Ever hear of Whac-A-Mole? It’s a boardwalk arcade game. Hit one mole over the head with a club … and then another mole pops up. Hit that one, and another emerges. And so on. It’s fun.
The Roxbury football team has been playing Whac-A-Mole all season so far.
And the 4-0 Gaels are having loads of fun.
With each victory, another team pops up. Doubters in the school hallways have wondered if Coach Ryan Roumes’ team can win the next one.
So far, Roxbury has.
Beat Par Hills in the season-opening game? Fine, but can you beat Morris Knolls in Week 2?
Beat Knolls? OK, but can you beat Randolph in Week 3?
Beat Randolph? Yeah, but what about West Morris in Week 4?
Well, the Gaels disposed of the Wolfpack in a 28-14 victory Thursday.
Quarterback Anthony Skawinski was 10 for 12 passing for 206 yards and three TDs. He threw a pair of TD passes to Colin Richter for 36 and 41 yards in the second quarter and the Gaels pulled away for their first victory over the Wolfpack in five years.
It is the first 4-0 start at Roxbury since the 8-2 2015 team (led by Roumes’ brother Craig).
This year’s team has also obliterated the painful memory of last year’s 0-3 start against longtime rivals Morris Knolls, Randolph and West Morris.
Roxbury has now beaten all three.
“There has been a special spark in school,” Skawinski said. “Everyone is excited.”
“All three of the wins over them this year matter a lot,” Roumes added.
“People were saying if we could get one or two of those games back this year that would be great. But our kids didn’t want to get one or two, but all three. One of our goals was not to get out to a slow start like last year. We officially accomplished that goal.”
They sure did, especially the last two weeks against two of their arch rivals.
“We have a group of seniors who are winners and fight every day in practice and on the field,” Roumes said. “We had a big-time win at Randolph, but the West Morris game was close the entire game. It was a lot closer than a two-score game.
“We keep playing and swinging. That is the most impressive thing with these kids.”
The Gaels have been able to come up with whatever was necessary to win each of the four games.
1. Against Par Hills, Jared Irwin returned an interception for a fourth-quarter touchdown and, suddenly, the Gaels were back in the game. And then Richter threw a gadget TD pass to Irwin and then caught a two-point conversion from Skawinski in the final seconds to win, 22-21.
Irwin has been one of the team leaders.
“He played a little last year and showed some glimpses,” Roumes said. “He was a tremendous asset as a receiver and someone who you cannot single cover. He hit a little hitch against West Morris for 40 yards. He has come up with some big hits. He is the threat on the outside which we haven’t had.”
2. Richter returned a punt 50 yards in the closing minute against Morris Knolls and then caught a 5-yard touchdown pass as the Gaels erased a 14-point halftime deficit on the way to a 21-14 win.
“Colin has been a guy for us since his freshman year, when he began making plays,” Roumes said. “His freshman year we needed a guy to make plays and he acted like a senior making plays. He was hurt at the beginning of the year last year and it was no coincidence we started winning when he came back. He is a do-it-all guy and competitor.”
3. Two weeks ago in a 34-0 win over Randolph, the Gaels O-Linemen imposed their will as Roxbury rushed 37 times for 293 yards. Jamani Miller was 20 for 201 rushing with three TDs.
“The running game was definitely working against Randolph,” Skawinski said. “If something is working, why mess with it? Keep doing it.”
The O-Line and defense were especially dominant against Randolph. The line is led by tackles Matt Collins and Jadon DeRosa and others who have contributed in a massive way and so have Josh Rivera, Christian Mobilio, Nick Riska and Liam Aretz.
The defense has stepped up when needed, especially in the middle with linebackers Matt Rattay and Josh Rivera, as well as Richter and Eli Cali at safety.
“They make a bunch of tackles and are at the core of our defense,” Roumes said. “They are the quarterbacks of the defense and put everyone in the right spot. We have a strong core. Coach (Frank) Misurelli does a great job with them.”
4. The passing game has been terrific against West Morris as Skawinski was able to set the tone with Richter (5 for 115 for two TDs receiving).
“West Morris shut down the run, so we went to the passing game,” Skawinski said. “We have been winning in different ways.”
The 5-7, 175-pound Skawinski has been one of the players who have been at the forefront of the team’s rise. His scrambling ability and leadership are two of his calling cards.
“He was called up to varsity as a freshman,” Roumes said. “We knew that he was one of the kids back then who would compete. Anthony was a freshman but he played with no fear. He plays big and he has for four years. He has a good understanding of the offense. He commands the huddle and has grown since his first few games and he continues to make plays.
“Him and Colin have a great connection and have for their entire lives. They both play huge.”
Whatever the team has needed, it has found a way.
“All four are team wins, definitely,” Skawinski said.
“I like the fact that we are finding ways to win games,” Roumes added. “That makes us different.”
And that is exactly what is needed in what is annually Morris County’s toughest conference from top to bottom.
The season of Whac-A-Mole continues. Red-hot Warren Hills (4-0) is up next, then Mount Olive and surprising Morristown.
“The conference will beat each other up,” Roumes said. “That’s why we don’t look at previous scores or look ahead. Every single game is a big challenge.”