As sweet 16s go, it doesn’t get sweeter than this: On Friday night, the Verona High School football team claimed its 16th sectional championship in program history*, beating Lenape Valley in the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 2 final by an astonishing 43-2 score.
“We have been talking about this since second grade, ever since we started the Eagles,” Jake McConnachie said of the win. “It just feels amazing. We’re here and we’re not done yet. We’ve still got MetLife next week.” Verona will again face Lyndhurst in the regional title game.
Verona scored early and often. Just minutes into the first quarter, Shane Lawless brought the ball downfield and Frank Riggio took it the extra yard into the end zone. Minutes later, Riggio returned for his second of five touchdowns, while adding more than 200 more rushing yards to his season total. Jake McConnachie, one of 15 seniors playing their last home game, got Verona’s third TD and 88 receiving yards.
“All week we came prepared during practice,” said Riggio. “We needed to be able to pass the ball and run the ball, and we were strong doing both of those. That caused us to dominate this whole entire game.” Riggio is closing in on 2,000 rushing yards for the season, while McConnachie has almost 1,000 receiving yards.
There was a miss or two along the way, like a failed two-point conversion and a bad snap that turned into a safety for Lenape Valley’s only score. But there were more high points than lows for the Hillbillies. Lawless snagged an interception that set up a Hillbilly field goal, and then another, and Zach Bucher also turned a Patriot pass into a Verona ball. Isaac Skrivanic had a sack and, together with his wrecking crew of Nick Algieri, Gabe Breitenbach, Richard DiGeronimo, Nick Gonzalez, Griffin Jordan and Ryan Stanisci, frustrated Lenape Valley’s ground game at every snap. The Patriots came into the game with a 10-1 record but seemed overwhelmed by the Hillbillies from the get-go.
Coach Kevin Batty, a VHS football alumni who is in his second season as head coach, was full of praise for his squad. “I love ’em,” he said, shivering a bit from a Gatorade bath. “Thank you. They make it fun to be around them. They are so energetic when they come to practice every day. They make you smile to be around them. They know how to work and when to have fun. They are just a great group to be around.”
*VHS football won sectional championships in 1948, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1969, 1971, 1973, 2001, 2008, 2014, 2015 and now 2019.