WEST ORANGE, NJ – In the fall of 1976, the big story in New Jersey high school football was the play of New Providence running back Ted Blackwell, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards and scored 254 points.
But on a team basis, the spotlight was on Tony Verducci’s Seton Hall Prep squad. Seton Hall, which was loaded with outstanding performers like two-way lineman Ferdy Masucci, linebacker Chet Parlevecchio, two-way end Pat Sages and running back Paul Villanova, went 11-0 and outscored its opponents, 261-36. Seton Hall, which at the time was located in South Orange, posted eight shutouts, including two in the state playoffs.
“That was really a special team,” said former SHP athletic director Joe Walsh, who was an assistant coach at the time. “Going into the season Coach Verducci knew we had a pretty good defense, but the key was to also get things going on offense.”
And junior quarterback Mike Ragan did just that. Ragan, who was backed up by senior Vin Rispoli, was a cool customer at the QB spot. He was particularly dangerous on the option play.
“We had some top runners like Paul Villanova,” said Walsh, who was inducted into the SHP Hall of Fame in 1992 along with Masucci, the team leader in 1976. “But in crunch time, Mike was always capable of making the big play. He gave the rest of the team a great deal of confidence.”
Seton Hall, coming off a 6-3 mark in 1975, started the season with a tough 19-14 decision over a quality Bloomfield High team. Then came four straight shutouts before a narrow 15-14 win over Don Bosco Prep.
“That win over Bloomfield was really big,” recalled Parlevecchio, who went on to star in college at Penn State and eventually play in the NFL for a few years. “It seemed that every year, games between Seton Hall and Bloomfield were always close.”
Following the close call against Don Bosco, SHP rolled past Belleville and Parsippany Hills. Then in the first round of the North Jersey, Parochial “A” playoffs in South Orange, Verducci’s squad romped past Queen of Peace, 29-0. A 16-8 triumph over Essex Catholic on Thanksgiving got SHP ready for the state championship contest against St. Joseph of West New York in South Orange.
On a cold day, the Pirates racked up a 12-0 victory. During the next two years, SHP continued to excel, going 10-0-1 and 11-0. In those three seasons, SHP yielded but 72 points.
“All of those teams were very good,” said Mike Gallo, who is now the assistant headmaster at SHP at its West Orange location. The school moved to West Orange in the summer of 1985. “It was a thrill for me to just play ball for Tony Verducci. He was a special coach who was well-schooled in the game of football.”
During his 33 years at the SHP helm, Verducci went 213-76-16. In most of those games, SHP allowed under 10 points per game.
“Ferdy was a great leader for our ‘76 squad,” said Gallo, who, like a lot of players, was from the local area (South Orange). “Heck, he was an animal on the field.”
Masucci, who played in college at Brown, had an amazing 16 sacks in 1976. But he was just as good at guard as he was at defensive tackle. The Pirate co-captain was regarded by Verducci as the team MVP.
“Parlavecchio and Sages were really important on defense,” said Masucci. “Both guys were quite athletic. It was no wonder that Chet went so far in the game, because he showed great instincts on the field. In my days in high school and college, I never saw a better football player.”
In 1977, Parlevecchio led a defense which posted a state-record 10 shutouts. The only game blemish was a scoreless tie against Paterson Kennedy. Then in 1978, John Merklinger, a superb two-way back, led SHP to another 11-0 mark.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years since the start of that run in 1976,” said Walsh. “That was an amazing time for our football program.”
GRID NOTES – Tom Verducci, the son of the coach, was part of that run. He’s now a renowned writer for Sports Illustrated and a respected baseball announcer for Fox… Under Verducci, SHP won its last state title in 1985, while in West Orange.