Being a huge Lenape Valley fan, I’ve been to the Patriots’ stadium a number of times. So I should have had a pretty good idea of what to expect on this night of the semifinals game. This past week when the Valley took on the Madison Dodgers, I almost did not recognize where I was. Everything that is usually at Patriots’ games was there, but turned up six or seven notches. Even more fans came out and the bleachers were packed, despite the cold. And the fans were louder than ever in support of their boys, even before the action had started. Of course, the famous Walt Wormann was there with his signs, but he had more signs than I’d ever seen, specially made for the night to pump up the student section. This was a crowd that was prepared to do all it could to support their boys.
A defensive battle ensued as the Madison Dodgers took on the Patriots under the lights. Madison was coming off of a high after shutting down previous state champs Mountain Lakes and they channeled that energy into another victory. But, the Patriots did not end this semifinal battle without a fight.
Madison elected to receive the kick-off after winning the toss, and the action began on the Madison 50. Nick Coviello’s handoffs to PJ Mulcahy and a couple of Lenape Valley encroachment flags helped to propel the Dodger offense to the 26-yard line. There, Coviello took shotgun, airing out a beautiful pass to Zach Shupe for a 26-yard reception for the Dodger TD. The extra point was called good and the Dodgers led 7-0.
At this point you might expect that Madison kicked the ball back to the Patriots who would then takeover, right? WRONG! After dedicating a majority of my Unruly season to Madison, I have come to expect the unexpected from the Dodgers.
The Dodgers kicked off with an onside kick, which was recovered by Madison. But the Dodgers ran into trouble when both Greg Cooper and Alec Ratchford of Lenape Valley sacked Nick Coviello on two different occasions. Madison was not able to claw its way out of a 3rd-and-27, turning the ball over to the Patriots.
Neither the Patriots nor the Madison offenses would hold onto the ball for long, as both defenses were rock solid, allowing only minimal yardage-gain for the rest of the quarter, which ended at 7-0.
Lenape Valley opened the second quarter with a 4-yard carry by Michael Josephs and a 50-yard reception from Jay Pruden to Michael Josephs. Yet, the Patriots could not pull it together for the TD this drive, especially after Madison’s Zach Shupe sacked Stevie Leyden on fourth down giving the Dodgers the turnover.
The rest of the quarter there was no significant movement for the Dodgers often because of Greg Cooper. Madison’s solid run game was almost completely shut down by Cooper who was there on nearly every tackle. The Patriots would be hindered the rest of the half by the blockade named Dom Luppino as well as a few delay-of-game penalties. The half ended at 7-0, Dodgers.
The third quarter, Lenape valley started with the ball. Brandon Reis helped to pick up a first down. But the Patriots weren’t able to finish it off because Jay Pruden’s pass to Terrell Jackson fell incomplete.
Madison’s possession that followed shocked me. After Zach Shupe and Mike Dalena helped to move the ball down the field, the ball was fumbled. The Valley recovered. But the ironclad Madison defense kept the ball from moving. The third quarter ended still 7-0, Dodgers.
The amazing thing about the third quarter of this game was that it was just a set up to the explosive fourth quarter that followed. The barnburner quarter began with a Lenape Valley possession that was short-lived as Madison’s Mike Dalena intercepted the ball. Nick Coviello and the Dodgers tried their best to move down the field for a score-widening TD but came up short. Dom Luppino kicked away to Lenape Valley.
The Valley had grown quiet but on this possession they come out full force. John Cagnole and Steve Leyden moved full throttle, tearing up the Madison defense. Stevie Leyden hit the touchdown after a 27-yard reception for the Patriots but it was no good after a holding call on the Valley.
But after two downs Leyden found the end zone again, bringing the score to 7-7. Madison responded, and responded big with a 33-yard reception from Coviello to Dalena that gave the Dodgers a first-and-goal. Coviello was almost picked off but Josh Kurkewicz was able to bring it in for another Madison TD.
Right now is where I would tell you the Cinderella story, where the Valley comes back, hits the two-point conversion and wins the game. But that isn’t the case this time. Lenape Valley’s last possession started with some yardage gain by Steve Leyden and Brandon Reis. But they ran into double trouble when Dom Luppino and Zach Shupe sacked Jay Pruden. The Lenape Valley hope of winning was crushed for good when Joe Mobley picked off Jay Pruden with 30 seconds left. The game ended at 14-7 Madison.
On the Valley side of the Stadium there was only the deafening silence of utter heartbreak. No one made a move to leave, remaining in place, on the bleachers, in support of their boys and the tremendous season they had.
The Madison Dodgers will take on Rutherford in the state final on December 4th, a game I am dying to see. I’ve watched these boys through an entire season and can’t wait to see them go all the way.
As for the Dodger plan for the final, I think Coach Kubik’s final words to the boys say more than enough. “It’s not about getting there,” Kubik says, “it’s about winning it all.”