*Click here for a photo gallery of the game by B51 Photography*

By Matt Stypulkoski - Shore Sports Network contributor

RED BANK – After two straight years of having to hear about how it didn't measure up to North Jersey power St. Joseph's-Montvale, second-seeded Red Bank Catholic released all its frustration in an exhilarating blast with a stunning 44-14 rout of the three-time defending Non-Public Group III champions on Friday night at Count Basie Field.

“In June, when we had our meeting, we all wrote down on a sheet that we wanted to win a state championship,” Caseys senior running back Tommy Spernal said. “That’s everyone’s goal. This game, it’s a huge win for us. But the goal is in two weeks.”

Red Bank Catholic senior Tommy Spernal torched the St. Joseph's-Montvale defense for 169 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the Caseys' Non-Public Group III semifinal win. (Photo by B51 Photography)

Making its first state final appearance since 1980, Red Bank Catholic (10-1) will face the winner of Saturday's Delbarton-St. John Vianney game in the championship at MetLife Stadium on the weekend of Dec. 6-7 in search of its first state title since 1976. Friday night's win gave them a school-record 10 victories for the fourth straight season, and they can become the first 11-win team in RBC history by taking home a victory in two weeks.

First they had to vanquish a St. Joe's program that has won 17 state titles in its history and had been a cut above the Caseys the last two years. Much of the talk was about RBC closing the gap, and the Caseys more than did that in handing the Green Knights their most lop-sided loss to a New Jersey team since a 41-0 setback to Don Bosco Prep in 2011.

Senior Nick Cella broke a long touchdown run to help RBC reach its first state final since 1980 with a rout of three-time defending champion St. Joseph's-Montvale. (Photo by B51 Photography)

“We always say, ‘We don’t carry a burden from other teams, we carry their strength,’” Red Bank Catholic coach Jim Portela said. “And the school was buzzing today…there was an energy about our kids and our school today.”

Despite the lop-sided final score, the win did not come easy for the Caseys, who battled from behind throughout the first half. St. Joseph’s quarterback Jack Walsh ran for one touchdown and threw for another – a 65-yard bomb to J.T. Giles-Harris one play after Red Bank Catholic had tied the game – to lead his team.

Junior quarterback Eddie Hahn threw a pair of touchdown passes in RBC's huge win. (Photo by B51 Photography)
Senior wide receiver Trevor Cowley had a touchdown grab in RBC's rout of St. Joe's. (Photo by B51 Photography)

In fact, the Green Knights (7-3) tallied 168 yards on 17 plays over their first three drives. Save for a fumble deep in Red Bank Catholic territory on the first possession, they looked to be unstoppable. But unlike the past two years, when the Caseys were unable to move the ball in the semifinals and bowed out to the Green Knights by scores of 48-7 and 28-7, this time there was a response.

Junior quarterback Eddie Hahn evaded pressure, rolled to his left and lobbed a perfect pass into the stride of Trevor Cowley to tie the game at 14 with a 30-yard touchdown pass with 6:59 before halftime. From that point forward, it was all Red Bank Catholic, which ended the night with 324 total yards, including 278 on the ground.

“It was a matter of getting used to the speed at which they play at,” Portela said. “They were running the ball very effectively the first two drives. The kids got used to the speed of the game and the physicality. You’re going against big, strong kids. As hard as we go in practice, we try to get our best on our best and our scouts do a great job, but they’re not like St. Joseph’s.”

Red Bank Catholic's defense swallowed up a potent St. Joe's offense, holding them to 29 total yards in the second half. (Photo by B51 Photography)

Once they settled in, the Caseys asserted themselves and controlled the game, especially defensively.

Red Bank Catholic was the first team from New Jersey to keep St. Joseph’s under 20 points in a game this season – the only other opponent to manage the feat was Good Counsel (Md.). The Caseys allowed just 29 yards on 15 plays after the halftime break, refusing to allow the Green Knights to get in a rhythm.

“It’s priceless, coming out, playing like we did,” Hahn said. “It was 14-14 at halftime and it ended 44-14. We shut them out in the second, third and fourth quarters.

“Coach Portela preached that we would play championship defense and that’s what we did tonight. I mean, they moved the ball on us, they’re a great football team, but we were the better team tonight and the feeling right now is priceless.”

Junior linebacker Dylan Murphy (#24) helped the RBC defense shut down the Green Knights. (Photo by B51 Photography)

With Hahn at the helm, the Red Bank Catholic offense hit its stride in the game’s final 24 minutes.

Senior Nick Cella kicked things off with a 54-yard touchdown run two minutes into the third quarter. Hahn then tacked on a four-yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Nick Lubischer to extend the lead. Senior tailback Mike Cordova added a 21-yard score before Spernal, who finished the night with 169 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, capped the scoring with a four-yard touchdown run.

The Caseys also benefited from a safety early in the fourth quarter when the snap on a St. Joseph’s punt cleared the back of the end zone.

In Hahn’s mind, the offensive success – and 173 second-half rushing yards – had everything to do with his offensive line.

“They’re incredible,” Hahn said. “From the first game of the season to this game, they’ve been incredible every week. They work hard in the weight room, they work hard at practice. They’re the hardest working people on the team and I feel they just pushed around St. Joe’s defensive line and Tommy found the holes.”

As a result, the Caseys will have a chance to play for the school’s first football state championship in 38 years.

“This was a huge game,” Spernal said. “But I can’t wait to go to MetLife.”

Box score

Red Bank Catholic 44, St. Joseph's-Montvale 44

.                                 SJM            RBC

First downs                 15                9

Rushes-yards          33-176          43-278

Passing                    7-17-1          4-10-2

Passing yards            114              46

Fumbles-lost             3-2              0-0

Penalties                   7-90             2-10

St. Joseph’s (7-3)             14  0  0  0 – 14

Red Bank Catholic (10-1) 7  7  14  16 – 44

Scoring summary

S: Walsh 5-yard run (Gavin Haggerty kick).

R: Spernal 22-yard run (Vince Gallo kick).

S: J.T. Giles-Harris 65-yard catch from Walsh (Haggerty kick).

R: Cowley 30-yard pass from Hahn (Gallo kick).

R: Cella 54-yard run (Gallo kick).

R: Lubischer 4-yard pass from Hahn (Gallo kick).

R: Safety. Ball snapped out of end zone.

R: Cordova 21-yard run (Gallo kick).

R: Spernal 4-yard run (Gallo kick).

Individual statistics

Rushing – SJM: Kearns 21-150, Walsh 7-7, J. T. Giles-Harris 1-11, Triglia 3-6, Rivera 1-2. RBC: Speranl 20-169, Cordova 7-41, Hahn 11-42, Cella 5-26.

Passing – SJM: Walsh 7-17-1 114. RBC: Hahn 4-10-2 46.

Receiving – SJM: Jo. Giles-Harris 4-47, J. T. Giles-Harris 2-70, Ezemma 1-(-3). RBC: Cowley 2-36, Lubischer 2-12.

Interceptions – SJM: J. T. Giles-Harris 1-0.