September 20th was a special night for the Hopatcong Chiefs Football team as the Chiefs defeated the Pequannock Panthers 33-13 and evened their record to 1-1. More importantly it was new head coach Jerry Venturino` s first career victory.
The Chiefs opened up to holding Pequannock to a three and out drive and scoring the following possession on a Stephen Rogers’ 12 yard touchdown reception. That set the tone for the game; the Chiefs stayed in control the rest of the night. Senior running back and captain, Johann Lara, scored two touchdowns on the night, one rushing one receiving. Rogers, a senior wide receiver, tacked on another touchdown on a 70 yard reception in the third quarter.
Junior running back Shea Bongiovanni scored his first career varsity touchdown late in the third quarter on a 69 yard run. The Hopatcong defense was led by senior captain and middle linebacker Willie Russell as he lead the team with 14 tackles. The tenacious defense forced 4 turnovers with Rogers and Lara having two interceptions each.
When the scoreboard hit triple zeros, the Chiefs gained their first victory of the year, and Coach Venturino` s first win at the helm. Venturino was greeted in the post-game huddle with an ice water Gatorade cooler bath and the game ball. The coach got to share this moment with his family as he walked off the field.
Venturino, Hopatcong Chiefs’ alumni quarterback and state championship winner in 2001, has made tremendous strides since winning the job last spring. But coaching wasn’t always his main focus. “Coaching wasn’t a dream of mine but keeping football in my life was. I knew I couldn’t play forever; coaching was the only option in order to keep the game in my life,” said Venturino.
It has become clear that the environment, not only in the high school, but during games has improved and become more energetic. “What is football without an exciting atmosphere? I was lucky to have a great environment when I played here, and that experience only got greater when I played in college,” said Venturino, who played at Moravian College in the early 2000’s. “To me, football is a lifestyle. From the coaches to the players, to those in the band, and the cheerleaders motivating the crowd— I want Friday night at Hopatcong to be the main event.”
For Venturino, the team is everything. According to Venturino, everyone is part of a team whether it’s at home, or at work. The game of football is not only a great way to have fun, but to learn about real life values such as handwork, dedication, discipline and more hard work.”
Venturino insinuated some upcoming changes to add to the new football frenzy: “I can’t share any of my ideas, because they are all a surprise! So far, we have incorporated ideas such as running out with the American Flag and the new team logo flag and the new logo and general, but most importantly, that winning attitude!”
According to Venturino, the town itself is catching on. He pointed out that Frank’s Pizza recently renamed pizzeria specials on game day; the meals are now named after HHS seniors.” Venturino, recognizing the new football Facebook, added: “Social media is imperative in today’s society.”
It’s not always easy, mixing old with new. However, Venturino feels that his alumni status has helped him bring a past to a new vision. “I understand the true standing traditions like painting the rock. I have seamed ideas from other alumni, and one example of mixing in the new is our new uniform concepts. Hopatcong wore green pants back in the 80’s, white pants in the 90’s, and black pants in the 2000’s. Now that we have all three, we can bring back some old ways while looking sharp!” said Venturino.
Old uniforms or new—one thing is for sure—Hopatcong has its sight on winning.