Pascack Valley to face River Dell in 2019 rematch

PV to host Golden Hawks Friday night

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Matt Austin

Ryan Donaldson looks to break free of the Demarest defenders. Valley will take on River Dell at home Friday night.

BJ McGrane, Sports Editor

Pascack Valley is finally preparing to take on River Dell, much later than expected. The game was originally scheduled for Oct. 17, but was postponed due to positive COVID-19 cases at Pascack Valley.

Valley will host the Golden Hawks for the second consecutive year, with both teams having their sights set on the “Rumble for the Rail” trophy, which currently resides at PV.

“We’re playing for the Rumble for the Rail trophy, something [River Dell coach D.J Nimphius and I] brought in a couple years ago,” head coach Len Cusumano said. “It’s been a very competitive rivalry over the years.”

The trophy is awarded to the winner of the annual matchup between PV and River Dell, and is kept in the possession of the victors until the two teams face off the following season.

Nothing exemplifies this rivalry more than last year’s matchup between the two, a contest in which PV emerged victorious by a score of 20-19 after a missed PAT from the Golden Hawks, crowning Valley as champions of the Patriot Gold division.

But this is not the 2019 Golden Hawks. In 2020, River Dell has won five of six games, including a win over a Ramapo team that had not lost a game since 2017.

This is not an anomaly for River Dell. After going 5-1 thus far, the team has guaranteed a winning record for the 15th consecutive season.

“I think [River Dell’s] kids try very hard to keep them in games and give them a chance to win,” Cusumano said. “[River Dell is] a great program. They’ve done a great job over the years.”

The Golden Hawks have found similar success to their 7-4 finish in 2019, but with different players running the show. After the graduation of quarterback Mike Sirico, River Dell turns to senior Christian Hay to lead its offense. Hay has totaled 523 yards and 9 touchdowns in his first six games, while completing 54.4% of his passes. The Golden Hawks’ new starter has primarily looked for senior Cole Zaccaro and junior Colin Quinn in the passing game, throwing seven of his 9 total touchdown passes to the pair.

On the ground, River Dell has seemingly found its workhorse back in senior Mike Mellet, who has rushed for 460 yards on 12 carries per game, while finding the end zone seven times on the ground. Hay has shown flashes of being a dual-threat as well, rushing for a total of 257 yards on 8.5 carries per game in addition to getting in the end zone once this season.

River Dell’s offense has had no problem putting up points this season, averaging just under 25 points per game while only failing to score 22 points once. Pascack Valley’s defense has quite the task ahead, but the unit has proven itself as of late, allowing no more than 14 points in its last three games.
“I think [the defense] is playing very fundamentally sound football,” Cusumano said. “[They are] sprinting to the football, trusting one another to do their job.”

After a loss in its season opener against Ramapo, PV’s defense has turned it up, allowing just four scores in the last three games.

“They’re definitely competing to the best of their ability in each game,” Cusumano said. “Coach [Adam] Preciado does a great job putting guys into position to make plays.”

On the offensive side of the ball, Valley has looked for many different playmakers to step up. Senior Mike Solazzo and junior Nick Messina have led the rushing attack, with Solazzo accounting for 355 yards and 3 touchdowns, and Messina rushing for 193 yards and 2 touchdowns in Pascack Valley’s four games this season.

In the passing game, first-year starter Zach Traina has thrown for 400 yards and 6 touchdowns over the course of his first four starts. Traina has found a plethora of different receivers throughout the season, including junior Dylan Hutchinson, and seniors Mike Supple, David Jones, Ryan Donaldson, and John Supple. Traina has found each of these receivers for a touchdown and at least 4 catches apiece.

After turning the ball over twice against Old Tappan, Cusumano is focused on keeping control of the ball and sticking to the basics against the Golden Hawks.

“We have to maintain time of possession,” Cusumano said. “We can’t turn over the football. Once again, [River Dell] is a team that you can’t afford costly mistakes and turnovers to get their momentum going.”

Of course, offense and defense are not the only parts of football. Special teams can prove to be a gamechanger, as it was last week when Pascack Valley muffed a punt, giving Old Tappan the ball on PV’s side of the field.

“[We have to] play fundamentally sound in all three phases,” Cusumano said. “Last week the defense played very well, on offense we didn’t get consistent, and on special teams we had a little bit of a mishap there.”

Cusumano stresses the importance of the team aspect of football, noting that every player has to be “all in” in order for the team to be successful.

“That’s why [football] is the best team sport around,” Cusumano said. “In team sports, you require everybody to be all in on every play, so we’re expecting that of our guys this week.”

With all of the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, Pascack Valley was at risk of having its game against River Dell cancelled for good when PV operated on a fully-remote schedule for two weeks in October. Now that Valley is all-remote for Thursday Nov. 12, the game could once again be in jeopardy.

As Valley wraps up its season with its final two games, Cusumano believes that the team is fortunate enough to have a season, and should enjoy its final games.

“[We’re] being grateful that we have the opportunity to play,” Cusumano said. “There are a lot of teams out there that aren’t playing right now in New Jersey and around the country, so we feel very fortunate right now to be playing.”