Indians face rematch against Ramapo in sectional championship

Valley fell to Raiders 42-14 in regular season finale


Matt Austin

Andrew Martinez runs the ball upfield in Valley’s Oct. 25 matchup against Ramapo. The Raiders would go on to beat the Indians 42-14 in Valley’s regular season finale.

Spencer Goldstein and Willy Higgins

Pascack Valley vs Ramapo

When: Friday Nov. 22, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Ramapo High School

Regular Season Records:

Ramapo: 9-0

Pascack Valley: 6-2

After defeating Garfield 28-6 last week in the North 1, Group 3 sectional semifinals, the Indians will travel to Ramapo to take on the Raiders in the N1, G3 sectional championship game on Friday night. Ramapo has won its last eight meetings with Valley, and the winner will advance to play whoever comes out of the N2, G3 sectional championship matchup between Parsippany Hills and West Essex in the North, Group 3 championship at MetLife Stadium. 

The Indians and Raiders are not unfamiliar with each other, as the two teams met in Valley’s regular season finale on Oct. 25, in which Ramapo continued its undefeated campaign by trouncing Valley 42-14. The Indians put up a fight, however, as the game was tied at 14 in the second quarter before Ramapo pulled away, and Valley is looking to turn the loss into a positive learning experience as it prepares for the postseason rematch.

“[We’re using the loss for] both motivation and learning,” head coach Len Cusumano said. “Definitely [for] learning from our mistakes. We had a bye week after the game so we had the chance to take a look back at what we did, so [it’s just important to] bounce back from that particular loss.”

The top seeded Raiders are coming off a 49-40 win over fourth seeded Newark West Side in which senior running back Jake Tirone rushed for three touchdowns and junior quarterback Charles DePrima recorded three total touchdowns as well. The win marked Ramapo’s 24th straight victory dating back to the beginning of the 2018 season, and while the Indians are aware of the tough task that lies ahead, they’re committed to staying true to their season-long approach of preparing for each game the same way. 

“When you get the chance to play in games like this, it’s obviously a [big] thing but it’s no more important than any [other] game that we’ve played,” Cusumano said. “Obviously [this game] has certain things attached to it as far as validation, trophies and things like that, but either way we win [as] our guys have really done a great job putting Pascack Valley back on the map.”

Following a regular season in which it averaged nearly 38 points per game, Ramapo’s offense has remained explosive throughout the playoffs, scoring 11 touchdowns in two games en route to 79 total points scored. After the Raiders put up 42 points on Valley’s defense last time the two teams met, putting pressure on DePrima will be key for the Indians as they look to capitalize on their second chance to stop the Raiders in their tracks.

“Just playing with a high motor, being relentless, [and] reading their keys is going to be very important [in getting to the quarterback],” Cusumano said. “[Ramapo’s] line did a great job last time but we have a second shot at them so we’re looking forward to it.”

Valley’s defense has stepped up in the playoffs, allowing only six total points in two games. However, now facing its toughest task yet, it will need to ride this momentum and stay consistent in order to contain Ramapo’s prolific offense. 

“[It’s crucial to] follow the game plan and maintain consistency as far as tackling – wrapping people up and taking [them] to the ground,” Cusumano said. “Once again, just reading our keys and staying the course defensively.”

Valley’s offense has turned it up a notch in the playoffs as well, combining a dominant rushing attack with a productive passing game on its way to 69 points in two games. Senior workhorse Jake Williams has led the way, recording 253 rushing yards and five touchdowns throughout the postseason, and senior signal caller Stephen Begen has tacked on three passing touchdowns of his own.

While Williams ultimately turned in a successful performance in last week’s win over Garfield, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the ground game, as he was held to just 23 rushing yards on seven carries in the first half. Begen and the passing game were able to pick him up, however, totalling 78 yards and a touchdown in the half, thus proving the importance of having a balanced offensive attack as opposed to being one-dimensional.

“Anytime you get this deep into the playoffs, the running game is always a [big] part of any successful team in football,” Cusumano said. “[However,] you can’t rely too much on [just running or passing the ball] because some teams are going to find ways to stop one of those aspects. As long as we’re balanced in both the passing game and the running game, we’ll be able to move the ball, maintain time of possession, and stay on the field offensively, which is going to be key.”

While the Indians won’t be treating this game any differently than their previous contests in terms of preparation, a win would be very meaningful to the team and the Pascack Valley community as a whole.

“[A win would mean] a lot to the boys,” Cusumano said. “It means a lot to our community to be back in this position against a familiar opponent, another Bergen County school. [A win] validates a lot of the work that’s [been] put in by a lot of the [players] and coaches, [as well as] a lot of the parents that are involved with our players getting back and forth [between] practices and games.”