After defeating Lincoln, 41-20, last Friday night at Caven Point Cochrane Stadium, Ferris head football coach Wilbur Valdez had to be feeling pretty good about things. It looked as if the win had clinched a berth in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III playoffs for the Jersey City school.
“I certainly did feel that way,” Valdez said.
After all, the Bulldogs did what they had to do. They won their game, pushing their record to 5-3. They increased their power point total to 35, which was comparable to other teams in the bracket like Millburn, Ridge and Scotch Plains. Valdez felt like his team was in the playoffs for the second straight year, after a drought of 15 years since Ferris last qualified for the postseason.
“We told the kids Friday night that we were in,” Valdez said. “I actually went out with a few of the coaches to celebrate.”
But there still were some residual effects that needed to be addressed.
“We knew the scenario,” Valdez said. “We needed either Ridge or Scotch Plains to lose. But we felt good about the whole thing.”
A day later, the next shoe dropped. Ridge lost.
But that wasn’t enough, because teams that Ridge had defeated, teams with sub-.500 records, turned around and won on Saturday, giving Ridge more points.
“When we heard Ridge had lost, that’s when I thought we definitely were in,” Valdez said. “The kids were all excited, high-fiving each other and hugging each other.”
However, it still wasn’t good enough. It turned out that all four teams – Millburn, Ridge, Scotch Plains and Ferris – had the same total of power points, namely 35.
Millburn, Ridge and Scotch Plains had 4-4 records. Ferris’ seasonal mark was 5-3.
The NJSIAA then went to a sophisticated tiebreaking formula, putting strength of schedule in with the opponents’ victories. Ferris had to like its chances, considering two of the Bulldogs’ losses came to St. Peter’s Prep, the No. 1 team in the entire state, and North Bergen, which clinched the No. 1 seed in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV bracket. The Bulldogs’ third loss was to Emerson, which had secured the No. 4 seed in the same bracket that Ferris resides in.
However, when the results came back from the tiebreaking formula, Ferris somehow was on the outside looking in.
“The formula had Millburn with 55 points, Ridge and Scotch Plains with 54 and us with 53,” Valdez said. “We were out. If we were all 4-4, then I would understand. But we have a better record and we’re out. I would understand it all if the first tiebreaker was overall record. Then we would be in. It’s a shame and I wish it wasn’t that way.”
So instead of preparing for a state playoff game against an unknown opponent, Valdez went back to practice on Tuesday to get ready for a consolation game against Union Hill.
“I feel like I kind of misled the kids, telling them they were in,” Valdez said. “I feel like I lied to them to get them to play hard. I’m sick about the whole thing. We’re 5-3 and we’re at home. We lost to two possible state champs.”
Added Valdez, “The kids went to practice today [Tuesday] and they didn’t want to practice. They were heartbroken. I really believed that if we got in, we could have made some noise in that bracket. I was honest with the kids and told them that sometimes, life isn’t fair. This is not fair. Ridge didn’t beat a team with a winning record all year, but they’re in and with a worse record than us. I just feel so bad for the kids.”
Valdez is hopeful that Ferris’ plight will open some eyes with the NJSIAA and force a change in the tiebreaking formula.
“There has to be a way to change that,” Valdez said. “It’s just not right.”
This corner wholeheartedly agrees, because if you have a 5-3 record, you should get a chance to play in the state playoffs over a 4-4 team. Plain and simple, this will be a prime example that the tiebreaking formula simply does not work…
While Ferris is on the outside looking into the state playoffs, there are seven local teams that have qualified for the NJSIAA state playoffs in six different enrollment classifications.
One of those is St. Joseph of the Palisades, which will be making its first playoff appearance since 1991. The 4-4 Blue Jays got the third seed in the NJSIAA Parochial (Non-Public) Group 1 bracket and will face perennial power St. Mary’s of Rutherford in the first round. It’s a major accomplishment for coach Steve Romano and his team to make the state playoffs…
While St. Joe’s is going to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, another local school is making its unprecedented 19th straight postseason appearance. North Bergen has earned the top seed in North Jersey Section 1, Group IV.
With that, it’s time for the round mound of the renowned, the wide wizard with magic wand, turban and crystal ball to make a return appearance. Yes, it’s the Great Hagueini, who has been missing in action since making his HCIAA baseball and softball prognostications last spring.
The wide one is excited to be back for the start of the state football playoffs and is ready to give the avid readers a heaping helping of playoff banter.
So here goes, the picks for Round One. And remember, do not use this selections for any type of wagering, unless it’s for a bologna sandwich and a grape soda with your Uncle Looie:
Clifton at North Bergen: The Bruins earned the top seed in the section and are playing their best football at the right time. It’s time for Evan Rodriguez to show the rest of New Jersey just how truly special a player he is. North Bergen 35, Clifton 12.
South Plainfield at Emerson: It’s been a roller coaster year for coach Eddie Marinez and his Bulldogs. Imagine, Emerson loses 61-0 to Hoboken and two weeks later, they’re playing a home playoff game in North 2, Group III? While Emerson has been able to pull off some playoff shockers in the past, this is not one of them. It will be interesting to see how Union City handles a state playoff crowd at the new Monastery Field. It might not be pretty. South Plainfield 35, Emerson 7.
There are two local teams in North 2, Section 1, including the top seed.
New Providence at Hoboken: This match-up is almost unfair. A really great guy named Frank Bottone, perhaps the nicest guy in all of New Jersey high school football, is going for his 300th win. And to get it, he has to face the No. 4 team in all of New Jersey? Damien Bates is on a crusade to get the Red Wings a second straight state title. And get this stat: As a head coach, Lou Taglieri is 20-0. Talk about instant success. Here’s to hoping New Providence can beat Governor Livingston on Thanksgiving, because Win No. 300 just ain’t happening this weekend in the Mile Square City. Hoboken 42, New Providence 7.
Secaucus at Verona: The undefeated Patriots are on a roll, with Ricky Nunez running wild, John Barnitt making all the right calls and defensive beast Chris Lee making sack after sack. While defeating St. Mary’s in Week One was a big test, this one might be even bigger. Just a hunch, but Hagueini sees a Hoboken-Secaucus showdown on the horizon. Secaucus 21, Verona 13.
Now, on to the Parochials.
St. Joseph of the Palisades at St. Mary’s (Rutherford): While St. Joseph has a great combo in Yessy Tejada and Mike Cafiero, St. Mary’s has two sure-fire Division I studs in Louis Saunders and Da’mon Merkerson, who have caused a handful of nightmares all season in the BCSL National. Just how did Secaucus beat this team? St. Mary’s 42, St. Joseph 14.
Holy Spirit at Hudson Catholic: The school from Absecon, just outside of Atlantic City, has to travel nearly two hours on a bus to get introduced to Darius Kinney. There’s no way Holy Spirit has seen anything like Kinney. Look for another Kinney explosion, sprinkled with a dash of Calvin Brownridge. Hudson Catholic 28, Holy Spirit 14.
Bergen Catholic at St. Peter’s Prep: In years past, this game would have been a great Parochial Group 4 finale, but this year, it’s a first round showdown. It’s just a sign of how far the mighty Crusaders have fallen and how high the Prep program has risen. This won’t be a bump in the road for the marvelous Marauders, who are looking toward a repeat performance against Don Bosco in the Meadowlands for the whole magilla. Hagueini has two words for Bergen Catholic: Will Hill. He’s clearly the best overall player in New Jersey, bar none. St. Peter’s Prep 35, Bergen Catholic 14.
One other note, congrats to North Bergen hoop superstar Lauren Jimenez on signing her national letter of intent with James Madison University in Virginia. The 6-4 Jimenez, an All-State performer and two-time Hudson Reporter Player of the Year, chose JMU over schools like West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, UMass and San Diego State. Jimenez will be a major factor in the upcoming basketball season and will be a fine addition to the JMU roster in the future… — Jim Hague