You could call him a sage.
Williamstown High School football coach Frank Fucetola opened preseason workouts with prophetic message to his team.
“From day one, coach told us, ‘It’s going to be us and Toms River North,’” Braves quarterback Richie Stanzione said. “It’s funny, he says now, ‘See, the old man was right.’”
The two-time sectional champion coach (St. Augustine, 1995, Williamstown 2012) hit it right on the money. Saturday night at 6 p.m., the Braves (9-2) will face the Mariners in the South Jersey Group 5 title game.
To listen to Fucetola’s scouting report of Toms River North (10-1) is akin to the profuse praise one would hear in an advertisement.
“They’re very, very good,” he said. “Tremendous size. Very athletic. Skill kids are very good. They’re big up front.”
The Mariners took the fifth seed in the tournament, demolished Kingsway on the road 35-7 and shut out top-seeded Lenape in the next round, 14-0.
“They manhandled Kingsway and they were one of the best .500 teams that’s ever made the playoffs,” Stanzione said. “Honestly, I think they’re most comparable team to us all year. It’s going to be like playing ourselves.”
Stanzione refers to the identity that is as tried and true as the team’s blue and white colors. Run the ball. Play great defense. Turn field position into an advantage. Minimize mistakes.
The two horses that pull Toms River North on offense are junior quarterback Mike Husni and senior tailback Asante Moorer.
They stick to the ground game. Husni enters Saturday’s matchup with 1,147 rush yards and 17 touchdowns. Moorer’s gained 1,447 with 16 rushing scores.
Moorer’s stats don’t need Fucetola’s praise – they speak for themselves.
The 210-pound running back averages 131.5 rush yards per game. He’s gone for more than 140 on five occasions.
“We’ve got to keep our defense off the field,” Fucetola said. “They want to run it. We don’t want to play catch-up football.”
If any group can handle the tall task the Mariners’ provide, it might well be the Braves. They started the season in the wake of teammate Darius Boyer’s tragic death when he was found in a quarry this summer.
A new quarterback in Stanzione came over from rival Washington Township. A 20-0 thumping at Cherokee on Oct. 9 seemed to bring the then-undefeated club back to earth.
They only got better as the season wore on, with a road win over then-No. 1 Hammonton after an early deficit. Eventually, they got vengeance on the Chiefs in overtime.
Fucetola points to that game, where his team trailed by eight points with six minutes left, as its biggest sign of growth.
“I think our character was exposed in that game,” the coach said. “Just a compliment to the kids.”
Stanizione wants “the kids” to pay a compliment of their own to his adopted town.
“My whole life I dreamed of playing for a championship and two years ago I’d never imagined I’d be playing in one for the team that was my rival growing up,” the two-way starter said. “Changing schools wasn’t as easy as people make it seem.
“It was a lifestyle change and a big risk. To be accepted not only on the football team but in the community too. To make the school and community proud would mean so much.”
And the sage knows what to expect on Saturday.
“We’ll be ready,” Fucetola said.
Mark Trible; (856) 486-2424; email@example.com
S.J. GROUP 5
Matchup: No. 4 Toms River North (10-1) vs. No. 3 Williamstown (9-2)
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Where: Rowan University
Coaches: Toms River North: Dave Oizerowitz; Williamstown: Frank Fucetola
Sectional titles: Toms River North, 5 (1979, 1991, 1994, 1997, 2007); Williamstown, 1 (2012)
Road to final: Toms River North: Kingsway 35-7, Lenape 14-0; Williamstown: Washington Twp. 21-0, Cherokee 27-21 (OT)
Toms River North Players to Watch: Mike Husni (QB, Jr.), Asante Moorer (RB/DB, Sr.), Darrion Carrington (WR/DB, Jr.), Da’Shon Copes (DL, Sr.), Pete Laquaglia (ILB, Jr.)
Williamstown Players to Watch: Rich Stanzione (QB/CB, Sr.), Joe Early (RB/CB, Sr.), Tyrik Glenn (RB/OLB, Sr.), Eric Smith (DE, Jr.), Dondre Dodson (DL, Sr.)
The pick: Both clubs come into this one with the same calling card – run the ball and play stout defense. It will likely come down to the team who avoids mistakes. In a tight one, the Braves finish off the campaign to take a sectional title for teammate Darius Boyer, who tragically died before the season. Williamstown 21-17.