NA’s Joa saves his best game for last

Ricky Joa’s high school football career had dwindled down to a precious few, so when the North Arlington senior fullback didn’t get a chance to carry the ball much in the Vikings’ tough 57-20 loss to Wallington on Nov. 20, he was a little confused.

“I didn’t get the ball as much as I had been getting it,” Joa said. “It was pretty upsetting that I didn’t get the ball.”

Joa had put a ton of work into this season for the Vikings. He went from being a wingback in the Vikings’ unique spread Wishbone offense to a more prominent role as a fullback.

“Honestly, going from wingback to fullback was the best thing to ever happen to me,” Joa said. “I loved it and embraced it. I remember at last year’s football awards dinner, Joey’s dad (Joe Witt, Sr., the father of quarterback Joey Witt and the offensive coordinator for the Vikings) asked me how I felt about being the fullback. I told him I was so totally into it.”

Being the fullback in a triple option offensive package is a totally thankless job. You basically have to make it look like you are carrying the football every single snap, then plunge into the line of scrimmage to either block or indeed carry the ball.

“It was a little different from being a wing,” Roa said. “I had to learn the new positions. I had some trouble learning at first, but then I got it and it wasn’t bad. Although I wasn’t getting the ball, I still had a job to do. I’d sprint and run right into the line. I had to practice like I had the ball.”

But in the loss to Wallington, Joa felt a little unwanted.

The Vikings had one final game on their abbreviated schedule, one chance to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2010. It was a remake of the Vikings’ original opener, a game against Secaucus that was postponed due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic that plagued high school sports all over the globe.

Because of postponements, the Vikings had to jam in three games in a span of nine days. The game last Wednesday against Secaucus represented the finale.

“I was pumped for the game,” Joa said. “I was really excited for that.”

North Arlington head coach Paul Savage understood Joa’s importance to his squad.

“In the triple option, it’s crucial to have someone like him,” Savage said. “Without a guy like him, we can’t run that type of offense. He’s a tough kid, that’s for sure. He runs north/south (meaning straight ahead), so that’s a great role for him. He might get tackles every single play, so it’s not a lot of fun. But Ricky can take that spot and be very successful.”

Joa was more than successful in his final high school football game, saving the best game of his career for last. He carried the ball 14 times for 166 yards and scored three touchdowns, leading the Vikings to a 43-8 victory over the Patriots.

For his efforts, Joa has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week, the final such honoree for the fall scholastic sports season.

The win marked the first time North Arlington defeated Secaucus in more than 20 years, snapping a 12-game losing streak against the Patriots.

It also clinched North Arlington’s first winning season (4-3) in 10 years. The four wins matched the Vikings’ entire win total over the prior four seasons.

“I’m really excited to be a part of that,” Joa said. “It’s our first winning season in a while. I’m happy to be part of the winning season. It’s a credit to everyone on the team. I loved beating Secaucus, because we never did before. So that game is history in itself.”

One of Joa’s touchdown runs, a 60-yard jaunt, was a thing of highlight film variety. Joa rumbled for about 20 yards and the would-be tackler thought he had Joa down there. But an alert Joa realized that he landed on top of the Secaucus defender and was not down, so he pushed himself up and kept motoring for the score.

“It was all instinct,” Joa said. “I can’t really plan to make a run like that. The first guy just missed the tackle. The next guy was under me and I knew I hadn’t touched the ground. I just kept running. I didn’t hear a whistle, so I just kept going for it. I believe everyone stopped for a second, but I did a spin move and kept going.”

Savage said that Joa is a multi-talented athlete.

“We throw him the ball and he can go out and catch it,” Savage said. “He’s a skilled fullback who can also play halfback sets.”

Joa also is a standout defensive player. He had four tackles for lost yardage in the win against Secaucus, lining up at defensive end.

“We originally had him at defensive tackle,” Savage said. “But we needed someone to shut down the sweep, so we moved him to the outside. We also needed someone to cover the cornerback in case the quarterback kept the ball. Ricky was the best guy to do it.”

Savage was impressed with the way Joa did a little bit of everything.

“He played like it was his last game,” Savage said of Joa. “And it was his last game. He just needed to put everything into it. He’s a good kid, a quiet kid who stays to himself. But he’s a gamer. He comes alive when the game starts. He’s a mellow guy, but when kickoff goes, he’s ready. He’s just a humble kid.”

Joa hopes to play football in college. He has already been accepted to Wingate University in North Carolina, an NCAA Division II school that hopes to play football in the spring. Joa has not made his decision about school official. He is scheduled to go to a player’s combine Saturday in Metuchen. He is also a baseball player for the Vikings.

But for now, Joa will rest his laurels on his final high school football game, one certainly to remember.

“Honestly, I’m not complaining,” Joa said. “I’ll take those stats any day. I’m very excited about everything.”
As well he should be.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”