The Hopewell Valley Central High School football team is still in a good position, but it definitely needs a victory on Oct. 26 at Princeton High School.
Hopewell Valley started the season at 4-0 and looked great doing it, beating Lawrence High School by 21 points and Ewing High School by 32 points in September. But then the Bulldogs suffered two straight losses, falling to Hamilton High School West, 35-0, on Oct. 11 and to a very strong Notre Dame High School unit, 42-6, on Oct. 18.
Despite those losses, Hopewell Valley’s 4-2 record has the team in the NJSIAA South Jersey, Group 3 sectional playoffs if the regular season ended today. The Bulldogs are 11th out of 30 teams in the NJSIAA South Jersey, Group 3 power rankings, and 16 teams will make the playoffs.
But another loss or two would hurt the Bulldogs. They need to beat Princeton on Oct. 26, and they should have a good chance to do so.
For starters, Hopewell Valley is a good football team. And secondly, Princeton is 0-6 and has lost every game by 41 points or more.
“We’re taking it one game at a time,” said Hopewell Valley coach Dave Caldwell. “I’m confident in what we do, but it’s a chess game.”
To win this week’s chess game, the Bulldogs will have to get back to making simple moves effectively. Early in the season, Hopewell Valley bulldozed through opponents with a powerful running game.
But in the last two games, Hopewell Valley has just six combined first downs. It ran the ball 27 times for 18 yards in the Hamilton West defeat.
Hopewell Valley has played the last three games without leading rusher Henry Lewis, who suffered a concussion earlier in the season. The Bulldogs are not sure when Lewis will be back, but they are still very much capable of running the ball with junior Tommy Belsky, who carried the ball 30 times for 101 yards and a touchdown in a 14-12 victory over Nottingham High School on Oct. 5.
The Bulldogs can also score in another way, through the air with senior quarterback Brett Confer. The senior went eight for 11 for 153 yards and four touchdowns in the Ewing victory back in September. Belsky, Devin Higgins and Trevor Radice all caught touchdowns in that game.
That was really the only game all year in which Hopewell Valley had everything going on the same day. Caldwell wants his Bulldogs to click on offense more consistently.
“We have to get better,” the coach said.
In the Princeton game, the Bulldogs will also try to get back on track on the defensive side. Hopewell Valley allowed 32 points in its first four games, an average of eight per game.
The defense features a host of multiyear starters like linemen Terrance Peterson and Hudson Hartman and linebacker Christian Cacciabaudo, and they should have the fortitude to recover from a couple down games.
“Defensively we have to stay true to our fundamentals,” Caldwell said. “I love how we pursue to the football.”
After the Princeton game, Hopewell Valley will end its regular season at Hightstown High School on Nov. 1. Hightstown is 1-6 this fall.
If Hopewell Valley goes 2-0 to close the regular season, it will almost certainly make the NJSIAA playoffs, which it missed last fall. This year’s state playoffs will start on Nov. 8 or 9.