The 2008 high school football season started in a very uncharacteristic and unfamiliar position for the Marauders of St. Peter’s Prep. The perennial state power kicked off a new season with a loss to St. Joseph of Montvale and followed it up with a loss to Our Lady of Good Counsel of Maryland.
When you consider that the Marauders dropped their final game of 2007, in the NJSIAA Parochial (Non-Public) Group 4 championship game to Don Bosco Prep in Giants Stadium, it meant that the mighty Marauders had actually lost three games in a row.
Considering the fact that the program had lost only a total of five games over the prior six seasons while winning a staggering 61 times, a three-game losing streak was totally unfathomable to the Marauders.
And it was definitely unacceptable. It was the first time that St. Peter’s began a season with two straight losses since 2000, when the Marauders dropped consecutive games to Gulliver Prep of Miami and Elizabeth.
Unfamiliar territory? That’s a gross understatement. With an 0-2 record, the Marauders were more adrift than the cast of the TV show “Lost.” Gilligan and the Skipper had a better idea of where they were than the Marauders. They were on their own little island, separated from what every member of the powerful Prep program perceived to be instant reality.
“It had been a long time since we lost two games in an entire season, never mind two in a row to start the year,” said Prep head coach and athletic director Rich Hansen. “I knew when I booked those two games to start the season that they would be difficult games. There was no guarantee that we would come out of those games 2-0. Did I think we would be 0-2? No, I didn’t.
Added Hansen, “We prepared well for those games and didn’t win. But in a perverse way, I was curious to see what the response was going to be from the entire program. After you have so much success over a long period of time, maybe complacency creeps in. Maybe you need something to reform you after those two losses.”
Hansen said that the Marauders didn’t do anything differently this year opposed to years past. Except one thing. They lost.
“Maybe we thought we won because we always won,” Hansen said. “Sometimes, you lose sight of what you needed to do to get to the success level.”
The Marauders did have a different look this season, considering that the program’s best player ever was roaming the defensive secondary in Gainesville, Fla. They didn’t have Will Hill to lead them anymore, like Hill did in route to being the two-time Hudson Reporter Most Valuable Player.
The Marauders were also hampered by the hamstring injury suffered by senior Nyshier Oliver, who merely rushed for 1,400 yards and 22 touchdowns a year ago, earning Hudson Reporter Offensive Player of the Year honors. Oliver was very limited in his playing time against St. Joseph in the season opener and did not play at all against Good Counsel.
“We wanted to keep on going as we always did, but the identity of the offense changed tremendously,” Hansen said. “But Naz’s [Oliver’s nickname] injury provided other kids with an opportunity to play. Others have seized the moment.”
But two of those players, namely Savon Huggins and Sheldon Royster, are just sophomores. Sophomores are simply supposed to bide their time and wait for players like Oliver to scamper off to college, like Notre Dame, where Oliver will eventually head. They’re not supposed to be key components on a perennial state power.
However, Hansen had no other choice but to turn the keys of the Marauders’ bus over to the youngsters. It was their turn to drive, even before they had a license.
With an 0-2 record, the Marauders had no place to go but up. And if they were going to climb the ladder, the youngsters were going to lead.
“Naz took more of a supporting role and that made him more effective,” Hansen said. “Savon got a lot of experience. Corey Davis has been very good carrying the ball and Kenny Smith has been our bigger power guy who can wear on people. Naz being hurt provided chances for all of them.”
Hansen also said that the team had to make constant changes along the offensive line, trying to find the right mix.
“We do have a bunch of really big kids who should be able to lean on and bury people,” Hansen said. “We just had to find who belonged where.”
There had been one constant since the opening kickoff of the season.
“Through this whole thing, our defense has been outstanding,” Hansen said.
So after the first two losses, the Marauders got right back to business, winning three straight games against North Bergen, Dickinson and Union City, all lopsided Prep wins. They might have lost three straight games dating back to last year and two in a row to begin this season, but one thing remains constant. The Marauders don’t lose inside Hudson County, having not lost a game to a Hudson County school since losing to Emerson in 2000 and having not dropped an HCIAA game since falling to Memorial in 1999.
That’s almost a complete decade of victories inside the league that more than likely will play its final football season this year, thanks to the new NJSIAA realignment.
“The defense bought us some time to get the offense together and now I feel we’re back on track,” Hansen said. “We’ve been able to correct our mistakes and do some positive things over the last three weeks. We’re getting better, there’s no question. The results of the last three weeks prove that.”
If there is one downside to the Marauders’ slow start, it would be their standing in the NJSIAA Non-Public (Parochial) Group 4 power point standings. Right now, the Marauders stand in seventh place with 27 points, 15 points behind front-runner Bergen Catholic. If the state playoffs were to begin today, the Marauders would find themselves on the road, traveling to face Notre Dame of Lawrenceville.
In recent years, the Marauders were able to secure their first two playoff games at home, before heading off to the Meadowlands. They may very well have to be road warriors this time around.
“To be honest, our kids love playing away,” Hansen said. “They love to play in a hostile environment. Being home only means wearing our new maroon home jerseys. Honestly, it doesn’t matter where we are. I don’t even know what the seeding says right now. We know the teams in our bracket and we’ve already seen the teams that will be in the playoffs. We’re not afraid of anyone in the bracket.”
That includes two-time defending state champ Don Bosco Prep, which has defeated the Marauders in each of the last two state championship games and is currently ranked No. 21 in the entire country. It could very well be that those two titans would meet this year in a semifinal game in Ramsey and not in the finals in the Meadowlands.
In any case, the Marauders have righted the ship. Things are good again at Grand and Warren.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Hansen said. “We’re a better football team. No matter what happened in the first two games, we’re better now. Those losses spearheaded what we’re doing now.”
Which is winning, like always.