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For Passaic Valley, the big question is: Was last year an isolated incident or the first of many?

In 2023, the Hornets reached their first sectional final since 2009 and won the most games in a season since that year (seven). Now the task for coach Max Wassel and his team is to prove that this was not a slip-up.

“I've basically been telling the kids all season that they need to know how hard it is to win those playoff games and get to the state finals, and we didn't get it done,” Wassel said. “You saw what those seniors have deep down inside and how hard they've worked. It's hard to win.”

Like most public school football programs, the loss of a successful and talented graduating class will have an impact. Wassel knows he needs to find a new leader for his offense — there are two players competing for the starting quarterback job, but he has three-year starter Marc Meola back and do-it-all Dante Benvenuti.

The program is strong in terms of numbers, with nearly 50 students on the varsity team and a large class of freshmen.

The new schedule for Passaic Valley will be a challenge, as the Hornets will face state power Caldwell and perennial contender Wayne Valley of West Essex – the team that defeated Passaic Valley in the sectional title match.

Coaches talk about building a program and a culture that creates success. This year, Passaic Valley has a chance to prove it is a serious contender.

“I feel like we've improved every year in my four years. You can tell the kids are playing for each other instead of themselves and their own stats,” Wassel said. “That's always been my approach. When I played, I didn't care if I made a single tackle as long as we were winning. These kids love to win now. Losing sucks. Everyone wants to be a winner.”

The tradition

Passaic Valley has won four regional titles in the playoff era (1974 to present), the last one coming in 1986.

In recent years, Passaic Valley has become one of the best environments in North Jersey to watch games, with flashing lights after touchdowns, a new artificial turf field and a typically large crowd surrounding the field.

The challenge

The Hornets have one of the more unusual schedules in North Jersey, with three games played on Thursday nights and three of their first four games being away games.

They face a top-tier clash with cross-town rival Wayne Valley in the second week, and it could easily be a tough battle for them to make the playoffs after two weeks.

Passaic Valley has become known as a tough, physical team with dynamic playmakers, and they need to maintain that identity in 2024.

expectations

Wassel did an excellent job building the foundation for the program.

Last year was one of those years where all the stars were aligned. They had a veteran quarterback and a confident group that played better and better as the season went on.

The Hornets program has always had the potential to be a perennial contender. We'll find out if that's the case in 2024.

Time schedule

5th September: in Caldwell, 7 p.m.

13.september: in Wayne Valley, 6:30 p.m.

September 20th: against West Milford, 6:30 p.m.

September 26th: in Millburn, 7 p.m.

5th October: against West Essex, 6pm

October 10th: vs. Wayne Hills, 6:30 p.m.

October 18: vs. Nutley, 6:30 p.m.

October 25: in Lakeland, 6:30 p.m.

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