Well, you knew this was inevitable. All it takes is a weekend like this and you can all but guarantee that there will be some hooting and hollering about the public/non-public issue in football.
It begins in Wayne, where the Patriots of Wayne Hills saw their 55-game unbeaten streak end at the hands of St. Joseph Regional, 17-15. It was the second longest active winning streak in the country behind the 71-game run of Smith Center in Kansas.
Throughout the five-year winning streak, Wayne Hills did not play a parochial school. Only realignment sent them up against the Green Knights, and the irony is that the NBIL still exists for one more season, only without Hills and Fair Lawn.
The Pats weren't the only public school power in North Jersey to feel the wrath of the non-publics. Check out these results from this past weekend:
*** Bergen Catholic 40, Ridgewood 14
***Don Bosco 49, Passaic 8
***Paterson Catholic 22, Lodi 12
What do all of these games have in common with Wayne Hills-St. Joseph? In each case, the public school was undefeated (3-0 for all except Ridgewood, which was 2-0).
Can you hear it? Yup, that's the sound of all the naysayers crying up a storm about how the big boys shouldn't be playing in the same sandbox with the little ol' publics.
The only problem is this. The typical argument doesn't apply. In each of these games (and I was at two of them), it wasn't a matter of the losing team taking a physical beating. It was more a case of mistakes by the public schools giving their parochial brethren an easy road.
Wayne Hills? Two turnovers in the end of the first half set up St. Joseph for 10 critical points. Throw in a missed extra point by the usually reliable kicker that forced the Pats to go for two at the end of the game and you have a formula for defeat.
Ridgewood? How about a 15-yard punt, a botched punt snap and a blocked punt in three of the first four possessions. That's how you go down 21-0 at the end of the first quarter. Give Bergen Catholic the ball at your 40, 35, midfield and your 32.
Passaic? Try blocked punt, interception and blocked punt setting up the Ironmen at the Indian 10, 1 and 23 yard lines. It doesn't matter who you play, that's all but football suicide.
OK, let's get this out of the way. Yes, the parochial schools recruit. Not necessarily like you think, but yes. I mean, you look at the front page of The Record 10 days ago and you see a picture of the Don Bosco football team boarding a charter flight to Birmingham, Alabama to play on ESPNU with a chance to insert themselves squarely into the national championship picture.
Heck, you don't think there were dozens of kids (and parents, for that matter) looking at that and saying, "I want to go there"? Don Bosco should probably be sending The Record a very big thank you note for the free advertising, a spot that falls into the "priceless" category.
Then there's Bergen Catholic and St. Joseph opening the season each of the last three years in Giants Stadium. Most teams can only dream of getting to the big house to play in a state championship game, and these guys are there for the regular season opener. Another great recruiting tool.
What it does is give these schools the disparate talent edge, with players coming in from all over the tr-state area. It is that talent edge that usually wins out when parochials play publics, but it is also that talent edge that makes the rare win by a public a major news story and a big-time memory for the kids and even the public school coaches.
Ask Glen Rock about last year's defeat of Paterson Catholic, one that snapped the Cougars' 50-game BPSL winning streak. You don't think that is a highlight game? I'll go back a bit further. Ridgewood's 28-23 win over Bergen Catholic on the way to a state championship in 2004. Stuck in the minds of many. Even further back; Ridgewood 14-7 over an unbeaten and unscored upon Bergen Catholic in 1987. Another memory keeper.
Let's take it another step further. The coachspeak. How many times have we heard, "this is a great barometer for us, to see just how we stack up," or, "this is a level we aspire to get to," or, "playing against the best can only make us a better team."
Is there a clear disparity? Yes. When all is said and done, does it affect a public school's opportunity to make the playoffs and eventually win a state championship? No.
Now, I'm not being totally naive here. There are absolutely circumstances where a Don Bosco should never be playing a public school. Belleville and Barringer come to mind. This year, Eastside, Clifton and Kennedy. Bergen Catholic-Bergen Tech? No way. St. Joseph-Teaneck? Dread the thought.
That part you can put on the NJSIAA. To be eligible for the playoffs, you must play at least 70% of your games against New Jersey opponents. That's six of the first eight games. You need a league to play in for ALL sports, including football. So, something has to give.
We'd all rather see Don Bosco take on another high level program instead of Eastside. Same with the others. It just can't happen, so we have what we have.
This is never going away, folks; we can scream and curse and stomp our feet all we want, but it is what it is. So, grin and bear it and look forward to November, when the playoffs bring the separation that everyone seems to want.