football coach Dave Albano always encourages his players to be aggressive, but in Saturday’s state tournament title game he might add a touch of restraint to the usual game plan. The Vikings will be going against a quarterback with skills they haven’t seen in awhile.
Parsippany Hills continues the quest for its first state title against Cranford in a 10 a.m. start on the turf field at Kean University in Union. The school has been to the title game twice before in 2005 and 2006, but came up short against Wayne Hills, which is Albano’s alma mater.
Parsippany Hills is determined to earn the victory this time, but the players may have to tone down their usual aggressiveness a bit because of Cranford quarterback Reggie Green’s ability to run and pass.
“It’s important to contain this kid,’’ Albano said. “He’s very good. He reminds me a lot of Cam Newton when he played at Auburn. He’s going to touch the ball 90 percent of the time. He can fake, give, throw. He can run option.
“You are not going to stop this kid. We have to contain him. We can’t let him break 60- or 70-yarders on us. I always say to the kids: ‘just make them line up again. Just make them line up again.’ We have to contain this kid and make them keep lining up.’’
The Parsippany Hills defense is small but quick. They are also very versatile and can give opponents different defensive looks. They are known for their aggressive, hard-hitting play. They try to force turnovers. They are quick to the ball and use their speed to come at opponents from different angles.
It may be difficult for the Parsippany Hills players to play in containment because of their aggressive nature. The Vikings love to swarm to the ball and make plays.
“Our defense is mean,’’ linebacker Andew Cupo said. “I feel were definitely a defensive team. We’re very strong. … We attack. We blitz a pretty good amount when it’s necessary. Mostly we just play well. We definitely compensate with our speed. We hit pretty hard. I think teams don’t think we can hit because of our size. We smack’em up early and they are a little taken aback.’’
Cupo and his linebacker teammate C.J. Joyce are tackling machines. They both have more than 180 tackles and are battling for the team’s single-season record with every stop they make. Their quickness and ability to read a team’s offense usually gives them an advantage in making plays.
“We have two skill kids in the middle, our tailback and our fullback,’’ Albano said. “That’s been the formula for us. We’ve always had our good skill kids in the middle because they can run. This year is the same. Cupo is probably the quickest kid on the team. We’re undersized but we can run. You are asking some big linemen to find these kids. We’re just beating them to the spots.’’
Although Cupo and Joyce have the most tackles, the good thing about the Vikings is that no matter who is out there anyone can make a big play.
“As a unit there’s not just one person making plays,’’ linebacker Will Smith said. “That’s where we really stand out on defense. Everyone is flying around and the emotions are so high. Everyone knows what’s on the line.
“It’s just the support. Everyone has each others backs. We all know that if someone messes up someone else has his back. We don’t have one superstar. It makes us resilient. We can rely on so many different guys for a spark.’’
The Parsippany Hills linebackers aren’t the only ones that have to be on their game on Saturday. With the exception of 6-foot-4, 330-pound Naujee Davis, most of the Vikings defensive line is considered undersized. The linemen will have to hold their blocks and keep their opponents from opening up holes and advancing the ball.
“Up front they have to force double teams so our linebackers can be free,’’ Albano said. “Luis Garcia and Naujee and Mike Castelli and Stephen Hill—a very undersized kid but we moved him from linebacker to defensive line – have to force double teams. In our scheme we don’t have those 6-4, 300-pound kids besides Naujee that can do it. That’s why we went to the 50 defense. We can only do what the personnel lets us do—run and blitz and get after it.’’
Albano has complete confidence that his defensive backs can stick to the Cranford receivers and force Green to make tough decisions.
“Mike Comerford is doing a great job for us,’’ Albano said. “Danny Hardwick and T.C Panciello step up when we are in our 3-5. Those are the three. When we go to our 50 look, we take out one of the linebackers and we put in another d-back which is Travis Herbst. He’s another kid who is a great football player and does his job.’’
In the last seven games, the Vikings defense has surrendered an average of 13 points a game. That 6-1 run started with an emotional spark the players received after a 14-7 victory against Morris Knolls on October 14 that included a stirring goalline stand.
“At Morris Knolls we made a goal-line stop four times on the half yard,’’ Cupo said. “It definitely brought the defense together. We felt we could actually do something well out there. It was an extreme confidence boost.’’
“Our defense really came out to play against Morris Knolls,’’ Smith added. “That made us if not a better team than a tougher team. We knew what we had in us because we stopped them multiple times that game. It made our defense better.”
Albano insists that the Vikings' defense is healthy and in great shape. They should be physical and quick to the ball for all four quarters because of what’s at stake. The players know that a victory on Saturday for the Vikings will turn a good season into a great one.
“This year from the very beginning of the season we’ve been working hard,’’ Cupo said. “We’ve been motivating ourselves to get to where we are now. Now that we’ve made it we’re going to do what we’ve been training to do. It’s all or nothing.’’