By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
When the Queen of Peace football team lost three of their first four games and five of their first seven, one would have had to figure that the Golden Griffins were going to have to play out the string, competing just for their own pride.
Any hope of a NJSIAA state playoff berth had to go right out the window with the dismal record, right?
Well, guess again.
Even though the Golden Griffins own a 2-6 record at the cutoff for the state playoffs, they will receive a berth in the Non-Public Group 1 bracket and will more than likely face St. Anthony of Jersey City next weekend in Jersey City.
For the first time ever, the NJSIAA has lessened the requirements for making the postseason. In the 38-year history of the state tournament, a team needed at least a .500 record at the eight-game cutoff to receive a playoff berth.
But the NJSIAA wants to even out all of the brackets, extending each to eight teams.
That opens the door for unlikely Queen of Peace.
It’s a position that head coach Steve Romano didn’t think was possible.
“Truthfully, my assistant coaches kept telling me that we had a shot, but I paid no attention to them,” Romano said. “In my career, I’ve heard about four or five things the state was going to do, but didn’t do it, so I paid no attention to it whatsoever. I thought you needed a .500 record to qualify. I had no idea.”
But it’s a slice of reality now.
“We’re definitely in and we think we’re going to play St. Anthony,” Romano said. “We always want to go into the state tournament. I told the kids that it was a goal, right up to the fourth game. But I didn’t think we had a chance.”
Queen of Peace is one of only two teams in the state with 2-6 records and are headed to the playoffs. The other is Mendham in North Jersey Section 2, Group IV, but even Mendham needs a little help this week to clinch the spot. The Golden Griffins are already in.
Romano is happy for his team.
“In all fairness, we battled every single game,” Romano said. “We had the lead or going for the lead in the fourth quarter of every game. We just got worn down in the fourth quarter because we don’t have a lot of kids.”
Romano was asked if getting a state playoff berth is a reward for his bruised and battered squad.
“I don’t know if reward is the right word,” Romano said. “But we played hard enough to win.”
However, after the Griffins lost their fifth game, Romano told his players the inevitable.
“I told them that we were playing for pride,” Romano said. “I hate that.” But last week, before Hurricane Sandy put a stranglehold on the entire local sports scene, Romano told his team the good news.
“I told them to take a knee because I had to tell them something,” Romano said. “I said, `We’re going to the state playoffs.’ I never had such an emotional moment.”
Romano said that his diminished team has been ravaged by injuries.
“One kid had knee surgery and another had a broken fibula,” Romano said. “Another has had a concussion. Another has a hurt shoulder and another is battling a sore collar bone. We had to play back-up running backs on the offensive line the last game. It’s been brutal. We’re all banged up and exhausted.”
Added Romano, “Our quarterback, Anthony Villano, has been gimping for a few weeks. We have kids that are really hurt. But they keep battling. They took Hasbrouck Heights and St. Mary’s (of Rutherford) right down to the last minutes of the game.”
However, all the ills and pains will feel better once the state playoffs begin.
“We haven’t been able to do much, but if we can win a game in the playoffs, that would make everyone feel better. We’ve had two weeks now to let these kids rest. In that respect, the hurricane was a blessing.”
The Golden Griffins face a tough foe in Cresskill this weekend.
“I’m not happy with the mistakes we’ve made,” Romano said. “We had seven turnovers against North Arlington (a 34-22 loss). We’ve been giving games away. But these kids have not quit on me or themselves. They’ve been there every practice. They work hard every game. They’re all good kids.”
Romano said that after a week off, he was ready to get back to work.
“After being stuck in my house for a week, I’d play a volleyball game,” Romano said. “But it’s good that we’re in the position to do something. It’s absolutely a must that we play in the state playoff game, because playing in a consolation game is hard for the kids to get excited about. I think it’s going to be great.”
Romano really doesn’t know how happy his team is about being in the state playoffs.
“Honestly, we haven’t been around football for 10 days because of the storm,” Romano said. “But come playoff week, we’ll have a very focused and ready team.”