David Harnett

Coach Len Cusumano talks to his PV players prior to a road game earlier this season. Cusumano and the Indians will travel to Connecticut on Saturday for the first out of state game in program history.

Pascack Valley set for first-ever out-of-state game

Indians to face New Canaan in Connecticut

When the Pascack Valley football schedule was released this spring, it contained the usual local suspects, including River Dell, Old Tappan, Demarest, and Ramapo. However, there was one game that was noticeably different: for the first time in the program’s history, the Pascack Valley football team was scheduled to play a game outside of the state of New Jersey.

On Saturday, the Indians will travel to New Canaan, Conn. to take on New Canaan High School at 2 p.m.

This matchup was not originally on the schedule for either school.  When Pascack Valley received its preliminary schedule about two years ago, the Indians were set to take on Cliffside Park in Week 8.

However, following an uncompetitive game in 2016 that resulted in a 47-0 win for Pascack Valley, both schools agreed that it would be best if they did not play for the next two years, as they had previously committed. Cliffside Park is a struggling program that won only one game last season while losing eight, including five shutouts.

“We were just trying to help out a fellow school,” Pascack Valley Athletic Director Tom Gattoni said.

With Cliffside Park off of the schedule, the Indians were in need of an opponent in Week 8. Unlike other high school sports, where teams play multiple times in one week, high school football teams only play once a week, so losing one game on the schedule is significant.

Similarly, playing just once a week, football teams have very little flexibility with their schedules. Athletic departments receive their schedules years in advance with little room for changes. As a result, when Valley was in need of a Week 8 opponent, there were no other teams in the area that were also in need of a game.

Luckily for Pascack Valley, the scheduler for North Jersey, who is also the Westwood Athletic Director, knew of the Indians’ dilemma, so when he heard that there some schools in Connecticut that were in search of games, he put Gattoni in touch with them.

After consulting with coach Len Cusumano, Gattoni and Pascack Valley agreed to play New Canaan in 2017 and 2018.  This year, the Indians will travel to New Canaan, and in 2018, the Rams will travel to Hillsdale.

As for New Canaan, it originally had a bye this weekend, but when it was approached with the opportunity to play Pascack Valley, it decided to do it.

“For me it’s a very attractive idea to play regionally, even though we are not that far apart,” New Canaan Athletic Director Jay Egan said.  “The idea of playing outside of the state of Connecticut against teams that are not that well known to us seemed to be good for both of our programs.”

The Rams originally had two byes in their schedule: one the week of Oct. 6 and one this week.  The first bye is mandated by the state of Connecticut in order to give players a break from contact at the midway point of the season.  However, the Rams were free to fill the second bye week, which happens every two years as a result of the schedule rotation.

“We think its just really good for football to have the interstate opportunities to compete,” Egan said.

New Canaan (4-2) has one of the best high school football programs in Connecticut, having won 22 State Championships, including one each of the past four years.  New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli has been at the helm for 37 seasons, and is the winningest coach in Connecticut state history.

“They are a top flight program, a program similar to what we have here, and similar to what we have played,” Cusumano said.

Cliffside Park did not replace Pascack Valley on its schedule, and will instead take a bye week this week before closing out its season in Fort Lee on Nov. 3.

It is not unprecedented for North Jersey public and private schools to play games out of state in hopes of stronger competition. Just this year, Wayne Hills traveled to Canton, Ohio to take on Canton McKinley.  In years past, Wayne Hills has traveled to North Carolina and Florida. Wayne Valley has played games against Downingtown West High School in Pennsylvania each of the past two years.

North Jersey parochial powerhouses, such as Bergen Catholic, St. Joseph, and Don Bosco, routinely play games against teams from out of state, as well.  For instance, in recent years, they have played nationally-ranked teams from Pennsylvania, Florida, California, and Ohio.

This year in particular, North Jersey teams have not faired so well against opponents from out of state.  Wayne Hills fell 38-0 in Ohio, Wayne Valley lost 24-13 to Downingtown West, Bergen Catholic lost 27-21 to Archbishop Wood (PA) and 62-14 to Mater Dei (CA), and St. Joseph lost to St. John’s College High School (DC) 42-25.  However, the Indians are not backing down from their first out of state game.

“We’ve never shied away from a challenge,” Cusumano said. “If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”

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