And then, there were two.
Two local teams have earned the right to play for their respective NJSIAA state sectional championship.
The Marauders of St. Peter’s Prep will face nationally-ranked Paramus Catholic and its All-American do-everything Jabrill Peppers for the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 state championship at MetLife Stadium on Friday, Dec. 6 at 8 p.m.
The Red Wings of Hoboken will tangle with Shabazz of Newark in the North 2, Group I title game at Kean University on Saturday, Dec. 7 at 10 a.m.
St. Peter’s Prep advanced to its title game with an impressive win over St. Augustine Prep in the semifinals last Friday night, a game where standout senior running back Jonathan Hilliman broke Savon Huggins’ single-season rushing record, going past the 1,900-yard plateau this season.
Incredibly, both were teammates together at Prep two years ago and now both will be teammates again next year at Rutgers.
The Marauders are headed to the state title game for the first time since 2009. They are shooting for their first state crown since 2005.
Head coach Rich Hansen knows that his program has had a bit of a problem facing the Bergen County Parochial powers over the last few years. Although they defeated Bergen Catholic this year, the Marauders have already lost to St. Joseph of Montvale this year and have a rematch with the Paladins, who defeated the Marauders last year in the state sectional semifinals.
The Marauders have also had a tough time with Don Bosco Prep, which lost to Paramus Catholic in last week’s semifinals.
“Every time we play a Bergen County team, it’s always there,” Hansen said. “We have had our success against Bergen Catholic and then [Don] Bosco became a monster. I don’t think we have any special fear facing the Bergen County teams, because in our three previous state championships, we beat St. Joe’s , Bergen Catholic  and Bosco . Paramus Catholic is just the next 800-pound gorilla we have to face. We’re in a bracket that is considered one of the toughest in the nation.”
Hansen realizes that the Paladins represent a huge challenge, especially with Peppers, who lines up all over the field.
“He’s a great athlete who can do a little bit of everything,” Hansen said. “They use him all over. He’s very talented. But we still have to go out and play the game. Big-time games are won with big-time players making big-time plays. We feel like we have some big-time players.”
The Marauders feature perhaps their most talented backfield ever, with Hilliman, quarterback Brandon Wimbush and do-everything backs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Corey Caddle.
“We’re also going to take the field with a team that is 100 percent healthy for the first time all season,” Hansen said. “It’s been a real program effort all season, with others stepping up. We want to play hard-nosed mistake-free football against them.”
The Red Wings make a return trip to the state finals, trying to defend the title they won a year ago and looking for the ninth state championship in the school’s history.
“We’re in the finals again and that’s a good thing,” Hoboken head coach Lou Taglieri said.
Taglieri said that getting to the state finals made him recall his mentor, former long-time Hoboken head coach Ed Stinson.
“He taught me everything I do,” Taglieri said. “I can still hear his voice, saying ‘No one person is bigger than the program, that people leave, but the program goes on.’ It’s so true.”
The Red Wings lost two key players in Terry Perry and Kain Dunham to injury, but they managed to get past New Providence to advance to the finals. Taglieri himself has been under the weather, batting complications after gall bladder surgery.
“That’s what a program does,” Taglieri said. “You still have to go on. Things needed to be changed and they bought into the changes. We went on.”
New kids like Michael Williamson, Marquise Roberts and Kiesse Lopez have capitalized on the opportunity to play and have done very well.
“They’ve had a ton of carries and a ton of yards,” Taglieri said. “The good thing is that they’re all young guys who are going to get better.”
There is one constant – namely senior quarterback Dante Bass, who scored four touchdowns, three via runs and one via an interception return, in the win over New Providence. Bass led the Red Wings to the state title last year and is determined to do it again.
“Bass has been playing like a kid possessed,” Taglieri said. “He has that look in his eyes. He has this calling to lead us. He’s usually so laid back, but every time he takes the field, he’s different. He knows that it all comes down to him and he’s taking charge, talking to every kid in the huddle.”
The other two Hudson County state sectional semifinalists, namely Union City and Lincoln, suffered tough setbacks last weekend.
Union City had a valiant effort against Montclair, before falling, 40-35. The Soaring Eagles had a chance to take the lead late in the game, but couldn’t make the necessary play.
But there’s nothing to be embarrassed about losing to a state power in the semifinals. Especially since most of the Soaring Eagles return next year. This year was just a stepping stone for what should come next year.
The Lions were outclassed and manhandled by Mountain Lakes, 45-12, in a game that was over before halftime. But Lincoln will also recover, with several key players, like running back Devell Jones, returning next season.
For now, Hudson County’s hopes lie with the Marauders and the Red Wings. The two have played for a state championship at the same time before, especially 1994 and 2005, when they both won. Maybe we can share more winning moments with the locals next weekend.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.