The Hopatcong Chiefs walked into their locker room early Saturday morning with a small message posted on every player’s locker reading: “EXPECT TO WIN.”The team did just that later that afternoon, winning 14-7 in a battle with the Crusaders of Morris Catholic HS.
Coming into this season the Chiefs were on a three game win streak, co-champions of the NJAC Liberty Division, and eager for another playoff run after missing the playoffs by just 5 PowerPoints. These Chiefs are looking to send a message to the state of New Jersey.
Saturday’s Hopatcong-Morris Catholic game was an old-fashion football game with a low scoring, defensive battle. For both teams it was a struggle early to get the ball moving with the first quarter ending with no points on the scoreboard. The Chiefs got on the board midway through the second quarter when junior fullback/linebacker Jake Wilkerson refused to go down on an 8 yard plunge with 7:30 left in the first half.
The score stayed 7-0 to finish out a rain-filled first half. Though offensively it was hard for the Chiefs to get the ball moving, the defense played lights out. In the first half the well-known Chief defense let up just 24 total yards.
Coming out the half, if you had asked the Chiefs, “What’s the game plan for the second half?” the answer would be very simple: “Throw the first punch!” Head Coach Jerry Venturino has been stressing that statement all season long during practices. The Chiefs’ defense did just that and forced the Crusaders to turn the ball over on downs. The offense struggled and did not gain many yards on the first series of the first half, only making their way to their own 41 yard line and being forced to punt. Senior Vince Giordano put the Crusaders offense on their own 8 yard line with a booming 51 yard punt that set the tempo for the Chiefs’ defense. The Chiefs’ defense again had a stellar performance to finish the third quarter.
The fourth quarter the Chiefs offense was determined for a score. The drive almost came to a close, but on a third and long quarterback Vince Giordano dropped back and tossed a twenty- yard dime to senior fullback/middle Linebacker Jake Dorman to the 9 yard line. Wilkerson went 9 yards and leapt into the end zone for his second touchdown of the day. The Chiefs took a 14-0 lead with 7:36 left in the game.
Morris Catholic didn’t give up after the score and scored on a 90-yard touchdown to cut the Chiefs lead in half to 14-7. The Chiefs’ offense could not run the clock out and had to punt the ball away with just 2:06 left in the game.
With two minutes left in the game, the Chiefs’ defense kicked it into the next gear and finished teams off, or how the players and coaches like to say, “Break the other team’s will.”
Giordano known as “Spiderman” around the Morris-Sussex County area for his spectacular defensive back play and web-like hands sealed the win for the Chiefs with an interception, thanks to linebacker Dorman’s, “Rice Pudding” call before the play.
Jake Wilkerson led the Chiefs’ rushing attack with 9 carries 68 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Dorman, and nose guard Mike Maddaluna led the defense: Dorman with 9 tackles, Maddaluna with 4 tackles for a loss and a sack. Junior Mauro Fernandez got the job done going 2 for 2 on extra points.
Next week the Chiefs (1-0) take on the Kittatinny Cougars (0-1) in their home opener 7pm at Hopatcong High School.