After defeating New Providence last weekend, 35-0, Hoboken head football coach Lou Taglieri’s career coaching record now stood at a gaudy 21-0.
It’s hard to imagine a high school football coach having a better record to begin a head coaching career.
“It’s hard to believe, even with the great athletes we have,” Taglieri said. “These kids have the ability to bring such passion every day. I’ve been fortunate to surround myself with some good people, good players and good assistant coaches. I’ve really been blessed so far.”
The Red Wings are rolling toward another NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state championship, but will see a familiar foe this weekend when they play in the sectional semifinals.
Hoboken was slated to play host to Verona in the Mile Square City Friday night (Nov. 17). It’s the same Verona team that the Red Wings defeated last December, 21-6, to capture the state title.
Verona spoiled the plans of having an all-Hudson County state semifinal by defeating Secaucus, 33-20. It would have been nice to have the Red Wings and the Patriots lock horns one more time, like they did twice in the last four years, but the fates weren’t kind.
Now, the Red Wings have to tangle with a team that is shooting for revenge.
Taglieri said he’s not worried about facing an undefeated team that has strong motivation to knock off his 9-0 undefeated team.
“Honestly, I am just worried about my team, my kids,” Taglieri said. “Although I am smart enough to know that Verona is coming here with something to prove and that it’s going to be a fight. I know that they’re going to come here and play with a purpose, but I think my guys will play with a purpose as well. I like the idea we’re playing Verona again. I think the kids like the idea.”
Taglieri knows that 9-0 Verona will be loaded for bear.
“I think their kids feel they were robbed last year,” Taglieri said. “They probably feel like they were the better team, so I know they’ll be ready. Our kids now have the bulls’ eye on, because we won last year and we have something they want. It’s up to our kids to be mature enough to realize what they won last year and whether they want to keep it.”
Verona has one of the state’s leading scorers in Mike Canfora, who has scored 32 touchdowns, but Hoboken has the leading scorer in all of New Jersey in Damien Bates, who has collected 33 touchdowns
“Damien has more than held his own this year,” Taglieri said. “He’s performed well in our big games. He’s just an all-around football player. You learn to expect 25 to 30-yard gains from Damien. You learn to expect that he’s going to get the ball 25 to 30 times a game. He actually expects it of himself. We definitely see the great things that he gives us, but he demands so much of himself.”
Bates had 185 yards and two touchdowns in the Red Wings’ victory over New Providence last week, extending his streak of games with 100 or more yards to 15 straight, dating back to last year.
“Damien has matured that much that you just expect big things from him,” Taglieri said. “The player who steps into that fullback role in our offense knows he’s going to be the anointed one and that’s what Damien is.”
And he’s put himself right in line with the other great Hoboken backs like Ravon Anderson, Tyrell Dortch and Keeon Walker, backs who all went on to play major college football. Bates is getting his share of looks and offers.
“A lot of schools are going to knock down the doors of this building once Damien gets the [Scholastic Aptitude Test] scores,” Taglieri said. “He definitely has his share of offers.”
The University of Kansas is one of the schools actively pursuing Bates.
If he becomes a big-time Division I prospect, then that would give the Red Wings three scholarship players, joining Duval Kamara (Notre Dame) and Bearthur Johnson (Maryland).
There have been some critics of Taglieri, not using Kamara enough, because the Red Wings feature the run and Kamara is a wide receiver.
“Other kids might have either quit or been upset about it, but Duval doesn’t say ‘Boo,’ about it,” Taglieri said. “Most of our games have been decided by halftime and I’m not in the business of belittling opponents by throwing the ball. When Duval gets his chance, he shines and he’s going to get his chances down the stretch. I’m sure he’ll do something special.”
The Red Wings have another scholarship prospect in lineman Tyquan Ashley, who still could find himself a collegiate home over the coming months.
There is another superstar on the horizon as well in sophomore outside linebacker Bernardo Nunez, who by the time he’s done at Hoboken, could very well be the best defensive player to ever wear the Red Wing uniform. Nunez is already making play after play on the defensive side, collecting 10 tackles and two sacks in the win over New Providence.
So the Red Wings will take on the Hillbillies (the Verona variety, not the Beverly ones) this weekend, then will lock horns with St. Peter’s Prep in a battle royale for Hudson County supremacy, then if they’re fortunate to get past Verona this weekend, another return trip to Giants Stadium.
“If you can’t get up for these games, then you shouldn’t be playing,” Taglieri said. “They know what time it is. This week is the last time the seniors will play in Hoboken, the last time for ‘Friday Night Lights.’ It can’t get any better than that. We’re thinking right now of Verona and Verona only. This is our season right now.”
Taglieri likes his team’s chances.
“These kids have been on both sides of the fence in the state playoffs,” Taglieri said. “They had the bitter loss to Cedar Grove (6-0 in 2004) and the win last year. They had the bitter taste of defeat and the sweet taste of greatness. These kids have a chance to make their own history. I think they’ll perform and perform well.”
The Red Wings have to. It’s almost destiny. – Jim Hague