WARREN, NJ - Another convincing playoff victory on Sunday has the Watchung Hills Pop Warner Pee Wee team on the Disney threshold yet again.
With the win today vs. North Rockland, 30-13, the Pee Wee team advances to the Eastern Region Finals for the third consecutive season. Last year, the team competed at the Junior Pee Wee level and lost in the finals. In 2014, also at Jr Pee Wee, the boys beat Lenape Valley, PA to earn a trip to the Pop Warner Super Bowl in Florida.
In an Eastern Region semi-final game today, the Watchung Hills Wolverines crushed North Rockland, NY 30-13 to improve to 9-1 on the season. The team is now 34-3 over their 3-year run and during the 2016 campaign has outscored all opponents 253-52. Game captains were Sherrod Hudson, Dylan Braunstein, Jake Memoli, Jake Checchio and David Labib.
Early in the first period, both teams traded field position and advanced the ball judiciously; but neither team could mount a serious drive. Billy Black, Jamarques Lawrence and Sherrod Hudson all had nice carries early on. It wasn’t until late in the first quarter, however, that James Palaia ripped off a long touchdown run keyed by blocks from Ellis Wilson and Mac McAteer. The conversion attempt failed but Watchung led 6-0.
As the first quarter ended, North Rockland tried a fake punt. The surprise play was squashed by the Wolverine defense and Watchung took over with good field positon. During the defensive series, James Carbone contributed a tackle along the line of scrimmage. On the offensive side of the ball, Dylan Simon and ‘Bob’ Dylan Braunstein both down-blocked very well creating big running lanes for the Wolverines. Next, the Wolverines mounted a nice drive which was culminated by a smooth pass play from quarterback, Ty Marion, to tight end, McAteer whose reception made it 12-0 Wolverines. William Grabko executed the 2-point kick giving the home team a 14-0 cushion.
North Rockland responded with a good drive and touchdown pass of their own cutting the deficit to 14-7. Wilson recovered the subsequent on-sides kick and Watchung took over with 3:52 to go in the half. The Wolverine passing game was sharp today. Marion found Hudson for a good catch and run before the Wolverines went to a little razzle-dazzle. Jamarques Lawrence ran a reverse but had the option to keep it or pass. Again McAteer was behind the defense and Lawrence found him for another touchdown pass. McAteer’s catch and Grabko’s kick boosted the Wolverine halftime lead to 22-7. In the second quarter, strong tackles were made by Nasir Maryland and Black.
In the third quarter, North Rockland had their initial drive thwarted when Maryland & Black had another combo-quarterback sack. Hudson made multiple tackles in the period while King, McAteer, and Palaia were involved defensively as well. The Wolverines took over and executed another solid drive featuring a couple runs by Black. They put up another touchdown, and finalized the drive with another 2-point kick. Palaia’s second TD run sprung by Jake Memoli’s key block, and Grabko’s third straight successful conversion made it 30-7 in favor of the Wolverines.
As the third quarter came to a close, the Watchung Hills defense was locking down again. Kaden Everly pressured the quarterback multiple times while cornerbacks John King and Anthony Bateh were protecting their respective sides of the field. The dangerous North Rockland passing game did complete a few plays; but overall, the Watchung defense held this high-powered team in check.
In the fourth period of play, Watchung Hills failed to advance the ball and North Rockland mounted a strong drive. The resilient New York team showed no quit as they scored on a touchdown run mid-way fourth quarter. Hudson blocked the extra point kick leaving the score at 30-13 with a few minutes left to play. The Wolverines took over on offense and this time gained yardage with relative ease. Several first downs put Watchung in position to score again but the team elected to ‘take a knee’ and let the last minute of the game clock expire.
With the win, the Pee Wee team advances to the Eastern Region Finals for the third consecutive year. Progressing this far in a season is a major accomplishment. The Pee Wee team (ages 12 & 11) is the last Watchung Hills Pop Warner team still alive as the Junior Pee Wees (ages 11 & 10) and Junior Varsity (ages 13 & 12) squads unfortunately lost their games last weekend in the second round. Nonetheless, congratulations are in order for their fantastic seasons. Junior Pee Wee finished the year 9-1 while the Junior Varsity squad completed the season 7-3.
The Pee Wee team has its sights set on a return trip to Disney World and the Pop Warner Super Bowl in Florida next month. Games are played December 3-10, 2016 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. The team is now one win away from that achievement and no team in the 36 year history of Watchung Hills Pop Warner has made more than one appearance in Florida. The 2014 team won the Eastern Regional, won a game in Disney, and was a National Semi-Finalist that year at the Junior Pee Wee level.
The Eastern Region Championship game will be played on Friday, November 25 at 11:00 a.m. in Marsh Creek, Pennsylvania. The Watchung Hills Wolverines will face the winner of the other semi-final game featuring the Irondequoit Lancers from Rochester, NY versus perennial Pop Warner power Pennsylvania’s Lenape Valley. In fact, it was Lenape Valley that Watchung beat in the 2014 championship game to earn their first trip to Disney.