Column: Quarterback Eddie Hahn is the Final Piece of the Puzzle for RBC
RED BANK — The high-powered offense of Red Bank Catholic is evolving, and that’s been pretty clear ever since Eddie Hahn stepped in at quarterback. Just three plays into Friday night’s super-hyped showdown with Manalapan, his impact was more obvious than ever.
On third-and-12 from the 25-yard line, Hahn avoided pressure and connected with senior wide receiver Nick Lubischer, who made an amazing play to shake a tackler while getting face-masked before racing 75 yards for the touchdown. Red Bank Catholic, the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, was up 7-0 just 90 seconds into the game. Momentum was squarely on the Caseys’ side almost immediately, and it paved the way for a 35-7 victory over the No. 2 Braves, the 39th straight win over a conference opponent for RBC.
Hahn, a 6-foot-3 junior with long, powerful strides and a rocket arm who took over as the full-time starter this season after splitting time as a sophomore, has changed the way the Caseys call plays. In prior seasons, a pass play most likely isn’t on the page in that situation.
“Third-and-12 from our own 25-yard line, in the old days maybe we run counter and punt and hope to get field position,” said Red Bank Catholic head coach Jim Portela. “Now we put our trust in Eddie and the receiving group. It’s a difference-maker, and we knew Eddie was going to be a difference-maker coming in. He’s a special player.”
What ended up being a rout that cemented the Caseys' ownership of the Shore Conference likely would not have been so without the added dimension of a true dual-threat quarterback. While Red Bank Catholic’s power running game eventually got going in the second half, it was bottled up for much of the first two quarters against a Manalapan front seven that matched the Caseys’ dominant offensive line step for step.
Red Bank Catholic hadn’t faced that problem much over the last four seasons, and when it did it wasn’t until a meeting with one of the state’s juggernauts in the playoffs. If the run was shut down, RBC had to rely on its defense to keep them in the game. That only works for so long against the Delbartons and St. Joseph-Montvales of the world.
“There’s going to be days when you can’t run the ball, days when you can’t pass the ball, days when your defense struggles,” Portela said. “But you have to find a way. The first half was one game and the second half was a little of our old-school game: run the football and play defense. That’s important to us (to be able to do both). That’s the way you need to play against great teams.”
“It adds a new wrinkle, and especially for states in our very tough group,” Hahn said of the Caseys’ big-play passing attack. “We’re looking to get better in every way.”
Hahn gives the Caseys options they haven’t had in years. With Lubischer, senior receivers Trevor Cowley and John Portela, tight end Jamie Gordinier plus running backs Mike Cordova, Tommy Spernal and Nick Cella, there’s a host of playmakers for the Caseys in the passing game. Hahn is the type of player who can take advantage of all of them.
“Nick Lubischer, Trevor Cowley and the rest of the receivers are great receivers even if Eddie’s not here,” Portela said. “Eddie makes everybody better, and I know that.”
And then there’s Hahn’s greatest strength: his running ability. Hahn threw for all of his 189 yards and two touchdowns in the first half to lead the Caseys to a 21-7 halftime lead, but his ability to convert on third and fourth downs with his legs changed the game. His final stats were nothing special - 10 carries for 34 yards - but it was when he made the plays that stood out. Nearly every time Manalapan would stop the run on first and second downs to force a third-and-long, Hahn found a way to keep the chains moving.
“I don’t know how many third-and-longs he converted with his feet, but it seemed like every time we flushed him he made something positive out of it,” said Manalapan head coach Ed Gurrieri. “I watched him on film all week and I think he’s the best player in the Shore. He was the difference-maker.”
“We know we can run the ball, but if teams slow us down we know Eddie can made a play for us,” Lubischer said. “It’s great to have a quarterback that can get out of the pocket and scramble and also throw the ball. He’s a big, big difference-maker. He’s a big part of our team, and the momentum he brings to the team like tonight, it’s really big for us.”
Hahn is quick to point out the great offensive line he plays behind and the underrated receiving corps he has unwavering trust in. Red Bank Catholic’s offensive line is indeed once again the Shore’s best. His receivers, especially Lubischer, have been dynamic this season. The running game continues to do what it’s done since current San Diego Chargers running back Donnie Brown was taking handoffs in 2004. But as Portela acknowledged, Hahn brings it all together with his diverse skill set. As RBC continues to chase the program’s second state title and first since 1976, week after week Hahn looks like the final piece of the puzzle.
Hahn wasn’t perfect on Friday night, though. He threw an interception and erred on some reads, but his positive plays heavily outweighed any mistakes he made. Just having Hahn in the lineup changes the way opposing teams scout and prepare for Red Bank Catholic. It was hard enough figuring out how to slow down the Caseys’ running game or crack their ferocious defense without having to worry about Hahn throwing darts downfield or ripping off highlight-reel runs.
If Red Bank Catholic is to reach its first state final in 34 years and capture what has become an elusive second state championship, it will once again have to go through powerful St. Joseph. The Green Knights have won 17 state titles in their illustrious history, including the last three NJSIAA Non-Public Group III titles. They’ve handed RBC their only defeats over the last two seasons by stopping the Caseys in the semifinals. Maybe things change this year. Maybe Hahn is what puts RBC over the top.
Regardless, the junior has provided the element RBC has needed to make its offense complete. What that means going forward remains to be seen, but on Friday night, in the biggest regular-season Shore Conference game in years, Eddie Hahn was the difference-maker.