Four local teams, namely St. Peter's Prep and Hudson Catholic in Parochial Group 4 and Hoboken and Secaucus in North Jersey Section 2, Group I, have already clinched berths in the playoffs.
In fact, the way it appears right now, it looks as if Hoboken and Secaucus will face each other in the Group I playoffs, competing on the gridiron for the very first time. It should lead to a very interesting showdown, considering that a good portion of Secaucus residents were originally from Hoboken.
However, there are three other teams that are currently "on the bubble," meaning that they still have a chance of making the state playoff picture, but haven't secured the spot just yet.
One of those teams is North Bergen, which currently holds the Hudson County mark for consecutive playoff appearances, having qualified for the state playoffs every year since 1987 and having made the playoffs in every year but two since the playoff system was initiated in 1974.
After losing three of their first four games, the Bruins have won four straight to get to 5-3 and have 44 power points. Right now, that would be good enough for sixth place in the North Jersey Section 1, Group IV standings. The top eight teams in each section with at least a .500 record or better qualify for the playoffs.
But the Bruins can receive only residual power points (meaning points from teams that they had already defeated) this weekend. Their game with Hoboken does not count toward the power point rankings.
So it leaves veteran coach Vince Ascolese and his coaching staff in a very peculiar predicament - not knowing their playoff fate or destination before making preparation for the game, if the Bruins are going at all in the first place.
Ascolese said that he did all the possible power point configurations and is pretty sure that the Bruins are in already, regardless of what happens with other teams this weekend.
"I'm pretty sure we're going to be in it," said the legendary Ascolese, who collected his 300th career coaching victory three weeks ago. "I believe the worst we will finish will be eighth. We know how to do the power points and figured everything out on Monday. I'm pretty sure we're in, but things can change. You really never know."
Sure enough, Ascolese thought his team was in the playoffs in 1987, when the Bruins had a 7-1 record at the cutoff, but they finished a half-point out of the fourth spot. It's the last time the Bruins were left out of the state playoffs.
Seven years ago, the playoff brackets were extended from four teams to eight teams. That extension has enabled the Bruins to keep their current consecutive streak going.
"At first, I can remember being against extending the bracket," Ascolese said. "But now, I can't knock it, because we got in a few times."
Now, it looks like the Bruins will get another shot because of the eight-team field. If things hold according to form, the Bruins will travel to Randolph next weekend for the first round of the state playoffs.
"That's the only bad thing right now," Ascolese said. "Not knowing who we're playing and where you're playing. The odds are that we're in, so we have to just sit and wait to see what happens. I think it's great that when we were 1-3, people thought we were dead, but the kids hung tough, grew together and just kept playing. It's pretty amazing we're at this point. I think it's a good sign for the future, because we have a very young team."
Another local team sitting on the fence in that bracket is Emerson, which has qualified for the state playoffs in each of the last four seasons under head coach Eddie Marinez, including the Bulldogs' march to the Group IV title game two years ago.
But the Bulldogs are 4-2-1, are sitting 10th in the power point race with 34 points and will need a lot of help, including an improbable win by Paterson Eastside, which owns a 1-6 record, over Bloomfield, which is 4-3.
So while the Bulldogs aren't totally deceased, it will take nothing short of a miracle to get them into the playoffs. The third local team fighting for a berth in the postseason is Weehawken, which owns a 4-3 record and is sitting ninth in the North Jersey Section 2, Group I standings - the same section that includes Hoboken and Secaucus. It's cut and dried for the Indians. If they beat Harrison this weekend, they're in.
"I also think we need a little help, too," Weehawken head coach Anthony Stratton said. "If Glen Ridge beats Cedar Grove, then we're in. But it doesn't mean anything unless we win."
After the Indians lost to Becton and St. Mary's, Stratton was certain they were out of playoff contention. "I thought our other loss to Park Ridge would come back to bite us," Stratton said. "But then we finally started to look at the power points and realized that we had a shot. I never even thought about it. Just to be close and getting a little taste is really exciting. The kids are all aware and know what they have to do. They've been figuring out what has to happen and what we have to do. It all begins with us winning. Nothing else matters."
Added Stratton, "I'm real excited for the four seniors [David LoRocco, Mike DiLallo, Ryan McLaughlin and Alfredo Alvarez] who were on the team in 2000 when we made the playoffs [the only time in school's history] and they all said that they wanted to go back again as seniors."
That can only happen with a win and a little help from their friends.
So the waiting game begins for the three local teams. One appears in, one appears out, one appears like it could be in, but needs help. Such is the life of New Jersey high school football. - Jim Hague