Lenape football is out of touch with the times.
In an era increasingly defined by fast-paced, wide-spread offenses and increasingly influenced by the growth of seven-on-seven competition, the Indians would not be out of place in 1980.
Defense is Lenape’s calling card. The Indians are 3-0, ranked No. 5 in South Jersey and riding a three-plus-year wave of 31 victories in their last 36 games in large part because of their ability to shut down opposing teams.
“That’s who we are,” Lenape senior two-way lineman Aaron Acosta said. “Ever since I’ve been here, that’s been the core of Lenape football. We’re stingy. We’re stubborn. We get angry when we give up a first down.”
Acosta and senior linebacker Mike Galaida, a pair of three-year starters, are the “anchors” of the Lenape defense, according to coach Tim McAneney.
Lenape, which has allowed six points all season, likely will face its toughest challenge to date on Friday in a West Jersey Football League Capitol Division clash with No. 7 Rancocas Valley.
The Red Devils are 4-0, average 41 points and feature sensational senior running back Iverson Clement, a University of Florida recruit.
“Gentlemen, you understand this man is going to Florida?” McAneney said to his players during a punt-coverage drill in practice this week. “Not for vacation. Not Orlando. He’s going to Gainesville.”
Lenape has its own superb senior back in JoJo Kellum, plus a top quarterback in senior Matt LaJoie and one of South Jersey’s top three-sport athletes in senior all-purpose Jake Topolski.
But the key to the Indians is their work on the defensive side of the football. They have an active streak of 10 shutout quarters. They have allowed a touchdown or less in 26 of their last 36 games.
“We take a lot of pride in just going out there and dominating teams,” Galaida said. “We go out and practice and we focus and we fly around and we get to the games and it’s like second nature.”
McAneney said Acosta and Galaida set the tone for the Lenape defense with their smart, unselfish play.
“Aaron goes 100 mph,” McAneney said. “He’s so unselfish. He’ll take on two-three blockers every play. He could go a whole game without a making a tackle and some in the know who watched the game would say, ‘That kid dominated the game.'”
McAneney said Galaida is the “quarterback” of the defense.
“He makes all the calls, all the checks,” McAneney said. “He’s so instinctive, always around the football.”
Lenape’s defensive success this season stems from the players’ knowledge of the game and understanding of situations. These guys combine both brains and brawn.
Seniors such as Acosta, Galaida, Topolski, linebacker Zack Cole and lineman Jared Davenport are seasoned veterans, fully familiar with the Lenape defensive system as well as the offensive approach of most of their opponents.
Lenape’s defenders manage to walk a fine line between reckless, 11-hats-to-football aggression and a sound, disciplined approach to cover assignments.
“They trust the scheme,” McAneney said. “They’re so aggressive — I love to watch our kids play football — but they don’t put themselves in too much peril by getting out of position.”
Said Galaida, one of the team captains: “We never try to go above and beyond our game plan. We know we’re expected to make plays but we can’t go out of our way to try to make those plays. We stay disciplined.”
Acosta said Lenape’s old-fashioned philosophy comes from McAneney, the coach who oftens hears himself repeating the words of his father, late Pennsauken coach Vince McAneney.
“Coach Mac, he tells us every day, ‘We need to be more physical than the other team,'” Acosta said. “We tackle every day in practice. We challenge each other. The X and O stuff is good and all, but we’ve got to be more physical.”
Game at a glance
Rancocas Valley (4-0) at Lenape (3-0), Friday at 7 p.m.
Rankings: Lenape is No. 5 in the Inquirer Top 25 and Rancocas Valley is No. 7.
At stake: Both teams are undefeated in WJFL Capitol Division play and both are angling for high seeds in the South Jersey Group 5 tournament.
Last year: Lenape rallied past Rancocas Valley 17-13 on Matt LaJoie’s 67-yard touchdown pass to Jake Topolski with one minute, three seconds to play.
Rancocas Valley players to watch: Senior running back Iverson Clement (67 carries, 476 yards, 5 TDs), junior quarterback Bryce Mangene (43-for-61, 622 yards, 7 TDs), junior wide receiver Danny Kondras (19 catches, 267 yards, 6 TDs), senior linebacker Kyle Sapp (21 tackles, three sacks).
Something has to give: Rancocas Valley has scored an average of 41 points while Lenape has allowed an average of 2 points.
Pick: Lenape, 17-14.