A former NFL great by the name of Marvin Harrison once said that the worst loss of his entire football career came in his senior year of high school. His team lost to their crosstown rivals, and he can never let that game go. Hopatcong vs. Lenape brings out the same feelings from those involved.
And I’m involved. I’ve lived in Hopatcong my entire life. My entire life I looked forward to playing for Hopatcong. I bleed green and black. So a warning: this article comes from that perspective.
This Hopatcong/Lenape rivalry game is surrounded by so much more than football. This rivalry is between the big school that believes they are better than the smaller school, and the smaller school determined to prove them wrong. The big school has a bigger football history, but the smaller school believes we play in the present and not the past. And, presently, Hopatcong wants nothing more than to prove how good they are—and nothing stands in the way of that more than Lenape. It’s personal. Every time a kid leaves to go somewhere else it’s personal. Are we not good enough, Hopatcong wants to know. This matchup seems like more than a game.
A 2-0 Hopatcong Chiefs squad took a three-minute bus ride to face the 2-0 Lenape Valley Patriots. It was a perfect Friday night for the game of the week. Both teams came into the night with tons of emotion, and it showed on the field. As the captains walked out for the coin toss, the entire atmosphere was tense. Everyone was waiting for the start of the game, but nobody knew how crazy it would get. Once the teams walked out on the field for the opening kick-off, it was time to go.
The first play of the game was power by the Patriots. It was quickly tackled by Chief captain Vince Giordano. On a third and long during the drive, Patriots’ running back Stevie Leyden broke contain on a jet sweep and moved the chains for a first down. Hopatcong would answer as senior lineman Brandon Caplan got a tackle for loss on a counter run. To end the drive, Leyden dropped an open pass in the flats.
When Hopatcong got the ball, what might the first play have been? Well it was belly of course! Senior captain Jake Dorman took multiple handoffs on this drive to convert first downs. On third down, Vince Giordano rolled out of the pocket as he scrambled for the first down, but he was hurt and came out. It did not look to be too serious, but it was hard to tell where he was hurt. Anthony Mellilo came in on relief for the Chiefs as the first quarter wrapped up at 0-0.
How would the Chiefs deal with their quarterback out of the game? It didn’t start off too bad as Jake Wilkerson broke out on belly for 8 yards. On third down, captain Bobby Juliano ran the rock for a first down. In came Giordano, but the next three plays fell short of a first. On fourth down, Vince rumbled his way up the middle of a sneak to pick up the first.
A big blow to the Chiefs: Giordano dropped back to pass, and as he scrambled out, he was sacked. He came off the field holding his left shoulder as his arm hung limp. It became clear that Hopatcong could be in trouble. Back came Mellilo, and the Chiefs were forced to punt after Lenape stopped them.
On defense, captain Nene Ariza came out and got a hard-hitting TFL. On that same drive, captain Mike Maddaluna sacked the quarterback for a big loss. The Patriots were forced to punt.
The Chiefs came out firing. Juliano hit a hole on power and got nice yards on the play. On the next play, Wilkerson ran belly hard to get a big gain. Jake Dorman found a cutback lane and gained huge yards for Hopatcong; however the run was negated by a block-in-the-back penalty. The drive ended after an incomplete pass on third down and Lenape valley took over at their own 45-yard line.
Lenape came out swinging for the fences as they ran a flea flicker, only to be sacked by Jake Dorman. The drive never amounted to anything for the Patriots as they were forced to punt.
With little time left in the half, Bryan Rodriguez took full advantage of his chances to run the ball. He picked up multiple first downs as he consistently ran power through the Lenape defense. With only ten seconds left in the half, the Chiefs took a time out. Hopatcong had one last play to get in, and they ran the ball for a huge gain as Wilkerson broke through a host of tacklers. As the teams went to the half, the score remained at 0-0.
Halftime can be hectic, between walking past the Lenape Valley’s fans and dying to sit down and get some rest. Hopatcong looked at this halftime differently though. Music was blaring, players were screaming to ramp up the intensity, and everyone was believing in the team to come out and get the big win. The Chiefs are always confident in their ability to make adjustments at halftime, and execute them when they return to the field.
The first play out of the half was a belly to Jake Wilkerson who was tackled by a Lenape defensive back for negative yardage. The Chiefs offense could not get the ball rolling as they lacked rhythm. This was partly due to the fact that they were still missing their starting quarterback. Giordano was ruled out for the rest of the game.
After the Chiefs punted, the Patriots took the lead. #10 on Lenape Valley broke a sweep to the outside and took it 60 yards for the score. Just like that, the score was 7-0 Patriots.
Hopatcong took the ball, and Anthony Mellilo completed a four-yard pass to Jake Dorman in the flats. On third down, a quarterback scramble fell only a few feet short of a first down. Punting the ball may have helped the Chiefs though. A Patriot accidentally ran into the ball as it was bouncing around, and Hopatcong recovered the ball. Now the Chiefs had just what they needed: momentum. Bryan Rodriguez continued to gash Lenape’s defense, as they couldn’t stop power. Jake Dorman felt like getting in on the action too of course, so he decided to run for 15 yards on a buck sweep. The drive did not have a happy ending however. Hopatcong fumbled the ball on Lenape’s 8-yard line, and the Patriots took over.
On the next play, Senior Patriot Michael Katz found a hole and gained 20 yards. The Patriots running game continued to work as Leyden took an outside handoff, found a cutback lane the size of Alaska, and took it down to the Chiefs’ 15-yard line. The Patriots would punch it in a second time as they got another run play to the outside. Chiefs were down 14-0.
Hopatcong struggled to get anything going on offense. They failed to convert on third down again, and this occurred on the last play of the 3rd quarter. The punt was downed at Lenape’s 19-yard line. Katz again the carried the ball for 8 yards. The Patriots were hit with a huge tackle for a loss on the next play as nearly half of Hopatcong’s defense was there for the stop. On third down, the pass completion fell short of the first.
As Hopatcong took the ball, Bobby Juliano got a pass to the flats for an 8-yard gain. But, it just wasn’t meant to be. The Chiefs were stripped for another fumble. Lenape began to take as much time off of the clock as they could.
The rest of the game was garbage time, and it was time to head home. It hits you deep down in a place unlike anything else when you lose to Lenape Valley. But, the important thing is to move on to next week and keep playing strong. The season cannot be defined by one game in week three.
Next week, the Patriots will travel to Hackettstown to face the Tigers. Hopatcong will be hosting the Jefferson Falcons, where Hopatcong’s 2005 state title team will be honored at half time.