EAST RUTHERFORD -- When a team can run the ball like Hoboken has this season, it is little wonder that it would come into the North 2, Group 1 state championship game undefeated. It also isn’t that surprising that the undefeated record would remain intact.
With a time of possession of over 30 minutes, the Red Wings wore down a game Verona squad on the way to a 21-6 win on Friday night at Giants Stadium, their first state title since 1999. It also closed out head coach Lou Racioppe’s first year at the helm in style.
“I didn’t win anything,” Racioppe said. “These kids played their hearts out. We blocked and tackled a little bit better than they did, and we won.”
Verona came into the game without starting quarterback Mitch Roshong. The junior broke his right foot in the Thanksgiving Day win over Cedar Grove, leaving the signal-calling to freshman Carlo Calabrese.
It also put a bit more pressure on running back Mike Canfora, and the Hoboken defense sensed that as well, keying his every move and limiting him to 60 rushing yards on 21 carries.
Still, it took until the second quarter for the Wings to finally dent the end zone. Their first march ended on a fourth-down sack of QB Norman Smith by Ryan Kirby, but their next series saw two successful fourth down conversions on the way to a 6-yard touchdown run by Rashawn Brown. Courtney Slack hit the first of his three extra point kicks with 5:50 left in the fast-paced first half.
“We had to get on the board first,” Racioppe acknowledged. “Last year we came here and got shut out (6-0 by Cedar Grove). Once we got on the board, we started playing with a little more ease.”
Two plays after the kickoff, Verona fumbled, with Duval Kamara recovering for Hoboken at the Hillbilly 41-yard line. They moved to another TD, this one on a 14-yard Smith to Kamara pass on which Kamara made a nice grab at the back of the end zone.
“We needed to control the clock and that’s what we did,” Racioppe said. “The calls in the first half on fourth down, I was trying to get the momentum going in our favor. Thank God it worked, otherwise I would have looked like a big heel.”
Armed with a 14-0 halftime lead, the Wings looked to shorten the game by grinding it out, but another fourth down play went awry when Nick Sengotta and Chris Riggins combined to knock the ball loose from Smith, creating a 20-yard sack.
Calabrese then went to Riggins on a tight end screen good for 30 yards and Canfora ripped off a 12-yard run, setting up a 4-yard Canfora touchdown to make it 14-6 with 5:13 remaining in the third quarter.
After an exchange of punts, Hoboken took advantage of a roughing the snapper penalty on a fourth down punt to extend their possession. In went for 8:20, covering 68 yards and 15 plays. Damien Bates got the final four yards for the TD with 4:20 to go in the game.
“That’s what we needed, 3, 4, 5 yards, to milk the clock,” Brown said.
The Hillbillies (10-2) got to the Red Wing 18, but Smith intercepted at the 8, and Jonathan Cartegena also intercepted Calabrese in the final minute, though he fumbled it back after a 31-yard return.
“Last year we walked out of here with our heads down,” Brown recalled, “but we worked hard in the summer and all year, we all got along and we’re champions.”
Bates ran 31 times for 93 yards, giving him 1,798 on the season, while Brown had 42 on 8 runs to reach 1,001 yards rushing. Chris Willis added 41 on 8 carries, and he just missed making it a threesome over 1,000, closing the season with 967. Smith was 4 of 4 passing for 54 yards, all to Kamara, and Kamara and Julian Diaz each had six tackles.
Calabrese was 6 of 15 passing for 84 yards, with Riggins (3-52) and Dan DePalma (3-32) splitting the receptions. Calabrese and Sengotta each had 12 tackles and Kirby had 11, including two sacks. Canfora added 10 stops and a fumble recovery.
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