It’s hard to curtail the excitement in Rich Hansen’s voice these days.
After all, the head football coach at St. Peter’s Prep, the granddaddy now of all Hudson County grid coaches, has a right to feel a little extra bounce in his step.
His Marauders seem to be playing their best football of the season right now, especially after beating Don Bosco Prep twice in a span of a week.
The Marauders won a regular season contest, 28-14, two weeks ago and last week, Prep manhandled the Ironmen, 41-18, in the opening round of the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 playoffs, easily the toughest and most competitive bracket in New Jersey.
Another reason for the happy times at Grand and Warren is the fact that the Marauders snapped a six-game losing streak against the Ironmen dating back to the 2005 Non-Public Group 4 title game won by the Marauders in the old Giants Stadium, thanks to a late interception return from Andrew Booth.
But prior to the last two weeks, the Marauders were destroyed by the Ironmen since 2003, losing seven of eight matchups. Some of those meetings were not even competitive, losing 59-16 in 2003, 41-0 in 2006 (state title game), 42-14 in 2007 (state title game), 38-13 in 2008 (state semifinals), 35-15 in 2009 (state title game) and 37-0 in 2010 (state semifinals).
Only the loss to the Ironmen in the regular season last year was competitive, with the Marauders falling, 28-20.
It’s safe to say that the two wins over the last week are indeed sweet, but they certainly don’t make up for the heartbreak the Marauders and Hansen had to endure over the last 14 years.
Sure, DBP isn’t the nationally-ranked powerhouse it once was. The legendary head coach Greg Toal was unceremoniously removed from his coaching position earlier this year, replaced by his former player and former Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel.
Now, the Marauders face another tough foe in Paramus Catholic, the team that defeated the Marauders, 33-28, in last year’s Non-Public Group 4 title game at MetLife Stadium.
The Marauders have already defeated the Paladins, 23-14, this season on Sept. 29.
One more win and the Marauders return to the Meadowlands to try to compete for the school’s fifth state championship under Hansen’s watch.
And the coach feels good about where his team is right now.
“I think we’re in a great rhythm,” Hansen said. “I think we’ve found the right mojo.”
Not that Hansen is channeling his inner Austin Powers, but he has a right to be giddy.
“It’s taken a little while,” Hansen said. “But we’re in rhythm now. We’re a rhythm team. We have the right offense. We’ve hit a stride here. We’re playing and practicing with a much better tempo and pace. And it’s all about practice.”
The key to the Marauders’ offensive attack is junior quarterback Maasai Maynor, who has thrown for 2,116 yards and 20 touchdowns with only four interceptions.
“He’s a special dude,” Hansen said of Maynor, who is completing 60 percent of his passes this season, including 22-of-31 for 294 yards and three touchdowns, all to Chase Jones, in last Saturday’s win over DBP.
“He makes us go,” Hansen said of Maynor. “He’s the most important weapon we have.”
Hansen also likes the play of his offensive line, which has been improving.
“The offensive line is starting to play better,” Hansen said. “They’re doing a great job of protecting Maasai and keeping him on his feet. Maasai is making great decisions. He’s staying in concept. He’s in a good rhythm.”
As the weather gets colder, Hansen realizes the importance of getting the team’s rushing attack going in the right direction. Last week, Dom Meleo scored touchdowns on two short runs and Zamir Mickens is finally healthy and making an impact on the offensive side of the ball.
“Establishing a running game is huge,” Hansen said. “From a mental standpoint, you have to run the ball. We’ve needed to run the ball more and we’re getting there. We still have a little ways to go. We’re becoming more consistent on the ground. Mickens is going to get the ball. He’s healthy now and seems ready to make his mark.”
Defensively, the Marauders have been solid all year, led by the play of the three players going to Notre Dame, namely twin brothers Justin and Jayson Ademilola and Shayne Simon.
“The last four weeks, we’re playing more physical defensively and that’s been a key,” Hansen said. “We needed to be more physical.”
The Marauders don’t need a reminder of what’s at stake this weekend.
“The kids all know what’s coming,” Hansen said. “This is going to be a big test for us. All the teams still playing have an eye on getting a state championship. The kids know that if we win, we’re going back to MetLife [Stadium] and try to win a state championship. It was the goal from Day One with this team.”
So the Marauders have a little momentum going into their revenge rematch with Paramus Catholic.
“Momentum is confidence in football,” Hansen said. “We’re confident in what we’re doing. We understand our shortcomings and have been putting two-and-two together. We see the dividends of hard work. The proof is in the pudding whether they will see the rewards.”
Hansen then took a little bit of a historic approach to the team’s playoff run.
“It’s the 119th year of Prep football,” Hansen said. “We have a chance to do something special, because no team has ever beaten DePaul, St. Joe’s [Montvale], Seton Hall [Prep], Don Bosco, Paramus Catholic and Bergen Catholic in the same year. If we do that, then it’s pretty special. This team has a chance to do something special.”
But only if they have the right rhythm.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com. This week, Jim tackles the Giants’ hideous situation and pays tribute to an old coaching legend.