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The Fine Nine: Semi-Finals Predictions

We are getting closer and closer to our chance to play at MetLife! As a group, Morris Sussex teams went from 21 teams that qualified to the state tournament last week to 9 teams that remain. We are calling the teams that are left the “Fine 9”! To remind everyone of our goal, we (Morris Sussex teams) want to beat last year’s state championship total of four titles and get five championships in 2013. So we have nine remaining teams that can help us reach our goal. But it’s not as easy as it may seem because four of these nine are playing each other this weekend.

There is nothing more than Morris Sussex Football wants than to have all of the teams earn a chance to play at MetLife (or Rutgers or Kean – wherever the NJSIAA deems the appropriate place to play) and win a state championship title. Even if a lot of these boys go on to play in college, there is no memory greater than having won a high school state title with the buds you grew up with. However, we still try to predict these games accurately so we don’t come across as total homers.

So without further ado, here are your Fine 9 Semi-Finals Predictions:

North 1, Group 2
4 Newton (5-5) @ 1 Westwood (9-1)
George Muha: Newton embodied playing with heart last week with its star player Ben Cramer’s dramatic return from injury in its 24-14 win against Lenape Valley. I’m thrilled for their huge moment but Newton needs to dig down even deeper if it has a chance to advance in this one. So as motivation, I am going to give them a speech that I wrote earlier in the week especially for them. Here it is: “Let me tell you something you already know Newton. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!”
PICK: Westwood 30-21 (This prediction is one of those hits that you need go get up from and prove everyone wrong. Don’t forget to visit your mother.)

3 Waldwick (8-2) @ 2 North Warren (8-2)
George Muha: I honestly think this game could go any way but I am going with North Warren for a few reasons. One, I know Pat’s coach Matt Parzero will have these guys well prepared. Two, runninback/linebacker Luke Roberston has made everyone forget his stud older brother’s name. And three, there is no way the Warren’s are going to miss out on advancing past the semi-finals two years in a row.
PICK: North Warren 21-14

North 1, Group 3
3 Ramapo (7-3) @ 2 Sparta (9-1)
George Muha: I was going to pick Ramapo as the winner of this game just to see if Sparta’s Scott Byers would start foaming at the mouth. But Sparta is just too good to do that to them. How about a big round of applause for this past week’s Player of the Week Lucas Faria who ran for over 500 yards and six TDs to advance his Spartans to the semi’s. Great job buddy boy! Let’s see if you can get to six hundred this weekend! If you recall, it was Ramapo who kicked like a 48 yard field goal with a few ticks on the clock last year to win the states. So don’t think for a second that this Sparta team will even make this one close.
PICK: Sparta 48-21

North 2, Group 2
3 Lincoln (9-1) @ 2 Mountain Lakes (10-0)
George Muha: If Mountain Lakes fullback Christian Cuccinello keeps running like John Riggins, the Herd has this one in their back pocket. However, Lincoln has been playing on a different planet then the rest of the world this year. I think Lakes will give them a run for their money, but it will be Lincoln who advances to the finals. Prove me wrong Lakes!
PICK: Lincoln 39-21

North 2, Group 3
4 Parsippany Hills (8-2) @ 1 West Essex (10-0)
George Muha: In case you didn’t know this, West Essex’s snack shack is insanely good! It’s literaly like an old Italian market. You won’t find a hot dog and a pretzel there. Their menu consists of award winning pasta fagioli, eggplant parmesean that you could die for and italian sausages that are from heaven. Do not eat dinner before you go to this game, trust me! All of that is true by the way. Regarding this game, as long as the Vikings players keep their nose away from the aromas coming from the food stand and stay very focused, I see them advancing. But Tommy Bluj, Mike Weiss, Stephen Hill and Sir Michael Dogbe (yes, I knighted him last week) need to the kind of physical game they are capable of. If those core four are having fun, then Coach Albano can start opening up his offensive playbook. I see it going to the end with some high flying big plays on both sides of the ball.
PICK: Vikes 45-43

North 2, Group 4
6 Mendham (5-4-1) @ 2 West Morris (7-3)
George Muha: Last week Mendham played the kind of game that they were capable of all year with their 47-26 trouncing of Colonial in the first round of the tournament. I actually see no holes in this Minuteman team. From top to bottom they are well oiled. Defensively they are loaded with hard hitters like Marconi, Beneducci and Byrne. Their run game keeps defenses guessing behind Jones and Whetherington. And QB Jack Horan and his posse of top notch receivers can score in a real hurry. I would say that from a pure talent standpoint, Mendham has a clear advantage over West Morris. With that said, there are three reasons why I believe the Wolfpack has the edge. First, playing in the Wolf Den on any Friday night is indimidating as hell. Playing there on a Friday night in the semi-finals is hell with zombies sprinkled on it. I can remember playing there (I know, I know…just let me have my Al Bundy moment will ya!) back in 1990 when they were 4-0 and we were 4-0 and unscored upon. There were people everywhere screaming at us and to this day I could swear an old lady spit on me. I still don’t know why she spit on me…I was just a sophomore who wasn’t get any playing time. The point is, WMC is going to have definite home field advantage and you know the student section will be in full force. Second, WMC earned their right to be in the semi’s. Linebackers Kevin Hennelly and Jake Butkus are old school linebackers that lay hits on every single play. While runningbacks Connor Thompson and Javier Murray wear down opposing defenses by just grinding out first downs and letting the clock run. The third and most compelling reason I believe West Morris will be victorious is head coach Kevin Hennelly. Hennelly is the current winningest coach in Morris County and is the defending state championship coach in this section. He also has more state championship rings than he has fingers (literally). Even if you don’t skin in this game, if you have nothing else going on, you have to come out to see Hennelly and his staff in action this time of year.
PICK: Wolfpack 30-21

Non-Public, Group 3
3 Delbarton (9-1) @ 2 Pope John (9-1)
George Muha: Two weeks ago, when these two teams face each other, Delbarton put on a masterful performance. They just grinded out the yardage with nifty play calling and awesome runs by big back Rob Arancio. But there is no way Pope John coach Brian Carlson won’t have a much different approach this time around. I’m sure we are going to see a lot more pounding with runningback Nick Esposito on offense and a defensive scheme that will attempt to slow down Delby’s run game. In the end, this one will go into overtime with either team worthy of the victory. I am going with the Green Wave once again.
PICK: Delby 33-30

How I did last week: 9-8 (52.94%)
How I did so far this year: 141-47 (76.59%)

George Muha has been covering high school sports since 2006. He feels high school scholar-athletes are the most important part of the community and highlighting their achievements on the field, in the classroom and within the community is his personal mission.

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