They spent much of the 2014 high school football season in almost complete anonymity, but what else is new? That’s the way it has been since they first tried on a helmet and were told they wouldn’t touch the ball, not ever.
But their coaches know their value. So do their quarterbacks and running backs.
And now, so do Lincoln and Cranford.
For much of Sunday at MetLife Stadium, Mountain Lakes and Parsippany Hills leaned heavily on their offensive lines. And when the cheering stopped, both O-lines had done their jobs and both schools brought home sectional championships.
If either of the Mountain Lakes or Par Hills lines had been pushed around, the happy post-game photos and bearhugs would have been replaced with dejection and tears.
Both schools entered Sunday with game plans that largely depended on their big bodies flexing their muscles up front to make room for the runners. Members of the O-lines took their orders and mastered them almost flawlessly and without fanfare.
Linemen are like the foundation of a tall building. You don’t see the foundation, but if it cracks, the building crumbles. When the building stays standing, you never think of the strong foundation.
And so it was with the O-lines of Mountain Lakes and Par Hills.
The two teams stayed standing right to the end because of the line play.
And Mountain Lakes and Par Hills were the last teams left standing in their respective sections.
The Herd ran their Delaware Wing-T to perfection with a variety of running plays in their 36-28 win over Lincoln. But if the designated running lane is sealed off … well, the Herd goes back to their huddle without much of a gain. And when faced with a second- or third-and-long, they’re forced into Plan B, and no high school team wants that, especially in a state championship game.
But rarely did Mountain Lakes’ offense ever need to go to Plan B, and that is because of the work of linemen Brian Olshanski (6-3, 225), Anthony Smith, Sean Walsh, Chiso Egbuchulam (6-3, 210), Kevin Beimfohr, Patrick Cabana (6-2, 275), and Felix Boerstoel (6-4, 210).
“We have some dynamic runners,” admitted coach Darrell Fusco, referring mainly to Bobby Frawley (18 for 106 rushing, 1 TD), quarterback Brad Smith (14 for 94, 3 TDs), Brad Landry (17 for 70), and Jack Palazzi (6 for 34). “But our line was just outstanding. We were able to get chunks of yards. The kids believed in each other all year, and today was another example of that.”
The Vikings had an entirely different approach from what they were accustomed to this year, and that seemed to pay off in their 20-13 victory over Cranford. Coach Dave Albano saw an untested freshman quarterback in Nick Verducci, a tough runner in Angelo Gallego and a wealth of burly linemen, so he decided to scrap his wide-open, pass-happy offense entirely.
The result happened to be the first state championship in a Par Hills football history that wasn’t exactly littered with wins or titles before Albano arrived.
The Vikings pounded away with the run and beat an undefeated Cranford team that averaged 40 points per game and never, not once, scored less than 30 points in a game this year. But the high-flying Union County team struggled against a Par Hills defense that allowed just two long touchdown plays all game.
Cranford, which had been rolling over its competition all year, never had a lead and seemed pressured to get something going against the Vikings.
Albano’s team, meanwhile, pounded away all afternoon with Gallego (38 for 189, 1 TD) and J.D. Keyes (8 for 40) blasting away behind beefy center Chris Pietrowicz (6-2, 235), guards Luke Haltigan (5-11, 255) and Zach Fife (6-0, 250), and tackles Kyle McGinley (6-2, 280) and Chris Wojtukiewicz (6-2, 275).
“Where would we be without our line?” Albano asked after the Cranford game.
Just a few short months ago, late in the summer, he was singing an entirely different tune. Albano had said the line was “a work in progress.”
Well, the work is now done at both schools. The progress was made.
And both Mountain Lakes and Parsippany Hills are state champions — thanks to the work of their O-lines.