River Dell and West Essex battle for N1G2 crown
Unlike the unpredictable North 1 Group 1 bracket, North 1 Group 2 has been all chalk thus far, setting up what should be a great game as No. 1 West Essex takes on No. 2 River Dell on Saturday at Metlife Stadium.
Both squads have cruised through the first two games, winning by 18 points or more, and the only scoring River Dell has surrendered was a single touchdown. Two teams with similar styles but who have not met in more than a decade. For West Essex head coach Chris Benacquista it’s a unique chance for a state championship in his very first year at the helm.
Along with a stingy defense River Dell likes to control the game with a versatile Wing-T rushing attack led by quarterback Tim Barnes -- who will also split out and catch passes from the team’s second QB, Sean Boland.
So far this year Barnes has averaged over six yards a carry and has run for 16 touchdowns; he as also thrown five and caught a pair from Boland. Truly a threat no matter where he lines up on the field.
The Golden Hawk’s only loss of the season came to Group 3 power Pascack Valley (9-2), a 49-21 game that was tied at halftime before the Indians figured out how to stop River Dell’s run-heavy offense.
That will be the test for Benacquista, getting his defense prepared to stop a team it has not seen, but runs a similar offense to that of their own.
For this reason West Essex has every reason to believe its defense can step up. The Knights are certainly no slouch having limited teams to 119 points in 11 games this season, only surrendering double digits twice -- both times to Group 3 schools, Nutley and 11-0 Delbarton.
The Knights have earned their 10-1 record this season on the strength of that defense but they have also scored a ton of points as well -- 413 to be exact. The biggest reason for that is that their variation of the Wing-T features two 1,000 yard rushers in D.J. Hamker and Stephen O’Neill.
While Hamker continually will keep the defense honest by pounding ball time and again up the gut from the fullback position, O’Neill has the ability take a pitch off of a fake to Hamker and score from anywhere on the field, making the Knights extremely difficult to defend.
If that weren’t enough, senior quarterback Paul Haramis is a threat to throw, a 63-percent passer on the season who has tossed nine scores this season to only one interception.
The only mutual opponent the two teams had this season, Nutley, defeated River Dell but lost to West Essex, 34-20.
THE PICK: River Dell 16, West Essex 13
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