EAST RUTHERFORD – Behind the running of incredibly shifty diminutive senior tailback Angelo Gallego, the poise of freshman braces-wearing quarterback Nick Verducci and two big first-half plays by senior two-way standout Ryan Shaw, third-seeded Parsippany Hills went on to capture its first state championship ever by holding off top-seeded and undefeated Cranford 20-13 in Sunday’s North 2, Group 3 final at MetLife Stadium.
This was the fifth time Parsippany Hills, which won its fifth straight to finish 10-2, was playing in a state championship game – all since 2005 – with the Vikings finally coming out on top after knocking on the door, including a 16-13 loss to Summit in last year’s final at Kean.
Parsippany Hills, which opened in 1970, can now plan the championship parade along its street address of Rita Drive. This is the first football state championship of any kind to hit the town of Parsippany in the playoff era, which began in 1974.
Cranford’s lone championship in the playoff era was a 27-0 win over Parsippany Hills in the 2011 final at Kean.
While Cranford, which never led, answered the first two Parsippany Hills touchdowns with long, untouched TD runs by senior back Luke Christiano in the first half and junior signal-caller Jack Schetelich in the second, the 11-0 Cougars simply could not stop a Parsippany Hills running game that featured Gallego and senior James Keyes both gaining chains-moving yards inside and out.
A big two-touchdown swing early in the game was Shaw forcing a Christiano fumble at the Parsippany Hills 2, with the Vikings recovering. Then on the ensuing Parsippany Hills possession. Shaw dragged Cranford cornerback Donovan Walker 32 yards to extend a pass completion which went for 68 yards. A Cranford face mask on the play added five yards, giving the Vikings a first and goal at the Cougar 8.
Two plays later, Verducci ran option left two yards for the game’s first points.
Just one play after that, Christiano ran through a hole in the middle and then down the right sideline for a 72-yard touchdown that tied the game at 6-6 with 7:13 left in the first half. Both teams missed their first extra points.
Parsippany Hills, which won the coin toss and deferred to get the ball first in the second half, became even more dominant in its play across the line beginning with its first possession of the third quarter. Huge holes were opened up the middle for both Gallego – who carried seven times for 57 yards on the drive – and Keyes to run to as the Vikings gained five first downs on a scoring drive that concluded – ironically – with a pass play.
On second-and-goal from then Cranford 2, Verducci rolled right and found Anthony Barlotta open in the right corner of the end zone to give Parsippany Hills back the lead.
With Cranford starting its first second-half possession at just its own nine, Parsippany Hills was starting to build momentum. However, that lasted for just one play. Schetelich saw an opening in the middle, ran with it, and then raced down the right sideline for a 91-yard touchdown. Joe Norton’s only extra point tied the game at 13-13 with 6:23 left in the third quarter.
Surprisingly, those were the last points Cranford would score this year. The Cougars were averaging an even 40 points entering their second final in four seasons.
Parsippany Hills and Cranford both went three-and-out in their next possessions before the lower-seeded Vikings re-established a running game that led them to the title.
On a drive that bridged the third and fourth quarters, Parsippany Hills marched 11 plays again to what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown. Before fourth-and-one from the Cranford 12, Parsippany Hills head coach Dave Albano, who won his 99th game at Parsippany Hills (99-62) since becoming the head coach there in 2000, called a timeout to discuss strategy.
Most thought the ball was going to Gallego, who finished with 189 yards on 38 carries and the game-winning touchdown. Most were right.
Initially, Gallego’s first momentum saw him go backwards to the 15. He then gained his balance and found an opening on the left side that was enough to propel him all the way into the end zone. Comac Bradley’s second extra point put the Vikings ahead for the third time and for good at 20-13.
Parsippany Hills missed a 38-yard field goal attempt – it was accurate, but just short – on its next possession. Cranford called all three of its timeouts to get the ball back at its own 20 with 1:43 remaining.
Schetelich, who next year will be considered one of the top senior quarterbacks in North Jersey, drove Cranford back down the field with a short completion to Eric Donohue and then a big one to Christiano that went for 38 yards, plus five more for a face mask penalty.
Schetelich then completed a nine-yard pass to Norton to give Cranford second-and-one at the Parsippany Hills 3 with 37 seconds left. After a delay of game call against Cranford, Schetelich threw three incomplete passes from the Parsippany Hills 8. The final one was a slant left to Donohue, who while cutting over the middle was hit at the goal line by a Parsippany Hills defender while the pass was still in the air.
The ref closest to the play – who called an incomplete pass – initially, with his right hand, went to grab his flag and call pass interference. He decided not to.
With two seconds left, Parsippany Hills held on for its first title.
Cranford 10th-season head coach Erik Rosenmeier: “We had opportunities in the first half. We fumbled down at the 2 and they went down and scored a touchdown. Then we had the ball down there again a second time. No excuse, we had some communication problems upstairs. We couldn’t really hear the plays and how we wanted to call them. That’s certainly no excuse.
“The fact of the matter is Par Hills just played really well. They kept our offense off the field by moving the ball. I thought there were times on offense that we were never able to get things really rolling. We weren’t able to consistently move the ball the way I thought we would be able to and that’s a credit to Par Hills.
“Gallego is a tough little back. We hit him a lot of the time, but we didn’t necessarily get him off his feet. That’s a credit to them and how they played today.
“They weren’t really getting any big plays, but they were doing enough to move the chains. They executed very well. I have to give all the credit to Parsippany Hills for the way they played offensively and defensively.
“I was proud of us for getting the ball down field there at the end and giving us a chance to score. I really thought there was contact there (on the last play). It just didn’t go our way there. That’s football. That’s the way that it goes.
“When it goes your way you think it’s a great call. When it doesn’t go your way you think it’s a bad one, but I’m certainly not blaming the refs for that. We had our opportunities to execute the plays and we couldn’t finish the execution.”
Parsippany Hills freshman quarterback Nick Verducci: “We knew we had to put points on the board if we were going to win this game and we got the job done. Angelo ran hard and our offensive line just kept it up the entire game. We knew they were a top team and that it would be difficult, but you know what, we just played our game and did what we had to do.”
Parsippany Hills senior running back Angelo Gallego: “Our linemen have been doing that all year long, pounding and grinding out. In the first half we knew we weren’t going to get them, but in the second half we were able to roll over them. To only give up six points in the first half, which was very physical, was good.
“We’ve been confident in our run game all year. We know it’s not going to open up right away, but it will once the game gets going.
“After losing my first three years, to win this my senior year, it’s indescribable.”
Parsippany Hills 15th-season head coach Dave Albano: “I thought we dominated (the line of scrimmage). We talked at halftime and then were really able to do what we wanted to do, which was run the football.
“At halftime we told the kids that it was a regular game now. All the hoopla was out and we felt the score was in our favor at 6-6 based on how many points Cranford normally scores. In the third quarter we went down the field and scored and pushed them around a little.
“They’re too good on offense. We tried to limit their touches.
“I’ve been chasing this for 20 years, this is my 20th year as a head coach (including New Milford). We came so close last year. Now I can say what this means.
“This year was really a work in progress. We had to tinker some stuff and really coach these kids.
“It’s satisfying. Besides my wife and kids, there’s nothing bigger.
“Nick was phenomenal and Angelo, all we have to do is create a little seem and he’s gone.”
2014 NORTH 2, GROUP 3 FINAL AT METLIFE STADIUM
3-PARSIPPANY HILLS (10-2) 0 6 7 7 – 20
1-CRANFORD (11-1) 0 6 7 0 – 13
Parsippany Hills – Nick Verducci 2 run, kick failed (PH 6-0)
7 plays, 96 yards, 3:32 used
Capitalized on turnover – fumble recovery.
Cranford – Luke Christiano 72 run, kick failed (6-6)
1 play, 72 yards, :13 used
Play came after Cranford’s first timeout.
Parsippany Hills – Anthony Barlotta 2 pass from Nick Verducci,
Comac Bradley (PH 13-6)
11 plays, 80 yards, 5:18 used
Cranford – Jack Schetelich 91 run, Joe Norton kick (13-13)
1 play 91 yards, :13 used
Parsippany Hills – Angelo Gallego 12 run, Comac Bradley kick (PH 20-13)
11 plays, 74 yards, 5:02 used
TD came on 4th and 1 and after first Viking timeout of second half.