At the end of the 2016 season, the immediate future of the Pascack Valley football program appeared to be bleak. The team had missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003, and lacked a significant core of young, experienced players. The one bright spot, star running back Matt Urrea, would be lost to graduation at the end of the year.
A year later, the future looks much different in Hillsdale.
To its own high-standards, Pascack Valley’s 2017 campaign was one mired in struggles. The Indians finished the regular season at 2-7 with their only wins coming against Nutley and Ridgefield Park. However, the team squeaked into the North 1, Group 3 playoffs.
Although its regular season was rough and its postseason stint was short-lived, thanks to a 47-16 first-round loss at the hands of No. 1 Ramapo, Valley’s future suddenly looks brighter. In the midst of the struggles and blowout losses, the Indians did not gain many wins, but more and more juniors and sophomores began to get playing time.
“Overall, [it was] not the best year as far as records, but we did get a ton of experience under our belt against some very quality teams,” Coach Len Cusumano said.
For the second time in as many years, Pascack Valley started a sophomore under center. In the six games before his season-ending injury, Cusmano noted that Stephen Begen “definitely proved that he could handle the position.” Begen completed 31 of his 64 pass attempts for 247 yards, while rushing for 40 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
On the ground, the Indians relied primarily upon a pair of sophomore running backs. Jake Williams led the way for Valley on the ground, rushing for 495 yards and four touchdowns. Williams pitched in at quarterback, as well, following Begen’s injury.
“Jake Williams did an outstanding job stepping in at running back this year,” Cusumano said. “Jake pretty much stepped up in any position that we asked him to play.”
Fellow sophomore Mike Gulino and senior Greg Zoll both rushed for four touchdowns, while rushing for 307 yards and 446 yards respectively. Zoll had his break-out performance against Nutley, when he rushed for 243 yards and two touchdowns.
Offensively, as a run-first team, the Indians often lived-and-died by the play of their offensive line, anchored by juniors Charlie Looes and Andrew Demboski, and senior Matt Curcurato.
Valley’s passing attack was largely non-existent at the beginning of the season, but increased slowly throughout the season. Throwing for only 540 yards all season, the Indians took very few deep chances, often checking the ball down to the running back or senior fullbacks Chuck Viteritti and Austin Piorkowski.
However, when they did decide to go down the field, Valley utilized its young contingent of wide receivers, including sophomore Jake Ciocca and juniors Mike Garay, Ian Valdez, and Jake DeMilia, and sophomore tight end James Della Pesca.
Defensively, Pascack Valley allowed 31.5 points per game, but was very unpredictable from game to game. Even against some high-caliber opponents, the Indians managed to hold their own, but in other games, they struggled mightily.
Pascack Valley showed signs of greatness in 2017. The Indians took River Dell down to the final seconds in Week 1, hung in the game against Wayne Hills and New Canaan, and led at halftime in the playoffs in Ramapo. However, when push came to shove, more often than not, Valley could not get the job done.
“You can’t make the mistakes that we’ve made over the course of the season in order to win those games, so we’ve got to remedy those mistakes,” Cusumano said.
Although these flashes of greatness were not enough to carry the Indians to the promised land this year, they do show that there is hope for the future. If Pascack Valley’s young core of players improve their consistency, the Indians could be back near the top of North Jersey football sooner than it would have appeared just a year ago.
“In order to be one of the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” Cusumano said, echoing similar sentiments from earlier in season. “We’ve got to focus on us first, improving every guy at every position.”