Dickinson, Memorial await football playoff fate, needing help from others
It's one thing for a high school football coach to motivate his team, telling them that they have to win a crucial game in order to qualify for the state playoffs.
It's another thing altogether to have to count on the help of other teams to earn a place in the post-season party. It's a helpless, empty feeling - not being able to control your own destiny and fate.
"Having to sit and wait is very frustrating," said Dickinson head coach Rob Maffia, whose team is knocking on the door on the school's first NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV playoff berth since 1995. "I think it's absolutely more frustrating on the kids. They're the ones who play the games."
The Rams, who defeated Union Hill last weekend, improved their record to 5-3. They have 40 power points, which is good for sixth in the current standings.
But the Rams' first eight games are all that counts toward earning a spot in the playoffs. To collect more power points or to enhance their current status, the Rams will have to hope that Union Hill defeats Ferris this weekend - and for a host of other New Jersey Group IV teams to lose.
Which means the Rams will play Emerson this weekend and the game will have no bearing on whether or not the Rams qualify for the states. Thus, the part of the waiting game.
Maffia said that, by his modest calculations, the Rams have already nailed down at least the eighth spot in the bracket.
"I know Ridgewood and Hackensack have another game, but I have already calculated that we will be at least eighth," Maffia said. "The only team that can knock us out is Paterson Eastside, which has to beat Bloomfield. But I believe, by every calculation we've made, that we're in. We just put all the information into the computer and see what comes out."
Dickinson already has received the kindness of other teams in order to get close to the program's first state playoff berth in seven years. Scotch Plains did the Rams a favor by beating Kearny last weekend. The same goes for Glen Rock's win over Passaic County Tech.
"Those games definitely helped us," Maffia said.
While the Rams are currently in sixth place, awaiting action this weekend involving five different teams and not themselves, Memorial also is in a similar predicament, only far worse.
Right now, the Tigers are on the outside looking in, sitting 10th in the bracket with 36 points, just three points behind seventh place Ridgewood and two points behind Hackensack and Passaic County Tech, which are currently tied for the eighth and final spot.
However, the Tigers have a 4-4 record and cannot help themselves anymore. They need help from the rest of the state as well. But the optimism isn't the same as it is in Dickinson's camp.
"We're pretty much done," Memorial head coach Scott Cannao said. "Dickinson needed to lose last week and so did Ridgewood. From what I see, I think we're on the outside. Everyone is in the same little area, but I think we're definitely not in. Unless there's something I'm missing, I think we're out."
And that's frustrating, because the Tigers started off the year with three straight losses. It's also frustrating because the Tigers defeated Dickinson, 24-0, two weeks ago.
So while Dickinson awaits good news, Memorial awaits bad news. But neither team knows exactly for sure.
"It's frustrating, from that perspective, because we've turned things around from a deep hole," Cannao said. "After we lost three games and all three were butt kickings, we clawed back to .500. It's frustrating to come all the way back and then get nothing for it. And we beat Dickinson up pretty good, so that also hurts, that they're going and we're not. But that's just the way the ball bounces sometimes. Our kids pretty much know we're not going, but we're waiting, because we're still not positive. Nothing is set until we get official word (from the NJSIAA Monday)."
Both young coaches have to be proud in the manner in which their respective teams responded to adversity this season. The Rams, who won all of two games in Maffia's initial two seasons as head coach, have won five games this season.
"It is a major jump, but it was sort of expected," Maffia said. "I knew we had all the talent. One of our goals this season was to qualify for the state playoffs. If we did a better job in some games, like the Memorial game, we wouldn't be in the situation we're in right now, having to wait. It's a credit to the kids who have worked so hard since last year. The coaching staff and the players are all so excited. It feels great to be playing a game that has meaning this late in the season."
The Rams have received solid play from running backs Craig Morrison and Daniel Cooper all season.
"Craig finally showed up big time against Union Hill," Maffia said. "He had a great game and we were able to play him both ways, at defensive end and fullback. He got into his game big time. Cooper has been super for us. He's scored eight touchdowns on just 25 carries this season and has been averaging 11 tackles per game at linebacker. He's given teams a lot of problems."
Another performer doing well for the Rams is lineman Jason Lopez.
"Jay has done a great job for us up front," Maffia said. "He's gone up against some good linemen all year and more than held his own. I'm very proud of the kid."
Cannao has also been pleased with his team's performance down the stretch.
"Senior Diego Duque has really come on," said Cannao, who is in his first season as head coach, replacing Ed Sargent over the summer. "He never played football before this year and has been running the ball like a demon lately. Senior Andy Luna never played quarterback before this year and he's been injured and still plays through the pain."
Cannao has also been pleased with the work of running back Edwin Trinidad and freshman running back/safety Alfredo Cadiz, both of whom will be back next season.
"I think we all needed a year of learning, myself included," Cannao said. "I think we all took a lot of the little things for granted. There were some administrative things that I didn't know how to deal with, but I think I know now."
Both teams have tough games this weekend. Memorial faces Bayonne, while Dickinson locks horns with Emerson. Both opponents have already clinched berths in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV sectional that the Rams and Tigers aspire to get to.
Dickinson's more than ready.
"I told them after the Hudson Catholic game that we wanted to be on the road for the rest of the season," Maffia said. "If we were on the road, that meant we were most likely in the state playoffs. So we have our dark uniforms ready to hit the road."
Dickinson will know its destination Monday. So will Memorial. Both hope to hear the same good news. It's all part of the waiting game, the other side of high school football that not many people get to see.