Advancing to the NJSIAA football state sectional semifinals is nothing new to the Vikings of Parsippany Hills.
After all, the Vikings were in the North 1, Group III finals in both 2005 and 2006, before falling to that juggernaut known as Wayne Hills both times.
And the Vikings have been a major part of the last two North 2, Group III tournaments. They lost to Cranford in 2011 in the title game and fell to Summit in the semifinals a year ago.
For head coach Dave Albano, who has been on the sidelines for all four prior state playoff contests, the experience is nothing new. The Vikings will travel to face West Essex Friday night in this year’s sectional semifinals.
Albano is hoping that the state playoff experience will pay benefits to his team.
“Most of the seniors were sophomores when we played Cranford,” Albano said. “It’s a veteran crew. They know the effort it takes to win a state playoff game. They had the experience of two years ago and last year. They all understand the finality of it. It’s a one-game season now. The experience certainly can’t hurt. Every year is different, but having that experience helps.”
Albano was busy at work this week, trying to get his team to focus on playing Friday.
“We’re trying to remind them that the game is Friday, not Wednesday,” Albano said. “We can’t peak on Wednesday. I think that’s where the experience pays off, in preparation leading up to the game. We’re trying to treat it as any other Friday night game.”
Albano has to like his team’s chances, because in their impressive 26-0 shutout of South Plainfield in the opening round of the state playoffs, the Vikings were finally at full strength.
“It was the first game all year that we were 100 percent healthy,” Albano said. “It’s good to have everyone back. We were also healthy coming out of the game.”
Perhaps the biggest aspect of the Vikings’ game right now is the play of their defense, evidenced by the shutout over South Plainfield.
And there’s no bigger defensive standout than senior defensive tackle Michael Dogbe. The Temple-bound Dogbe is playing like a man possessed these days, having recorded at least two sacks in each of the last five games.
Dogbe leads the state with 21 ½ sacks. He had three in Saturday’s win. If Dogbe is not an All-State player, then there shouldn’t be such a distinction.
“He’s really playing like a Division I player should,” Albano said. “Every game, he’s almost manhandling kids. He plays with such emotion. He’s brought his game to the next level. What we’re seeing is teams trying to get all different schemes to try to block him. It’s not working. He keeps making plays. He has such a pressure right now and has exceeded everything we thought he’d be.”
The Vikings have also been bolstered by the healthy return of Stephen Hill.
“Stephen and Michael give us a nice 1-2 punch on the line,” Albano said.
Outside linebacker Michael Weiss is also now 100 percent and has just made the Vikings’ defense that much more imposing.
“We have a great chemistry between our offense and our defense,” Albano said. “Without question, our defense has been dominant. It’s the personality this team has taken on. The biggest thing is field position. If we can make teams travel 60, 70, 80 yards, we’re in good shape. We can let our defense play. But we have to be able to control field position.”
Of course, the Vikings need quarterback Brandon Katzenberger and wide receiver Tommy Bluj to continue to make big plays. But the fate of the Vikings will lie within their defense and their playoff experience. Maybe this is the year that they take the next step and win a state sectional title.
“I told the kids that this is the exact position we wanted to be in,” Albano said. “Not many get opportunities like this in the state playoffs. We’re getting another chance.”
DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN
Two of this weekend’s local state playoff parade includes games that are rematches of games earlier in the season.
In the North 2, Group IV semifinals, sister schools West Morris and Mendham will lock horns once again. It’s a rematch of the Oct. 11 encounter, when the Wolfpack came away with a 28-21 thriller. This time, the Minutemen will have to travel to the cold mist and eerie fog of Chester, where the home field is definitely worth a one-touchdown advantage. There might not be a better home field advantage in Morris County.
The Non-Public 3 semifinals will pit Delbarton against Pope John once again. The two teams squared off in Sparta on Nov. 9, just two weeks ago, with the Green Wave earning a 21-16 victory.
Is there any advantage for the teams that won the first time around? It really doesn’t matter much when it comes to the state playoffs.
Kudos to Morris Hills and coach Mike Sabo for finishing the season in fine fashion. Although the Scarlet Knights didn’t qualify for the state playoffs this season, they did manage to win their last five games, including a 20-13 victory over Bergenfield in a consolation game Saturday at Morris Hills.
In the game, Jose Delgado had 240 yards rushing and two touchdowns, continuing his fine season.
The Scarlet Knight seniors got to enjoy one more home game and one more victory. For a team that had to endure some early season turmoil, including the in-season transfer of a top player, the Scarlet Knights came roaring back and go into the offseason on a positive note.
Perhaps Sabo’s young team can use their late season success as a carryover into the 2014 campaign.
While no local team actually wants to compete in the NJSIAA consolation round, the locals could find some consolation in the fact that they did very well.
Whippany Park, Pequannock, Kinnelon, Montville, Roxbury, Parsippany and Morris Catholic all won their respective final games of the season.
Montville, Morris Catholic and Parsippany all enjoyed victory for the second time this year. That is definitely some sense of accomplishment for the locals who did not get a chance to participate in the state playoffs.
Jose Delgado, Morris Hills, 24 carries, 240 yards, 2 TDs; Steve Lahoe, Morris Catholic, 25 carries, 185 yards, 1 TD; Glenn Reger, Butler, 18-147 yards, 1 TD; Christian Cuccinello, Mountain Lakes, 14-141 yards, 2 TDs; Booker McLean, Montville, 23-137 yards, 2 TDs;
Ryan Cirillo, Butler, 19-114 yards, 1 TD; Angelo Gallego, Parsippany Hills, 15-103 yards, 1 TD;
Kevin Hennelly, West Morris, 15-102 yards.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Giuseppe Bevacqua, Delbarton, quarterback
The signal caller had a great game in the Green Wave’s 49-22 win over Monsignor Donovan, completing nine-of-11 passes for 176 yards and four touchdowns.