Valley to take on Ramapo in state sectional final rematch

PV to face defending North 1, Group 3 champs in season opener


Ariela Alfonso

Cornerback Chris Cole lines up in coverage. PV takes on Ramapo in a rematch of the 2019 state sectional final Friday night.

BJ McGrane, Sports Editor

After coming oh-so-close to knocking off Ramapo – a powerhouse over the last few years – in the 2019 North 1, Group 3 state sectional final, Pascack Valley has its sights set on taking down last year’s North Group 3 regional champions in the 2020 season opener.

Ramapo has emerged victorious from its last 26 games, a streak that dates back to the beginning of the 2018 season. Perhaps no team came closer to ending that streak than Valley did in last year’s state sectional final, but Ramapo came out on top by a score of 28-23.

PV has another chance to end the streak – and get some revenge – as Valley faces off against the Raiders yet again on Friday night.

“[We need to] make sure we take advantage of our opportunities when they come,” coach Len Cusumano said. “[Play] consistent, disciplined football, not allowing [Ramapo] to get any sort of rhythm.”

Offensively, the Raiders had some trouble finding their rhythm against Valley in the playoffs. The same cannot be said for PV’s 2019 regular season matchup against Ramapo, a contest in which Ramapo quarterback Charles DePrima threw for four touchdowns, while converting 71.4% of his passes for 270 yards. The Raiders’ Harvard-bound signal caller and his offense put up 42 points on Valley in last year’s regular season matchup between these two teams.

In the playoffs, however, PV’s defense seemed to have flipped the switch. Valley allowed just 28 points, 21 of which came from running back Jake Tirone, a 2020 graduate.

But this is not 2019.

This is a new season, and with a new season, come different teams for both Ramapo and Pascack Valley.

“Every season is different,” Cusumano said. “[Ramapo has] new players out there. We have new players out there.”

Valley will certainly have a new look offense this year, as much of its 2019 offense ran through a pair of three-year starters in quarterback Stephen Begen and running back Jake Williams, both of whom graduated earlier this year. With the loss of three offensive linemen in Sean Deady, Chase Rickert, and Sean Duffy to graduation, in addition to two playmakers in Andrew Martinez and Jake Ciocca, it’s safe to say that much of Valley’s 2020 offensive personnel is an unknown for opposing teams.

“Every team is trying to find an identity,” Cusumano said. “It doesn’t matter if we have zero All-County guys, or if we have one All-County guy, and that’s why [football] is the best team sport out there. So, we have to make sure everybody is on the same page.”

Even if some of Valley’s players are donning the green and white for the first time, Ramapo is no stranger to PV. Two of Valley’s last four games – the aforementioned regular season matchup and postseason matchup – have been against the Raiders at Ramapo High School in Franklin Lakes.

Familiarity of the opponent is not Cusumano’s biggest concern, as PV’s fifth year head coach is focused on the fundamentals going into his Week 1 matchup.

“I think we both know each other very well,” Cusumano said. “It’s just a matter of whose team is going to make the most plays on that particular day.”

Ramapo’s victory over Valley in the state sectional final marked the program’s 25th straight win and its second consecutive North 1, Group 3 title. PV is focused on getting the job done, regardless of the Raiders’ accolades.

“We’re not concerned about records, we’re not concerned about who has what championships and all that,” Cusumano said. “We’re concerned about the job at hand for this week, which is going 1-0.”

There is no question that the Raiders have had success under coach Drew Gibbs, but similar to Valley, these are not the same Ramapo Raiders.

Sure, DePrima is back for his senior year and is still calling the shots for Ramapo’s offense. And yes, his favorite target, senior wideout Sean Clapp, will also be taking the field for the Raiders once again.

But the offensive line? Not nearly as established as the man it will be protecting.

The back-to-back sectional champs will have an entirely new group at the line of scrimmage, which could wind up playing in Valley’s favor. Four returning defensive linemen in junior Steven Demboski, and seniors Nick Mazza, Daniel Haag, and Jared Cohen will take the field for PV.

If Pascack Valley can capture the win, it will be the program’s first victory against the Raiders since 2013, before Cusumano took over as head coach.

“They’ve had our number for quite a number of years. Unfortunately we haven’t come out on the positive end as far as wins are concerned,” Cusumano said. “But we get another shot at them, and obviously they get another shot at us.”

Ramapo has built up quite a legacy in recent years, but come 6:30 p.m. on Friday, all that goes out the window for Cusumano and the rest of PV.

“We understand the background, the history, and all of that kind of stuff. We’ll respect it. But once we cross the lines on Friday night, it’s go time,” Cusumano said.