SPRINGFIELD – The Bulldogs return six starters – five of them seniors – and are ready to challenge each and every opponent on their schedule.
Dayton had to forfeit games against playoff semifinal teams Roselle and Bound Brook a year ago, but was able to get back on the field and close with home wins over South Hunterdon and North Arlington.
“Last year we were down to 19-20 guys at season’s end, but this year we have 41 kids from grades 9-12,” fourth-year head coach Dominic Cuniglio said. “We’re a senior- and sophomore-dominated (varsity) team.
“We have a nice, incoming freshman class of 17 kids that will play a freshman schedule as opposed to a JV one. They came from a good 8th grade team. We didn’t lose too many kids from that 8th grade team.”
One key player Dayton lost to injury last year was returning senior quarterback Joe Kastner, who was injured in the season-opener at Belvidere. Wide receiver Antonio Salcfas took over the reigns under center.
He is one of Dayton’s six returning starters.
“Antonio had a pretty good year for us,” Cuniglio said. “He now has a year under his belt. He’s the guy that makes us go.”
Dayton also returns offensive linemen in seniors Anthony Rajoppi at left tackle, Ryan Lashuk at center, Nick Maslo at right guard and Jeff Carrier at right tackle.
“We will go as far as our line takes us,” Cuniglio said. “Those guys up front will need to get the job done.”
Dayton’s other returning starter on offense is sophomore wide receiver Jovanni Salcfas.
The returning starters on offense are the same returning starters on defense.
Rajoppi, at linebacker, is being recruited by several colleges.
“Anthony’s a four-year letter-winner who started as a freshman,” Cuniglio said. “We’re expecting big things from him.”
Two of Dayton’s three linemen return, including Carrier at end and Maslo at nose tackle. Dayton switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4.
“Our line is our strength on defense,” Cuniglio said.
Dayton seeks a third straight win in its opener Friday night at home against Belvidere. The County Seaters finished second in the Mid-State 38 Conference’s Union Division a year ago, sporting a 7-1 league record. Bound Brook won the division at 8-0.
Belvidere finished 8-2 overall in 2016, falling at New Milford 40-20 in a North 1, Group 1 first round game.
Belvidere is back in North 2, Group 1 for this season.
The Union Division consists of Dayton, Belvidere, Bound Brook, Brearley, Roselle Park, Manville and South Hunterdon. Pingry dropped out and was not replaced.
Dayton found (Central Jersey) Group 1 school Highland Park to replace Pingry. The Bulldogs will host the Middlesex County school on Sept. 28.
Because of the forfeits at Roselle and at Bound Brook last year, Dayton’s penalty was to play at both of those schools again this year. That had Dayton with only two home dates for the 2017 season.
Then when Roselle’s Arminio Field was not going to be used this year because of new field turf being installed, that put Roselle in a spot where they needed to find a field for home games. Roselle has four home dates at Rahway’s second-year field turf facility at Rahway River Park.
That allowed Dayton to switch from playing Roselle at Rahway River Park and instead give the Bulldogs a third home date.
Dayton will host Roselle Oct. 21, which is its final scheduled regular season home game.
“We’re ready to go and we plan on playing all of our games this year,” Cuniglio said. “It was good for the program that we were able to play those last two games last year.
“We also won them, so we hope they have somewhat of a carry-over effect. We start the year with a two-game winning streak.”
Belvidere has had winning seasons that last three years – making the playoffs all three times – and defeated Dayton in each of those seasons.
Dayton last downed Belvidere in 2013.
DAYTON’S SPREAD OFFENSE:
LT Anthony Rajoppi, senior, (6-1, 215)
LG Joani Lico, sophomore, (6-3, 205)
C Ryan Lashuk, senior, (5-10, 210)
RG Nick Maslo, senior, (6-0, 210)
RT Jeff Carrier, senior, (5-10, 240)
QB Antonio Salcfas, senior, (6-1, 195)
B Juan Perez, sophomore, (5-8, 195)
B Jovanni Salcfas, sophomore, (6-1, 185)
B Justin Mascitelli, sophomore, (5-7, 155)
WR Chris Katz, sophomore, (5-9, 160)
WR CJ Stavick, sophomore, (5-9, 140)
WR Jack Pleva, sophomore, (5-11, 160)
PK David Ares, freshman, (5-10, 130)
Returning starters (6): Rajoppi, Lashuk,
Maslo, Carrier, Antonio Salcfas, Jovanni Salcfas.
DAYTON’S 3-4 DEFENSE:
E Jeff Carrier, senior, (5-10, 240)
NT Nick Maslo, senior, (6-0, 210)
E Kyle Guerreiro, sophomore, (5-11, 220)
LB Juan Perez, sophomore, (5-8, 195)
LB Ryan Lashuk, senior, (5-10, 210)
LB Anthony Rajoppi, senior, (6-1, 215)
LB Antonio Salcfas, senior, (6-1, 195)
CB Chris Katz, sophomore, (5-9, 160)
CB Jack Pleva, sophomore, (5-11, 160)
S Robert Spagnola, sophomore, (5-6, 170)
S Jovanni Salcfas, sophomore, (6-1, 185)
P Antonio Salcfas, senior, (6-1, 195)
Returning starters (6): Carrier, Maslo,
Lashuk, Rajoppi, Antonio Salcfas, Jovanni Salcfas.
Head Coach: Dominic Cuniglio, since 2014.
A 1993 Steinert graduate.
Fourth season: 12-18 (.400).
Conference: Mid-State 38
Section: North 2, Group 1
Dayton’s last playoff season: 2012
2016: (3-7 and 2-5, seventh in Union Division)
Dayton’s fifth-year complex: Field Turf.
Cuniglio guided Dayton to wins in its last three
games during each of his first two seasons at
the helm of the Bulldogs and then to wins in their
final two games last year. Cuniglio was the
interim head coach at Union in 2012 – leading the
Farmers to a 5-4 playoff season – after serving as
the offensive coordinator there in 2011. He was
then an assistant coach at Nottingham in 2013.
Cuniglio returned to coaching in Union County
in 2014 as a full-fledged head coach for
the first time in his coaching career.
DAYTON BULLDOGS 2017
Sept. 8 Belvidere, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 at Roselle Park, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 at Manville, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 Highland Park, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6 at Brearley, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 at Hillside, 1 p.m.
Oct. 21 Roselle, 1 p.m.
Oct. 27 at Bound Brook, 7 p.m.
Nov. 3 at South Hunterdon, 7 p.m.
2016 DAYTON BULLDOGS (3-7)
(A) Belvidere 42, Dayton 0
(H) Roselle Park 32, Dayton 0
(H) Manville 34, Dayton 12
(A) Dayton 19, Pingry 6
(H) Brearley 22, Dayton 21
(H) Hillside 47, Dayton 0
(A) Roselle forfeit over Dayton
(A) Bound Brook forfeit over Dayton
(H) Dayton 28, South Hunterdon 7
(H) Dayton 43, North Arlington 26
Head coach: Dominic Cuniglio,
Section: North 2, Group 1
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Union 2-5, seventh
Points for: 123
Points against: 216