Lancers focusing on winning ground game on gridiron

By Matthew Rocco

St. John Vianney High School was on the losing end of last year’s NJSIAA Non-Public, Group III final, but the 2016 football season isn’t about avenging that heartbreaking end to 2015. The Lancers are remaking their identity.

As head coach Derek Sininsky explains it, the Lancers are bringing old-school football to the gridiron this year. Their formula for winning is built on one main goal: dominate the ground game on both sides of the football. In the season opener, St. John Vianney embraced its new identity with authority.

The Lancers won the battle on the line against Matawan Regional High School and rushed for 213 yards, rolling to a 31-0 shutout of the Huskies Sept. 9. Chris Chukwuneke, a senior running back, amassed 135 yards on 17 carries. Junior Johnny Buchanan added 55 yards on six carries and scored twice.

It was Chukwuneke who put the game out of reach, racing to the outside for a 30-yard touchdown dash to give the Lancers a 24-0 advantage early in the fourth quarter. Later, Buchanan scored for the second time with a 12-yard carry. The Lancers scored all four of their touchdowns on the ground. In the second quarter, Haaziq Daniels punched the ball into the end zone from the 1-yard line.

The Lancers’ success in the running game was exactly what the team drew up. And with a big night for the defense, the Lancers had the perfect one-two punch.

“We won that game exactly how we needed to — run the ball, play great defense and play great special teams,” Sininsky said after the win.

Kicker Will Foreman complete all four extra-point attempts and also connected on a 32-yard field goal.

“We’re trying to make our own identity this year,” Sininsky said. “We keep stressing for the seniors to put your own stamp on the team. We had it set in our minds that we need to establish the run. It doesn’t mean we’ll run the ball every down. If they load the box, we feel we can throw the ball, too.”

The Lancers only needed to throw the ball seven times against Matawan. New starting quarterback Matt DeGennaro was 3-for-7 with 80 yards in the air. His two targets for the night were Sam East, who had two catches for 48 yards, and Zyaire Sterling, who caught one pass on a 32-yard play.

On defense, St. John Vianney’s front line executed its plan to take the running game away from the Huskies. The Lancers have two Rutgers University-bound linesmen up front in seniors Micah Clark and Jamaal Beaty, and junior defensive end Nick Densieski had three sacks.

“We’re loading the box up. We’re throwing back to old-school football. Stop the run, and make them throw. We’re going to dictate to the offense what to do,” Sininsky said.

Like its rivals, St. John Vianney has postseason aspirations. But the Lancers remain focused on getting the job done each week against a daunting schedule of Shore Conference A Central Division opponents, including Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School and Red Bank Regional High School, plus out-of-division games against Middletown High School South, Red Bank Catholic High School and Brick Township High School.

After going 11-1 in 2015, the Lancers’ win-loss record isn’t necessarily the priority this season. They expect to be well-prepared for a postseason run by the time they fight through their schedule.

“We would like to go undefeated, but we don’t need to go undefeated to be successful in the postseason,” Sininsky said.

As the team was getting ready for the first game of the season, a 21-2 loss in a scrimmage served as a wake-up call and brought the players closer together.

“We, as coaches, loved it. [The scrimmage] was a lesson learned, and it prepared us for Matawan,” Sininsky said. “We’re really stressing the details and the discipline. We also want a family atmosphere. We tell the kids how important the team aspect is. Every coach uses the statement that football is a team sport. That’s what we’re really trying to stress.”

St. John Vianney looks to continue its momentum in a divisional game vs. Raritan High School. The Lancers will be on the road to face the Rockets — last year’s Central   Jersey, Group II champion — Sept. 16 at 7 p.m.