By Andy Loigu
The 90th meeting of the Warren Hills and Hackettstown football teams featured sky divers, many returning alumni, and the largest crowd to watch football at Morrison Stadium in recent memory.
“It certainly was the largest crowd that I can remember here,” said Robert Grauso, who has been Hackettstown’s Athletic Director for over a decade. He reported that over 2,500 people paid to attend the game, and added that “there also were so many who did not have to pay, which was great, just made the occasion that much merrier.”
He indicated that over 300 graduates were recognized in a ceremony that made for a 35-minute halftime intermission.
Appropriately, the field is named in honor of Chot Morrison, a legendary coach who guided the Tigers to 15 state championships from 1930 to 1962. Morrison coached nine teams that finished with undefeated and untied records.
Streaks Take Game, Lead Rivalry Series
Each year since 1986 the winning team has been awarded the Beater Board. It is a block of fastened wooden boards that is used by farmers to press hay into square bales for transport. The tradition celebrates Warren County’s agricultural heritage. It follows in the time honored tradition of the Little Brown Jug piece of crockery that Michigan and Minnesota have annually battled to possess.
Warren Hills won this year’s game 14-7 and needed the win to finish 5-3 for the regular season and qualify for the playoffs. In the state playoff selection process, the first eight games count toward a team’s all-important power points total. Hackettstown, now 4-5, had already qualified for the playoffs the previous week.Warren Hills leads the all-time series over Hackettstown 44-41 with five ties. The team has won the last three after the Tigers had evened the series with a win in 2012, in Tony Villante’s final game as their coach. That memorable game was played just a week after the area was hit by Hurricane Sandy and the players and families endured many hardships in the week leading to the game.
Each year, the combined Rotary clubs of Washington and Hackettstown honor two players from each team with Player of the Game trophies.
This year running back Shane Deemer was named Offensive Player of the Game and lineman Kurt Nemeth earned the Blue Streaks’ defensive honors. Both are seniors at Warren Hills.
Senior Joe Renne (offense) and junior JJ Carrara (defense) earned Player of the Game honors for the Tigers.
Renne, a decorated wrestler who has won many championships on the mats is also hard to take down on the gridiron. He scored the Tigers’ only touchdown, a 24-yard run, averting a shutout with 2:54 left in the game on Friday evening. Warren Hills recovered the ensuing onside kick.
The Tigers only managed 10 yards of offense and one first down in the first half, but only trailed 7-0. Carrara made one of two interceptions which helped Hackettstown stay in the game. Zach Nesheiwat, also a junior, intercepted a pass and senior lineman Christian Rodriguez made a sack.
This year’s game featured old-school defensive stands by both teams that ended long drives. Warren Hills stopped the Tigers inside the 10-yard line three times and Hackettstown stopped the Blue Streaks inside the red zone twice.
Warren Hills linebacker Kyle McShea recovered a fumble at the five-yard line to stop a third-quarter drive and preserve a 14-0 lead at the time.
“These guys always make it interesting, but they get the job done,” veteran Warren Hills coach Larry Dubiel said about his team. “We’ve worked at achieving run and pass balance and the results are evidence of that.”
Senior quarterback Jake Carter completed 10 of 15 passes for 131 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Buster Bamford.
Wide receiver Carsen Johnson caught six passes for 87 yards.
On the ground, Hackettstown held Shane Deemer, who often rushes for over 100 yards, to 71 on 16 carries. However, the Blue Streaks also had other options. Yajaha Banks rushed for 58 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown run.
Juniors Taylor Hoover, with 46 yards, and Rashon “Rush On” Wade-Taylor, with 38, also made their presence felt in the Warren Hills ground game.
The only negative as the Streaks prepare for state playoff action was being penalized 11 times for 80 yards.
“Penalties have not been a problem until tonight,” Dubiel said, “but we’ll get on it and fix it.”
Football Steeped In Rivalry Tradition
Before the advent of long-distance travel availability, the sport of football began with rivalries growing from nearby schools challenging each other. Lafayette College and Lehigh University are now getting ready for their 151st meeting and other long-lasting series include Harvard versus Yale and Army versus Navy. Rutgers and Princeton met every year from 1869 to 1978.
Locally at the high school level Blair versus Peddie and Phillipsburg versus Easton are rivalries that have lasted over a century.
Warren Hills against Hackettstown is right up there with New Jersey’s longest lasting annual football rivalries. When number 100 comes around, it will take a lot to top the pageantry, spirit, and excitement generated last week in game number 90.
Teams’ Playoff Games Announced
Both teams can celebrate that they are moving on to the state playoffs this year. Preliminary matchups (subject to change) were announced by the NJSIAA on Monday. In North 2 Group 2, eighth seed Hackettstown visits top seed Lenape Valley for a 7 p.m. kickoff on Friday evening. In North 1 Group 4, eighth seed Warren Hills is tentatively set to visit Old Tappan, also at 7 p.m. on Friday.