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Football tackles adversity after record streak ends

The+football+team+takes+the+field+prior+to+its+game+against+Watchung+Hills+on+Sept.+14.
The football team takes the field prior to its game against Watchung Hills on Sept. 14.

The football team takes the field prior to its game against Watchung Hills on Sept. 14.

Photo by Varsity Vantage

Photo by Varsity Vantage

The football team takes the field prior to its game against Watchung Hills on Sept. 14.

Daniel Han and Sam Stravach

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It takes years of hard work to build a perennial powerhouse football team: late-night practices, film sessions on opposing teams, preparations for any situation that might arise in the game. Despite this, it only takes a couple of mistakes in a span of 48 minutes to cause the powerhouse to fall.

The WHS varsity football team is looking to reclaim its title as a state powerhouse after losing its season opener to Linden, breaking its record-setting 37-game winning streak. In addition, the team suffered its first loss at home since 2014 when it fell to Saint Joseph’s Metuchen last weekend.

“When you have had a winning streak as long as we have had and it gets broken, it’s definitely a difficult situation,” Head Coach Jim DeSarno said. “But we didn’t harp on it as coaches because there was no need to, and I’ve been impressed how they’ve responded.”

After winning the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 5 title in each of the past three seasons, the Westfield Blue Devils are currently 2-2, still trying to find their identity as a team.

“This group is still gelling, they’re still coming together, they’re still finding their groove, their niche,” explained DeSarno. “This group has to focus on working week to week. Everybody wants to be involved in the playoffs and play for a championship, but we have to get through day by day first.”

Thus far, the players have remained focused on improving incrementally rather than only dwelling on the game results.

¨Coming from the first game to now, the team has developed so much,¨ junior quarterback Hank Shapiro said. “As the season goes on, these guys are going to have more experience, so I think we’re definitely going to get better.”

In the midst of finding their identity, the Blue Devils are also faced with the challenge of an unfamiliar schedule, playing three Middlesex county teams that they have not faced during DeSarno’s tenure as head coach.

¨It’s a lot of homework,¨ DeSarno said of learning the new opponents. “A lot of behind the scenes work and preparation. It’s been a little bit difficult, but it’s exciting, it’s something a little bit new.”

To overcome the early season obstacles, Westfield is adhering to what made it a powerhouse in the first place: hours of hard work and practice.

“We’re sticking with the same script, same assignment, same practice routine,” senior wide receiver Jake Saltzer said. ¨Just because we lost doesn’t change the way we play football.¨

Shapiro added: “We’re going to practice every day like we’re champions.”

The Blue Devils continue their season against Union at Union High School tonight at 7 p.m. 

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