The stands were packed, more full than Potoczak had ever seen, and people stood all along the fence surrounding the field to watch Lodi’s first home game of the season against Garfield. The Garfield game is always one of the biggest on Lodi’s schedule because the Boilermakers are neighboring rivals.
Lodi defeated Garfield, 31-6, but it was the Rams’ season-opening win that left Lodi fans excited about what the Rams can accomplish this season. Lodi (2-0) was not ranked in The Record preseason Top 25, but the Rams traveled to Saddle Brook on Sept. 14 and soundly defeated the sixth-ranked Falcons, 41-20.
“In that game, I think we showed a lot of teams we’re pretty good and that we worked hard for this all summer,” said senior Randol Almonte, a wide receiver/outside linebacker. “That was a huge confidence booster.”
“They beat us pretty bad at home last year,” said senior Julian Marin, a wide receiver/outside linebacker. “So going there, we wanted to beat them that way on their home field.”
The 19th-ranked Rams’ strong start has indicated this season will be different from the previous three.
Lodi has not reached the playoffs since 2009, when the Rams lost to River Dell in a first-round North 1, Group 2 game. The Rams haven’t finished over .500 since ending the 2009 season at 7-3, either.
“We’re very confident,” said senior guard/defensive tackle Rafael Polanco. “But being 2-0, that’s basically nothing because we haven’t won anything yet.”
Lodi could take significant steps toward winning a division championship if the Rams can beat Rutherford, Hawthorne (1-1) and Elmwood Park (2-0) in successive NJIC Colonial Division games. Tirico thinks back-to-back home games against Hawthorne and Elmwood Park on Oct. 5 and Oct. 12, respectively, “could determine everything.”
Tirico also is confident the Rams’ defense will at least keep them in every game.
That unit has been led by junior middle linebacker Mohammed Zaal (team-leading 26 tackles), Marin (18 tackles), junior cornerback Jessey Asare (10 tackles, one interception, five passes defended) and Potoczak, a senior strong safety who has recorded 18 tackles and a sack.
A huge offensive line that features 6-foot-5, 270-pound junior tackle Bryan Roth, 6-4, 270-pound senior tackle Devin Uter and 6-3, 250-pound junior guard Matt Leto also is one of the Rams’ greatest strengths. They’ve helped Potoczak rush for 257 yards and four touchdowns and enabled sophomore quarterback Emmanuel Appiah to throw three touchdown passes and run for 186 yards and a score.
“It’s not just those of us on the team that know we’re doing good,” Almonte said. “The buzz is going around town. We have older generations coming up to us, wishing us luck in the next game. Everybody’s hearing about us, so hopefully we can come out and do what everybody’s expecting us to do.”