Joe Theisman – during a 2017 visit to his alma mater, South River, after the Rams beat Highland Park – had the utmost admiration for the other team.
He told MyCentralJersey.com reporter Andy Mendlowitz, “I admire the living daylights out of every one of them. Every one of them. It doesn’t matter what the score is. The score is insignificant in my opinion in this particular game. It’s the fact that these kids just keep on playing and going and going. And I admire them tremendously.”
The Owls had just 17 players that particular day, and were 0-4 on the season, coming off a 2016 campaign that saw them go 6-4 and finish strong, winning four of their final five games.
Fast forward to 2020 and Highland Park has lost 35 straight since then, including 0-7 this year, adding up to a 40-game losing streak that is the longest active in the state as of this writing.
It’s surely not for a lack of trying, nor a lack of enthusiasm or stick-to-itiveness. When we visited the Owls’ locker room in the summer, there was a sense of optimism and hope, and the team was pumped as they got their practice jerseys from the legendary Joe Policastro before heading out to the field with more than 30 kids in the program, numbers not seen in years on the Avenue of the Owls.
The results just haven’t shown on the field yet.
The scores have sometimes been lopsided, but the team persists. After all, playing football is often more about life lessons than winning a damn game, which – in the end – is really just a game.
The Owls will have two more cracks at it this regular season. This Friday they visit Manville, nearly as tough a task as last week’s opponent. Brearley shut them out 32-0 in Highland Park last Friday. The Mustangs are 6-1 heading into this Friday’s clash.
Their best hope likely is next Saturday’s game at Shabazz Stadium against Newark Central, which is 1-5 on the season.
The thing about Highland Park is it’s never been a downtrodden program. The Owls have won championship after championship, and have sent players to the pros, like L.J. Smith, while others – like Bruce Presley – have gone on to collegiate fame.
A few miles away, JP Stevens – though it doesn’t have the lengthy history and tradition of Highland Park – also has had some championship teams (six) and produced great players, the most recent of whom – Jeremy Zuttah – also played on Sundays.
But as times change, and the North side of Edison changes with it, the program’s fortunes have taken a turn as well.
As a result, the Big Central Conference gave JP a “relief” schedule, moving them down several divisions from their Group 5 counterparts like Edison, North Brunswick and Perth Amboy to the United Silver Division, which comprises middle-of-the-pack size schools like Carteret, Governor Livingston, North Plainfield and South Plainfield. Non-divisional opponents are even smaller schools.
But the Hawks are still 0-6 this year – again, not for any lack of persistence, gumption and grit – and have the second-longest active losing streak in the state behind Highland Park, having lost 29 in a row heading into their final two games of the regular season. Both are at home and against much smaller Group 2 schools: this week against 2-5 Metuchen and next week against 5-2 Spotswood, which is fighting for a playoff berth and could desperately use Group 5 power points.
Of course, we at Central Jersey Sports Radio are always impartial, fair and never root for one of our area teams over another, but you’d be hard pressed to find us not rooting for both of these teams to get off the schnied real soon!
The next-longest losing streak in the state is Ferris, which has dropped 19 in a row. They are 0-6 this year, went 0-9 last year, and lost all four games in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. It’s believed the longest losing streak ever in New Jersey belonged to Newark East Side, which lost 55 straight before snapping the streak in 2017 with a win over Belleville. It was just the fourth game for first-year head coach Brian Meeney, who also turned around St. Thomas Aquinas last year before his sudden and tragic death last winter.
The state’s longest active winning streak, meanwhile, belongs to Caldwell, which has won 21 straight – including 12-0 last season – and won its last three games of 2020.
While not a winning streak, Delsea has had an amazing streak recently, going 22-2 since the start of the COVID year. That’s 6-0 this season, 11-1 last season, and 5-1 in 2020. The Crusaders’ 35-6 win over Cedar Creek on Friday was the 231st victory for head coach Sal Marchesi, making him the winningest coach in school history.