The North Hunterdon Lions 5-4 record does not show the full story of this incredibly gritty football team. While they lost four games, they lost by a total of twenty-six points, losing by just over six points in the four games they lost. The four teams North Hunterdon lost to this season have a combined record of 29-7, and three-out-of-four games, North lost by less than a touchdown. With the departure of star quarterback Christian Solino, many expected North Hunterdon to fall off of a cliff this year, but instead, many lived up to the “do your job” mantra, more than most teams.
Luke Martini was a sophomore last year and didn’t expect to be the starter until senior year, but after becoming the starter early in the offseason, Luke was ready to step up to the job. Back all the way in March you could see Luke with a quarterback coach working with different receivers diligently months before kickoff. Even missing two games this season, Luke was a monster on the field, throwing for 1,099 yards, fourteen touchdowns and five interceptions. While Luke played incredible in a tight situation, enough credit is impossible to give to the weapons he had access to.
Hunter Paulter lead the team in receiving yards with 603 on thirty-five receptions, as well as eight receiving touchdowns. If you didn’t watch him play the stats do not do him justice, but it looked like Hunter Paulter was playing with glue on his gloves, he could catch anything thrown at him. Another star receiver was John Sauchelli, who had a team leading thirty-six receptions for 415 yards and three touchdowns. Another player who can not go unnamed is the swiss army knife of the North Hunterdon football team, Ryan Drwal.
Ryan Drwal is the George Blanda of the Lions team, playing kicker, receiver, defensive-back, and quarterback when needed to, and all at an exceptional level. In the two games he needed to play quarterback, ‘RJ’ had 186 yards with one touchdown. He also rushed for over 100 yards in the nine games played, as well as catching four touchdowns. On the defensive end Ryan had one fumble recovery, three-interceptions as well as a touchdown, leading the team in interceptions, and also having twenty-two tackles total. Ryan also kicked great, kicking 84% for extra-points this season. Ryan did it all, only taking off around five-to-ten snaps each game. Two more incredible two-way players I have to mention are Alex Uryniak and Kente Edwards.
Alex plays both running-back and linebacker for the Lions. Alex is the pinnacle of the power-back, rushing for 177 yards but having seven rushing touchdowns, the second most on the team. If you gave it to Alex inside the five, it was almost a guaranteed touchdown. Alex also had six sacks, eighteen tackles-for-loss, two forced-fumbles, and lead the team in total tackles with 112. Alex is the definition of smash mouth football, and pairing him with star running back Kente Edwards is going to prove successful in these playoffs as well as next year, both players only being juniors. Speaking of the 2021 Milk Can Game MVP Kente Edwards, he had quite the season this year.
Kente went off in North’s rushing attack, having 100 carries for 687 yards and eight rushing touchdowns on the season. Kente highlighted the season with a 96-yard kickoff return touchdown against Colonia, proving every time you give Kente an inch of space, he makes the most of it. Not only is Kente Edwards a dominant rushing attack, but he’s an explosive defensive presence as well. On the season playing Defensive Back, Kente Edwards has sixty-four tackles, two forced fumbles, and two interceptions.
Middletown South is a dominant force in New Jersey, ranked 21st in the entire state, and second in the playoff bracket. The Eagles had one of the best defenses in the state, only allowing sixty-five points the entire season, and their only loss being a 12-7 upset against Rumson-Fair Haven. Their offense is very potent as well, but against North Hunterdon, I don’t expect a shutout, I don’t expect a thirty point victory, I expect a battle of defenses. North’s defense is a force itself, allowing three points in a three game stretch at one point in the season. In every game North has won, the other team has either scored less than eight points, except for Voorhees who they defeated last Friday 46-14. If North can play their brand of football out in Middletown South, and a Jungle can be present for this game, I expect the Lions to have the biggest upset in the playoffs this year without a doubt.