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And then there were eight. Out of the 37 teams Morris Sussex Sports covers, only eight remain alive at a chance to win a state championship. We are calling these the “Elite 8.” The Elite 8 play in six different sections, allowing for Morris Sussex Sports to have six possible state champions. Last season there were three state champions (Sparta, Mountain Lakes and Par Hills). Having one winner would be great, but beating last year’s ring total would be even better. The semi-finals are upon us, and our Round 2 Predictions are a look at how we think it’s going to play out.

North 1, Group 1

Cedar Grove (8-2) @ Boonton (9-1)

LAByrne: North Warren beat Boonton and Cedar Grove beat North Warren, which makes me very worried for our Bombers. PICK: CG 24-14
Brian Kaes: Cedar Grove beat a good North Warren team handily last week. Boonton is going to have to bring their A game to advance this week. Do I think they can do it? Sure, why not! Mean TJ Green will score two in this one while the Grove defense will swarm Gage Calabar. Look for Anthony “Dan” Marino to have 2 sacks in the fourth quarter to seal it for the Boots. PICK: Boonton 20-17
George Muha: We know all of Boonton’s offensive players by first name. Everyone knows who I am talking about when I say Gage, TJ and Quinn. But the Bomber defense has been quietly taking care of business all season. Look for guys like Dave Koval, James Roberts and Amaro Anderson to keep Grove’s playmakers in check as Boonton advances to the state finals baby! PICK: Bombers 44-21

North 1, Group 2

Pequannock (9-1) @ Mahwah (9-1)

LAByrne: This is going to be a tough game for Pequannock. Mahwah is probably favored but that’s because no one is talking enough about Pequannock. This squad, led by Crooks, has something special going on and I predict a huge upset here. PICK: Pequannock 14-13
Brian Kaes: Other than their record, I don’t know much about Mahwah. They have home field advantage though, and it’s not going to be easy for the boys from the Quan to win. I may mess up my winning prediction percentage but I’m going for Tommy Crooks and Sean Klimek and company in this one. PICK: Pequannock 19-14
George Muha: I love how Pequannock has done nothing but kick everyone’s butt this season. I have to admit, the Quan were not on my radar this off-season. The Crooksinator will need to be his normal bad self for the G-Pants to make something happen offensively. But to me this game will come down to how well Pequannock plays defense. Zack “Bend Your” Toback, Jake “Clayton” Kershaw and Matt “See the” Forrest “From the Trees” will need 30 tackles and 2 turnovers between them to be successful. I see them doing so. PICK: The Quan 40-32

North 1, Group 3

Sparta (7-3) @ River Dell (9-1)

LAByrne: We’re going to forget about the Randolph game, and assume Sparta is going to play smart, tough Sparta-style football against River Dell, and dominate this matchup. PICK: Sparta 28-10
Brian Kaes: Matt Maute did not have his best game statistically but he was good enough and Alex Miliken was lights out, gaining over 200 yards on 40–yes, 40–carries. That is borderline child abuse making a kid carry the ball 40 times in a game! I’m kidding and obviously Alex was up to the task, scoring a TD in the process. Unfortunately, I think that Sparta’s playoff run will end at the Bridge of the River Dell. They will be focusing on the run game and that will lead to some early success for Matt Maute throwing the ball but I think the Dell’s offense will just outscore them in the end. PICK: Dell 30-21
George Muha: River Dell has been the Buffalo Bills of this section for the last three years. As much as I’d want to see Sparta win its third title in a row, I think the Dell’s have been pushed around for the last time. And yes Sparta, this is meant fire you up! PICK: RD 40-30

North 2, Group 2

Madison (7-2) @ Lenape Valley (9-1)

LAByrne: This Madison team is more focused, more defensive, more everything than they were the last time met LV for a 23-15 loss. Of course, Lenape Valley is a machine. I wish both teams could go on but I’m going with the Madison defense on this one. PICK: Dodgers, in a close one 14-13
Brian Kaes: I think I have been wrong about Madison all year long. They just keep winning, and shutting out a Mountain Lakes team that ran for over a billion yards the week before as well! Great job on D by the Dodgers. The Valley cruised in their first round as well. It’s really tough to call but I think that the Valley likes to run and Madison is pretty good at stopping it so the advantage, surprisingly, is with Madison. I hope I don’t jinx them but they convinced me they are not to be messed with. I think the Valley’s Stevie Leyden will still find the endzone twice in this one but Madison will stop the Valley’s offense when it counts and Dom Luppino will rush for an easy buck twenty-five and two scores in a Dodger upset. PICK: Madison 24-20
George Muha: Geez, the Madison defense is like the ’85 Bears. Teams just have too hard a time getting things going against these guys. However, I do believe Lenape has the fortitude and patience to live with not making many big plays. Then when Madison starts getting tired, they’ll start taking their shots. I see the Pats’ Josephs being the X-Factor in a battle to the end. PICK: LV 22-21

Hanover Park (9-1) @ Rutherford (9-0)

LAByrne: Hanover Park is going to need Michael Centanni, Eric Magnifico and Sean Conley to shut down the high-powered Rutherford offense. If the defense can make their stops, this game is all Hornets. PICK: HP 28-21
Brian Kaes: That was quite a game last week, and from what I hear, Rory Deluca and Anthony Olivieri put their teammates on their back and helped carry them to victory. Gutsy performances all around, and the grit and toughness that the entire team showed in coming back against Caldwell was impressive. Mike Centanni made a big play on defense, again. Magnifico and Conley made important plays on defense as well. If HP’s offense is healthy and 100% they have a shot. If they don’t have all their most important offensive players on the field the whole game they are going to lose. That being said, I’m going with HP because these kids are tough as nails and they are going to leave it all on the field no matter what. PICK: HP 24-22
George Muha: It was November 24th, 1990.  That’s just about 25 years ago when we played our semi-finals match-up against Mendham on our home field at Hanover Park.  We held the score at 7-0 until the final seconds when Mendham finally scored a touchdown.  Mendham’s Coach Carpluck decided to go for the 2-point conversion and the win.  There were 3,000 people and you could have heard a pin drop as the Minutemen lined up for the play.  They ran a sweep all the way to the left side and their tailback had everyone beat around the corner.  Normally my 6.1-forty speed and fear of getting hurt got in the way of my on-the-field production, but something got into me on this play.  I just knew I could tackle him if I just ran my heart out – and that I did.  Ultimately, I was able to reach him just as he was going to put the ball over the plane when I delivered a crushing blow at the 1-yard line which ultimately sent my Hornet team to the state finals where went went on to win the schools’ first and ONLY state championship win.  Okay, okay – only part of that story was true.  The play actually went to the right.  Just joshin’.  It is a true story but it wasn’t me that made the play, it was the amazing Won Kyu Rim (also known as “Q”) who was one of the best players I ever saw play.  I was actually on the sidelines as a pudgy sophomore backup.  The point of the story is, as good as those starters were then, they had to dig incredibly deep to advance to the state finals.  But you know what?  As proud as I am to have been on that magical ride, 25 years ago is a long time ago.  If I were a current player, I’d be sick of hearing about the 1990 team – which I know they hear about all the time.  I am actually going to forego giving a prediction for this game (I am pretty much out of the $100 running anyway).  I think I’d rather leave it up to this squad to make their own history.  LETS GO HORNETS!!!

North 2, Group 3

West Essex (6-4) @ Chatham (8-2)

LAByrne: Chatham, you need to smother Chris Vassallo’s run game and run away from beast-linebacker Brian O’Neill. Then, you’ve so got this one. PICK: Chatham 21-14
Brian Kaes: Chatham’s offense was on fire last week, and it will have to do so again in order to get by West Essex, who is always tough. I think Alex Sands is up to the challenge and he will lead the Cougars to victory. PICK: Chatham 28-27
George Muha: West Essex has 8 state titles in their school history. And they’ve been to the state finals 12 times. Chatham has zero state titles in school history. This is basically Rocky IV and Wessex is the Russian, Ivan Drago. So Chatham, Let me tell you something you already know. 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 ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. Let’s do this! PICK: Italian Stallions 43-38

Non-Public, Group 3

DePaul (4-6) @ Delbarton (8-2)

LAByrne: This DePaul team is probably a whole lot stronger than their record indicates and I’m worried for our Delbarton guys. If they can execute perfectly—not underestimate this opponent—they can pull this off, but barely. PICK: Delbarton 14-13
Brian Kaes: Delby had an easy time in the first round, but they are about to play a team whose record is deceiving. DePaul played teams from other states, (I heard Texas and Florida but I could be full of it). Delby has to stop their running back who I heard is going D-1 next year. Can the Green Wave wash over DePaul? I don’t know, but I need to step up my playoff winning percentage so they better! PICK: Delby 21-20
George Muha: I’ve seen a lot of football this season and there is no better team that I watched than DePaul. DO NOT be fooled by their record. They’re losses are at the hands of the best teams in the country. And they barely lost too. I think if anyone can have his team prepared its going to be Coach Bowers. But I think DePaul might be just too potent. PICK: DePaul 42-38

How We Did Last Week

Laura: 9-6
Brian: 8-7
George: 10-5

How We Are Doing So Far

Laura: 137-50 (73.26%)
Brian: 140-47 (74.86%)
George: 131-56 (70.05%)

NOTE: There is $100 riding on whichever writer finishes with the highest prediction percentage.  It’s neck and neck for Laura and Brian.  George basically needs to predict every game correct and have Laura and Brian predict them all wrong.   

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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