WHAT: NJSIAA Group 1, North 1 Semi-Finals

WHO:   Hasbrouck Heights (5) at New Milford (1)

WHEN: Friday, 7 pm

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WHAT TO WATCH WHEN HASBROUCK HEIGHTS IS ON OFFENSE:

There are no surprises to anyone here.   James Klenk is the key to keeping the offense on balance.  Mixing a combination of steady production with the occasional big play, he needs to be effective to keep the defense off the field.  Jasiah Purdie who can score anytime he touches the ball, and he can be used as a running back or receiver.  Nico Facchini is the ball control back, and as he showed in Wallington, he can grind out yardage and eat up the clock late in the game.

The key will be the offensive line.  New Milford has given up points, 41 to Rutherford, 21 to Pompton Lakes.  But the Aviator offense relies on the ground game to keep the chains moving.

WHAT TO WATCH WHEN NEW MILFORD IS ON OFFENSE:

Running back Bart Nativo has gained over 1,000 for the Knights this season.  

Quarterback Ryan Picinic has thrown for 970 yards, and is the team’s third-leading rusher, with 219 yards on the ground.  Rhys Farley, with 24 catches, is his favorite target.  The Knights have a huge offensive line, led by 6-4, 295 tackle Jackson Brown. Physically imposing, the Knights have a size advantage that they use against their opponents.

Picinic has 11 touchdown passes, but has also thrown eight interceptions on the season.  Whether he can pick on the Aviators pass defense, which has not always been a strength this season, could determining

WHAT TO WATCH WHEN NEW MILFORD DEFENSE:

The Knights have been good on defense, but not dominating. Linebacker Matt McElroy has size (6-2, 225) and is the Knights leading tackler with 80 tackles.  They have 14 interceptions on the year, led by Farley with four.  

WHAT TO WATCH WHEN HEIGHTS IS ON DEFENSE:

The key is whether the Aviators line can hold their own against the larger New Milford line and allow their hard-hitters, James Varga and Travis Culkin, to do what they do best.  Punish ball-carrriers.  Culkin’s hit in overtime Friday night might have been the most important play in that game.  Last week Purdie cheated off his run stopping responsibilities a bit to watch the pass against Cedar Grove.  This week that probably won’t be as necessary.  The secondary is led by Klenk, and sophomore corner Zai'heer Jenkins is improving each week. 

INTANGIBLES:

Let’s face facts, this time of the year, everyone is good. Everyone wants to win.  And the backstory behind the game, really does not matter all that much.  Whoever executes, wins.

But the backstory here is a good one.  New Milford would love to pay back the Aviators after losing at MetLife last year in the Finals.  Both teams were picked by the experts to face each other, only the way the seedings fell, it is a round earlier than expected.  

And even though the two teams are in different divisions, don’t think there is unfamiliarity,  Aside from playing last year in the finals, both of the team’s recreation feeder programs are in the same division of their rec football league.  These kids know each other.

Both coaching staffs have been keeping an eye on each other all year long.  No surprises here. 

Hasbrouck Heights and New Milford have four common opponents, Wallington and Rutherford.  Both beat Wallington, Heights 42-21, New Milford 28-6. Rutherford beat New Milford, 42-27, while Rutherford edged Heights 13-6 in overtime.   Heights defeated St. Mary (Rutherford) 26-26 opening night, while New Milford rolled week 2, 35-6. New Milford’s opening day opponent, Hawthorne, fell to the Knights 27-6.  Heights defeated the Bears Week 6, 45-7.

So the transitive property in this game gives no one an advantage.   

New Milford has the advantage of home field.