Red Bank Catholic Rolls in Showdown with Manalapan Behind Dominant Defense, Big-Play Offense
RED BANK - If there were any lingering questions about which team rules over Shore Conference football, they were put to rest at Count Basie Field on Friday night.
Red Bank Catholic, the No. 1 team in the Shore Conference since 2011, smothered No. 2 Manalapan, 35-7, in a highly-anticipated nondivisional game in front of a capacity crowd. Junior quarterback Eddie Hahn threw for 189 yards and two touchdowns, the Caseys ran for 182 yards, and the defense sacked Manalapan quarterback Dan Anerella eight times while bottling up Shore Conference touchdown leader Imamu Mayfield to the tune of 75 yards on 17 carries.
"We always wanted to play Manalapan because we always wanted to know who was the top dog in the Shore,'' said RBC senior defensive end Doug Zockoll, who had four sacks. "Now we know."
RBC (7-0) has now won 39 straight games against Shore Conference competition after ending a 30-game winning streak by the Braves (6-1) against Shore teams.
"They’re the best team we’ve played to this point in time,'' Manalapan coach Ed Gurrieri said. "They’re well-coached, they play hard and I wish them nothing but the best in the playoffs. I hope they go far."
The Caseys started fast, scoring on the third play from scrimmage in the game, and never looked back. They built a 21-7 halftime lead and then closed out the win strong as the running game began grinding down a solid Manalapan defense to post 124 rushing yards after halftime.
"This was about us playing how we're capable and showing how we good we are,'' said Miami-bound senior linebacker Jamie Gordinier. "It's not about Manalapan. It's about us."
RBC started with a bang when Hahn bought some time with a scramble to his right and connected with senior wide receiver Nick Lubischer on third-and-12 on the opening series of the game. Lubischer shook off a defender grabbing his facemask and turned it into a 75-yard touchdown when he sprinted down the RBC sideline for a 7-0 lead just 1:34 into the game.
"That was huge,'' said Hahn, who threw for all 189 of his yards in the first half. "It was third-and-long, and he just made a great play. It was a terrible ball, and he made a great play on the ball, kept his feet going, and he just went 75 yards."
"A lot of momentum,'' Lubischer said about the play. "Coach Portela always says, 'Set the tone early.'''
Both defenses then came up with stops, including a fumble recovery by Zockoll after junior linebacker Dylan Murphy jarred the ball loose from Anerella on a blitz for the first of his two sacks on the night.
The Caseys made it 14-0 with an 11-play, 48-yard drive in which Hahn ran for 14 yards on third-and-6 and then for seven yards on fourth-and-5 from the Manalapan 25-yard line before senior tailback Mike Cordova scored from six yards out with 11:08 left in the second quarter. On RBC's first four possessions, Hahn moved the chains five out of six times on third or fourth down using his arm or his legs.
RBC's defense then forced a three-and-out as senior cornerback Mike DeMonte broke up a pass on third down. That set up a nine-play, 79-yard drive highlighted by a 41-yard pass from Hahn to Gordinier, who also plays tight end. Lubischer capped the drive with a sensational 25-yard touchdown catch over multiple defenders in the back of the end zone on fourth-and-12 for a 21-0 advantage midway through the second quarter.
"I have great trust in Nick and the rest of the receivers,'' Hahn said. "That showed tonight when I threw Nick that ball."
"It was a choice route, I ran a seam, and the linebacker ended up covering me,'' Lubischer said. "Eddie threw the ball up, I just went up for it, and I was in."
Lubischer had three catches for 118 yards in the first half but spent the whole second half on crutches after suffering a right knee injury while playing in the secondary on defense shortly before the end of the half.
Manalapan got on the board with a 5-play, 89-yard drive that culminated in a 36-yard touchdown pass from Anerella to wideout Gerard Hodge-Rocourt to cut it to 21-7 with 3:05 left in the second quarter. An interception by Manalapan senior cornerback Dan Debner in the end zone off a halfback pass by Cordova kept RBC's lead at 14 points heading into the break.
The RBC defense stifled a Manalapan offense that entered averaging 45.8 points per game, bottling up Mayfield after he had racked up 934 yards rushing and a Shore Conference-high 21 touchdowns coming into the game. He was held to 37 yards on 10 carries in the first half.
"He likes to cut it back, so we had our backside linebackers really waiting there for the cutback, and we stopped it tremendously,'' Gordinier said.
“They completely shut down the run,'' Gurrieri said. "They did a real good job at the point of attack. They have good players up front."
The Caseys picked up right where they left off in the third quarter, forcing a three-and-out when Cordova, who also plays safety, broke up a pass on third down. Hahn sailed a pass on RBC's ensuing possession that was picked off by Manalapan senior safety Marc Goldstein, but the defense held the fort when the Braves drove to the RBC 38-yard line. Murphy and Zockoll came up with consecutive sacks on third and fourth down to kill the threat.
“I felt like if we come out and score on our first drive of the second half we’ve got a ballgame, but we didn’t and it kind of got away from us,'' Gurrieri said.
The Caseys took that momentum and went on a four-play, 64-yard drive that ended with senior running back Nick Cella pinballing off six tacklers for an outstanding 37-yard touchdown run and a 28-7 lead with 2:57 left in the third quarter.
With the margin on the scoreboard effectively removing Manalapan's running game from the equation, it was open season on Anerella. Senior defensive lineman Nick Roy and Zockoll sacked him on back-to-back plays to end Manalapan's next drive, and Zockoll put him on the ground two more times before the night was done to bring his Shore Conference-leading total to 11 sacks.
"We didn't really blitz that much, and Doug did a great job of bringing pressure,'' RBC coach Jim Portela said.
"We didn't really get after (Anerella) in the first half, so I made a goal to get after him in the second half and that's what we did,'' Zockoll said.
RBC put the cherry on top with a six-play, 53-yard drive that ended with an 18-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Tommy Spernal for the final margin with 4:31 left in the game.
After suffering its most lop-sided defeat since a 48-21 loss to Howell in 2009, Manalapan will look to regroup in its quest to finally get over the hump and win its first state title in school history after losing in three straight state finals.
“We have lost the last game of the year the last three years, and you have to wait a whole year to get that bad taste out of our mouths,'' Gurrieri said. "Starting tomorrow we’re getting ready for another game, and right now that’s the best thing for us."
The Caseys now look to wrap up their fifth straight division title next week when they play Ocean in Class B North on the road to their ultimate quest of finding a way to unseat powerhouse St. Joseph's-Montvale in Non-Public Group III to win their first state title since 1976.
"Surrounding all the hype, I think we made a pretty good statement, but we definitely could've played better,'' Hahn said. "We'll get better next week and keep progressing."
Red Bank Catholic 35, Manalapan 7
. R M
First downs 15 10
Rushes-yards 35-182 27-59
Passing 7-15-2 6-21-0
Passing yards 189 143
Fumbles-lost 1-0 2-1
Penalties 3-25 4-30
Manalapan (6-1) 0 7 0 0 - 7
RB Catholic (7-0) 7 14 7 7 - 35
R: Lubischer 75-yard pass from Hahn (Gallo kick).
R: Cordova 6-yard run (Gallo kick).
R: Lubischer 25-yard pass from Hahn (Gallo kick).
M: Hodge-Rocourt 36-yard pass from Anerella (Caggiano kick).
R: Cella 37-yard run (Gallo kick).
R: Spernal 18-yard run (Gallo kick).
Rushing - R: Cella 4-56, Cordova 13-69, Hahn 10-34, Spernal 8-23. M: Mayfield 17-75, Anerella 8-(-29), Debner 2-13.
Passing - R: Hahn 7-14-1 189, Cordova 0-1-1 0. M: Anerella 6-21-0 143.
Receiving - R: Lubischer 3-118, Cowley 1-0, Gordinier 1-41, Portela 1-22, Cordova 1-8. M: Plummer 2-50, Mullen 1-32, Hodge-Rocourt 1-36, Debner 1-23, Mayfield 1-2.
Interceptions - M: Goldstein 1-20, Debner 1-0.