Photo Credit: Jen Sheppard
By Steve Sears
Kevin Hennelly’s West Morris Central football teams have won 8 sectional titles in his 25 years as head coach, but on Friday, November 26, 2021, he and his Wolfpack netted their biggest crown yet.
West Morris Central defeated previously unbeaten Cranford, 53 – 14, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, to secure their first ever NJSIAA North Group 3 regional championship.
Heading into the title game, Hennelly and the Wolfpack were facing a club that featured running back Colin Murray, who during the season had rushed for 33 touchdowns and almost 2,400 yards. His per game average was 216 yards. “I guess he was the number one running back in the state. I don’t know if he ended that way, but that’s where he was before our game. And they were the biggest high school team I ever saw,” Hennelly says.
Hennelly, who won the William O. Regan Coach of the Year Award, anticipated a close game. It didn’t happen. “I was pleasantly surprised that we were able to score as many points as we did,” he says. “I think really what happened is we got up on them fast, and then, no matter what side you’re on, it kind of snowballs fast. And I think the turnover to start the second half was really the biggest play.”
On the opening kickoff of the second half, Trevor Hillier, who also plays quarterback, caused a fumble, which Zack Bryant recovered. West Morris Central, which finished the season 10 – 3, scored 9 plays later.
Hennelly briefly reviews his team’s season. “We lost a close game against Northern Highlands. But we played well, and they were one of the top teams in the state at the time and still are. And then we had a couple of good wins, Randolph being one of them.” The Wolfpack then lost two out of their next three. “That success we had against Randolph, as I look back, probably hurt us more then helped us. Because you start playing the numbers game: ‘Randolph was beaten by how much?’ Then we play poorly against Mount Olive, but to their credit, I think they played very well. And Morris Knolls is always a war. They’re always physical upfront. So, we had a little bit of a slump after the Randolph game, losing two out of three, and then we kind of finished strong. We beat Montville, who had a very good team this year, and kicked off the playoff run.”
West Morris Central defeated all four of their post season opponents – Summit, Old Tappan, West Essex, and Cranford – by out scoring them 151 – 45. Against Cranford, Stefano Montella (who rushed for 134 yards) and Noah Turner scored two and three touchdowns respectively. The Wolfpack defense held Murray to just 76 yards rushing, well below his season average, and shut down the state’s #11 ranked team, netting 408 total yards on offense while limiting Cranford to 182.
West Morris Central loses Hillier and Turner to graduation, as well as running back Ryan Brady, linemen Will Groeling, Nick Muha, and James Panico, Bryant, and defensive back, JJ Lawrence. However, Montella, also a linebacker in addition to being a running back, returns next season. The winner of the Peter Piccirillo Defensive Player of the Year, Montella this season also rushed for 23 touchdowns and a WMC record of 1,793 yards.
“It was a successful season, but not just because of the (Cranford) win,” Hennelly says. “This was a very enjoyable group of men to coach.”