Non-Public Group III Championship Preview
NON-PUBLIC GROUP III CHAMPIONSHIP
Saturday at 10 a.m. at Rutgers University
(1) St. John Vianney (11-0) vs. (7) DePaul (5-6)
St. John Vianney stat leaders: Anthony Brown, Sr., QB, 95-143, 1,917 yards, 30 TD passing; 63-578, 8 TD rushing; Mike Stapert, Sr., WR, 25-754, 10 TD; Chris Chukwunke, Jr., RB, 78-756, 12 TD; Marcque Ellington, Sr., WR, 11-266, 8 TD; Jeff Sheard, Sr., WR/DB, 19-366, 4 TD; 3 INT; Khalil Haskins, Sr., WR/DB, 27-308, 6 TD; 3 INT; Calvin Beaty, Sr., LB, 75 tackles; Tyler Tedeschi, Jr., LB, 84 tackles, 7 sacks; Micah Clarke, Jr., DL.
St. John Vianney's best wins: 13-6 over Central Jersey Group III finalist Rumson-Fair Haven; 56-26 over Central Jersey Group II finalist Raritan; 49-6 in the semifinals over defending champion Red Bank Catholic.
DePaul's best wins: 35-27 over Paramus Catholic; 40-13 over Camden Catholic in quarterfinals; 34-7 over Delbarton in semifinals.
St. John Vianney keys to the game:
1. Protect Anthony Brown.
Brown is one of the state's best quarterbacks with a big arm and great accuracy, and with time he will carve up any secondary. Brown is also dangerous when he breaks the pocket, but he is a pass-first quarterback the Lancers would much rather have sitting comfortably in the pocket. DePaul's 5-6 record can be completely thrown out the window since the Spartans have played a national schedule. They play in the juggernaut Big North Conference United Division with Don Bosco Prep, St. Joseph (Montvale), Bergen Catholic and Paramus Catholic and have six FBS recruits. They won't be intimidated in the slightest by St. John Vianney's unbeaten record and gaudy offensive statistics. The Spartans have 30 sacks on the season, led by senior Penn State commit Mike Dwumfour with seven. Nebraska recruit Quayshon Alexander is also a bear up front with four sacks, and linebackers Scott LaVelle and Vinny DePalma are dangerous on blitzes with four sacks each. St. John Vianney is a balanced offense, but it all starts with Brown. If he has time in the pocket he's going to find his receivers for big plays.
2. Establish the run early.
DePaul will be zeroed in on stopping Brown and St. John Vianney's lethal passing game, so getting junior running back Chris Chukwuneke going early will be huge to keep the Spartans honest. St. John Vianney's four-wide receiver sets spread defenses out, and that has helped Chukwuneke average nearly 10 yards per carry this season. Brown will also keep the ball on designed read-option runs. Again, this will come down to St. John Vianney's offensive line winning at the point of attack against DePaul's talented front. If the running game is working early it also opens play-action for the Lancers where Brown likes to hit 6-foot-6 senior Mike Stapert.
3. Create turnovers.
DePaul's offense has a ton of playmakers, led by the nation's top running back recruit, Kareem Walker, and will test St. John Vianney's defense more than any team it has faced this season. Obviously shutting them down outright is the ideal situation, but it's hard to bank on holding the Spartans completely down. Forcing a turnover or two would give the Lancers some extra possessions, and with a quick-strike offense that could be the difference.
4. Win on first down.
DePaul has two outstanding running backs in Walker and senior Nasir Hooker which it will try to establish early. Putting the Spartans in second or third and long will force them to the air, and although they can certainly throw the ball with senior Shelton Applewhite and Virginia recruit Hasise Dubois at wide receiver leading the way, it will give St. John Vianney a chance to unleash linebackers Calvin Beaty and Tyler Tedeschi on blitzes. Making Applewhite get ride of the ball early would give defensive backs Khalil Haskins and Jeff Sheard opportunities to get interceptions. Both, especially Haskins, are lethal in the open field.
5. Limit mistakes.
Penalties and turnovers derailed St. John Vianney in last season's semifinal loss to Delbarton, a game the Lancers should have won. Giving DePaul easy yards or extra possessions with great field position could be devastating. Brown has thrown just four interceptions all season, so the Lancers have done a great job protecting the ball. That will need to continue on Saturday morning.
Have to stop: Kareem Walker, Sr., RB.
Walker is the total package at running back, which is why he is the No. 1 running back recruit in the nation. He de-committed form Ohio State earlier in the season and has had basically every top FBS program banging down the door to land him. His numbers (1,1314 yard and 11 TD) don't jump off the page, but given the schedule DePaul plays it's very impressive. Think of him as a 2,000-yard back, because that's what kind of elite talent he is. He has the potential to explode for over 200 yards and any time. Both St. John Vianney and DePaul have a lot of playmakers, but each has its superstar. For the Lancers it's Brown and for DePaul it's Walker. Slow him down and it will go a long way toward securing a state championship.
Underrated player: Jeff Sheard, Sr., WR/DB.
St. John Vianney has two 6-foot-6 wide receivers on the outside with Stapert and Ellington and an all-Shore talent in the slot with Haskins. Sheard is often overlooked among a group chock-full of ability but he can make an impact on offense both rushing and receiving. Defensively, Sheard has three interceptions on the year and is also a standout on special teams.
X-Factor: Micah Clark, Jr., DL
Clark has modest stats (34 tackles, 1 sack, 8 TFL) but was voted the Class A Central Defensive Player of the Year because of his effect on opposing offenses. He also boasts nearly three dozen FBS offers. Teams routinely run to the opposite side of the field he is lined up on, making their rush offense predictable. If DePaul does the same it will give linebackers Calvin Beaty, Tyler Tedeschi and Mike Bordfeld easy keys to bring down Walker and Hooker for modest gains. If DePaul decides to run at him he will need to shed blocks and make them pay. Clark could be matched up against 6-foot-5, 300-pound tackle Tyiuo Lukusa, who is committed to Michigan State.
Notes: DePaul is seeking its third straight title and fifth overall in its 12th appearance in a final. The Spartans won the last two Non-Public Group II titles, but were moved up to Group III when the NJSIAA eliminated Non-Public Group I...St. John Vianney is going for its first state title since 1980 and second overall...The Lancers have never finished 12-0...Anthony Brown needs four touchdowns to break the Shore Conference single-season record (44) set last year by Mater Dei Prep quarterback Christian Palmer...Mike Stapert is averaging over 30 yards a catch, the highest total in the Shore Conference.