at records. We just look at who our next opponent is,” Parsippany Hills quarterback Brandon Katzenberger said.
Because of big plays by Katzenberger and the Vikings’ fourth-quarter defense, there will be a next opponent for the Vikings. Fourth-seeded Parsippany Hills upset No. 1 West Essex, 20-17, to advance to the NJSIAA North 2 Group III final.
A 13-yard, third-quarter touchdown pass from Katzenberger to Tommy Bluj was the margin of victory. It was the Vikings’ fourth straight win.
Said Parsippany Hills coach Dave Albano, “Our kids just come to play. We don’t talk about the other team’s records.”
West Essex had a chance to tie the game in the final minute, but Michael Weiss sacked quarterback Matt Thies, pushing the Knights backward to the Vikings’ 16-yard line. A 33-yard field goal attempt by Cameron Boeckel was just short.
“My receivers put me on their backs,” said Katzenberger, who finished 22-for-41 for 305 yards and two touchdowns. “They made it easy for me tonight.”
After West Essex jumped out to a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard run by Peter Norton, Katzenberger marched the Vikings downfield. He completed five of six passes on the drive, capped with a 12-yard fade pass to Richard Madison in the corner of the end zone. But Katzenberger’s extra-point attempt was blocked by Billy Galese to keep West Essex in front, 7-6.
After Cameron Boeckel’s 32-yard field goal increased West Essex’s lead to 10-6, Katzenberger’s arm and legs gave Parsippany Hills its first lead of the evening. Starting on their 30-yard line, Katzenberger moved the Vikings downfield through the air, completing two passes to Austin Ehrenfeld, and then teaming up with Evan Smith on a 36-yard pass down the West Essex sideline to the 13. An eight-yard run by Angelo Gallego moved the ball to the 5. On the next play, Katzenberger dropped back into the shotgun formation, took the direct snap, and ran up the middle to give the Vikings a 13-10 lead.
“For a first-year quarterback, he made huge plays out there,” Albano said. “To step in and do what he has done this year and bring us to a state final is incredible.”
West Essex answered right back behind the running of Jason Russo and Thies’ passing. Russo gained 41 yards on four carries, and Thies capped the drive with a 16-yard pass to Norton out of the backfield, who outraced the Parsippany Hills’ secondary to the goal line to help West Essex retake the lead 17-13 with 58 seconds left in the second quarter.
Parsippany Hills had the chance to retake the lead right before halftime, but Katzenberger’s pass into the end zone as time expired was intercepted by Billy Galese.
Despite having 55 sacks, Parsippany Hills was unable to apply pressure on Thies in the first half. Defensive lineman Michael Dogbe, who came into the game with 22 sacks, was held without a sack for three quarters as West Essex double-teamed the Temple-bound senior to give Thies time to set up in the pocket and find receivers downfield. But Dogbe snuffed out a fake punt in the fourth quarter that forced a West Essex turnover, and kept Parsippany Hills ahead.
In the second half, the Vikings’ secondary shut down Thies and Norton and Russo could not find holes to run through. Parsippany Hills used Katzenberger in multiple formations as well as rolling him out to find receivers downfield. He finished the first half with 11 completions on 17 attempts for 163 yards.
In the third quarter, Katzenberger led the Vikings into the red zone only to have the drive stall at the Knights’ 8-yard line, On fourth down, Katzenberger barely avoided a sack but his pass attempt sailed over his receiver’s head out of the end zone turning the ball over on downs.
But on Parsippany Hills’ next possession, Katzenberger led his team into the end zone with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Bluj over the middle.
“Tommy’s hands are amazing,” Katzenberger said. “He’s the playmaker. He’s the X-factor for us. We get him the ball and he scores.”
W-Peter Norton 1 run (Cameron Boeckel kick)
P- Richard Madison 13 pass from Brandon Katzenberger (Kick blocked)
W-Cameron Boeckel 32 FG
P-Brandon Katzenberger 5 run (Brandon Katzenberger kick)
W-Peter Norton 16 pass from Matt Thies (Cameron Boeckel kick)
P-Tommy Bluj 13 pass from Brandon Katzenberger (Brandon Katzenberger kick)
Team records: Parsippany Hills 9-2, West Essex 10-1