Indians ready for Ridgefield Park to begin second half

Halfway through 2018 campaign, PV remains work in progress


Ariela Alfonso

Tight end James Della pesca (36) looks to make a play against Old Tappan.

Josh DeLuca, Sports Editor

Pascack Valley vs Ridgefield Park

When: Friday Oct. 5, 6 p.m.

Location: Pascack Valley High School

2018 Records:

Pascack Valley: 2-2

Ridgefield Park: 1-4

At the halfway point point of their season, Pascack Valley remains a program in flux.  Four games into the season, the Indians have yet to play a close game. PV has beat up on lesser programs, handily defeating Dwight Morrow and Demarest, while it has struggled mightily against the upper echelon teams Paramus and Old Tappan.

On both sides of the ball, it has been hit or miss for Valley, with very little middle ground. Offensively, PV has scored 91 points in its two wins, but has managed just 14 points a game in its two losses.  Meanwhile, the Indians’ defense has allowed a total of just 13 points in their wins, but has given up 86 in the two losses.

“When we do things right, when we are focusing on what our rules, our responsibilities are, we’re a pretty good football team,” Indians’ head coach Len Cusumano said.

Despite the mixed results, Cusumano does not think wholesale changes need to be made.  Instead, he believes that it comes back to “fundamentals” and “execution.”

“It’s not necessarily change,” Cusumano said. “It’s about having an attitude. When the moment arrives, making that play in that moment, that’s the biggest thing you can do.”

On the offensive side of the ball, the Indians have relied primarily upon their ground game, and star junior tailback Jake Williams.  With 458 rushing yards on 58 carries, Williams has more than four times as many yards on the ground as the next highest Indian. Williams has found the end zone seven times and has fumbled just once.  Running backs James Allmers, Mike Solazzo, Sean Cuffe, and Stephen Soravilla have all contributed, as well.

The Valley aerial attack, however, has been far less potent.  Though junior signal caller Stephen Begen has completed more than half of his pass attempts, the Indians have had little success throwing the ball downfield.  Begen has thrown for just 219 yards and a touchdown in four games.

“We want to be as balanced as as we can,” Cusumano said of his team’s offensive strategy. “But if you can’t catch the ball, it’s tough to tough to pass. If you can’t protect, it’s tough to pass, as well. If you can’t block up front in the run block, it’s tough to run the ball.”

Like the offense, the Pascack Valley defense has had its ups and downs.  The Indians have had success getting to opposing quarterbacks, recording seven sacks.  However, they have struggled to contain dual-threat offensives that feature potent passing and rushing games. The PV defense has only forced one turnover in four games, a Week 3 fumble against Demarest.

Valley returns home this week after three consecutive games on the road to host Ridgefield Park, in what could very well be their last game in which they enter play as favorites.  However, the Indians are not taking anything for granted.

“They’ve had some rough years the past couple years, but they’re a team that wants to get better,” Cusumano said. “They want to come up here and spoil our progress, so we [have] to be ready to go. We can’t take anybody lightly.”

Despite a 4-6 season and a playoff berth in 2017, Ridgefield Park is a program in transition.  After defeating Whippany Park 39-3 in their first game under first-year head coach Dan Sabella, the Scarlets have their last four games.  In the four consecutive losses, Ridgefield Park has been outscored 121-34.

“They’re going to be well coached, they’ll be prepared, so we have to make sure we’re equally as prepared,” Cusumano said.

The Scarlets began the season with senior John Perez under center.  In the first three games of the season, Perez completed 20 of 38 passes for 175 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.  In its last two games, however, Ridgefield Park has turned over the reins to sophomore signal caller Matthew Vercelli. Vercelli has been a marginal improvement, completing 18 of 32 passes for 249 yards. However, he has thrown three interceptions.

On the ground, a trio of upperclassmen have led the way for the Scarlets. Senior running back Erik Rodriguez has rushed for 185 yards and three touchdowns, while junior Logan Martinez has accumulated 162 yards and a touchdown. Fellow junior Joe Occhipinti has recorded a pair of touchdowns on 123 rushing yards.

Martinez and Occhipinti are both threats in the aerial attack, as well, with 127 and 76 yards respectively.

The past two seasons the Indians have had their way with the Scarlets.  Pascack Valley won last seasons’ tilt 26-7, after a 26-0 victory in 2016.