Return to Glory: Brick Wins First State Title Since 1994 [AUDIO]
EWING - At a program where tradition is everything, Brick paid the ultimate tribute to its championship teams of the past with a fourth-quarter drive for the ages to bring home the team's first state title since 1994 on Saturday at The College of New Jersey.
Trailing third-seeded Colts Neck by three points with 11:12 left in the Central Jersey Group IV final, the top-seeded Green Dragons embarked on a 14-play, 76-yard drive that ate up nearly nine minutes before taking the lead for good on a 2-yard touchdown run by junior running back Ray Fattaruso. They punched in one more for good measure to start the celebration with a 26-15 victory for the seventh state title in their illustrious history.
"It means the world,'' said head coach Rob Dahl, who played under legendary coach Warren Wolf at Brick. "That was the goal three years ago when I took the job. The amount of alumni guys over here got me real emotional at the beginning of the game, and I basically just stressed the point that we can't let these guys down. We've got to get this seventh title and we did.
"When you get look at all the old scores in the Brick championship games, they weren't blowouts. They were 9-7, 7-6, 21-20 vs. Camden (in 1974). They were all close games that took place with a long drive at the end, and it was a staple of all those championship years."
From an emotional pregame speech by the 86-year-old Wolf, whose 364 wins are second in state history, to 2,000-plus fans in green-and-white to a host of alumni dusting off their varsity jackets from the 1970s to show their support, the reminders of Brick's glorious past were everywhere. Its championship present was embodied by players like Fattaruso, who also had a stellar game at linebacker, and a player who wasn't even at the school last year.
Junior quarterback Carmen Sclafani, a Toms River North transfer, ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries and threw for 101 yards out of the Green Dragons' spread set, which is directed by his uncle, offensive coordinator and former Toms River North head coach Chip LaBarca Jr. Brick ran for 200 yards as a team to finish with 301 total yards against a Cougars' defense that entered giving up 11 points per game.
"I've grown up wanting to win a state championship, and I guess it was meant to be here,'' Sclafani said. "I learned what it meant to bleed green today."
On the 14-play drive that gave Brick (9-3) the lead, Sclafani ran for 11 yards to convert a third-and-7, and Fattaruso ran for four yards on fourth-and-2 from Colts Neck's 12-yard line to eventually set up his own touchdown on third-and-goal.
"That's definitely one of the drives I will remember forever, especially the fourth down that we had to get,'' Fattaruso said ."That was crucial in the game, and I had absolutely the most confidence I've ever had in my life in that play, knowing that we were going to get it because our offensive line was just screaming to run the play."
"We got in the huddle, we looked at each other, and we believed,'' said senior running back Mike Muratore.
After Brick took a 19-15 lead on Fattaruso's touchdown and an extra point by senior kicker Anthony Starego, Fattaruso then all but sealed the game with his play on defense. Colts Neck took over on its own 20-yard line, but a tackle for no gain by Fattaruso on second down, a sack for a seven-yard loss by Fattaruso on third down and then an incompletion on fourth down allowed Brick to take over at the Cougars' 16-yard line with 2:07 left in the game.
"That formation they ran, I knew that the tackle was going to head out, so I gave him a swim move inside and (Sanchez) was standing right in front of me,'' Fattaruso said about his big sack.
Three plays later, Muratore sent the Green Dragons' faithful into delirium with a two-yard touchdown run that iced the win by giving Brick a 26-15 lead with 1:12 to play after Starego's extra point. For good measure, Sclafani fittingly capped the victory with an interception while playing in the secondary in Brick's prevent defense on Colts Neck's ensuing possession.
"It's been 19 years exactly, and this is amazing,'' Muratore said. "I feel like we put Brick back on the map."
The Green Dragons trailed much of the game before their final fourth-quarter surge. Following a scoreless first quarter, Colts Neck junior quarterback Christian Sanchez (92 yards rushing) gave the Cougars (10-2) a 7-0 lead when he ran 48 yards up the middle on a quarterback draw for a touchdown with 8:45 left in the second quarter to complete an eight-play, 91-yard drive.
Brick answered with an eight-play, 59-yard drive that was kept alive when Sclafani hit senior Drew Scott for a 14-yard pass on fourth-and-8 from Colts Neck's 22-yard line. Sclafani capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run, but the extra point was no good, allowing Colts Neck to take a 7-6 lead into halftime. Brick ensured it would stay a one-point lead at the break by blocking a 26-yard field goal attempt in the final minutes of the half.
"We were a little sluggish in the first half, but we regrouped at halftime,'' Sclafani said. "This group of kids is so close, we knew we weren't letting each other down. In that second half, we came out possessed. We came out as a new group of kids."
"Here they were, down pretty much the whole game, and were able to find a way to win it - old-fashioned Brick football,'' Dahl said.
Brick took the opening kickoff of the third quarter and marched 69 yards in 14 plays, chewing up more than seven minutes, to take a 12-7 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Sclafani with 5:18 left in the period. Sclafani converted two third downs with his legs to keep the drive alive and then made a clutch 19-yard pass to Fattaruso on a wheel route on fourth-and-6 to set up his 1-yard run.
Colts Neck responded with a nine-play, 58-yard drive of its own in which it made Brick pay for a costly personal foul penalty. The drive looked like it would stall at Brick's 46-yard line after an incompletion on third down, but a late hit gave Colts Neck new life, and it capitalized. Sanchez scored his second touchdown on an 8-yard run and then hit senior tight end Nick Volpe in the back of the end zone for the two-point conversion and a 15-12 lead with 2:16 left in the third quarter.
That would be the last time Colts Neck got anything going offensively, as Brick's defense did a masterful job all game in stifling senior tailback Anthony Gargiulo, who entered the game with 1,617 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns but was held to a season-low 47 yards on 12 carries.
"That was the goal,'' Dahl said. "If we could stop him and force them to pass, we thought we were going to win the game. We had Ray Fattaruso coming off the edge, so we knew they couldn't roll out. We had them in second- and third-and-long situations, and we knew if we did that, we'd be in good shape."
"Gargiulo is a great player and a big, tough running back, but we just knew that if we got him going sideways, we would stop him, and that's what we did,'' Muratore said.
The Green Dragons' defense forced a three-and-out on Colts Neck's next possession after Sanchez's touchdown run, setting up the monster 14-play drive to cement this Brick team's place in history. The Green Dragons' seven state titles rank third in Shore Conference history behind Manasquan (11) and Middletown South (9).
For Colts Neck, it concluded a season in which the Cougars set a school record for wins and reached their first state final in program history.
For Brick, it capped a season filled with highs and lows. During the summer, Dahl initially stepped down as head coach because of family issues and then returned a day later after meeting with Brick's administration and deciding he could make it work. Starego, who has made national headlines with his accomplishments as an athlete with autism, was initially ruled ineligible but was reinstated in a landmark NJSIAA decision to grant the 19-year-old a fifth year of eligibility. He added a final chapter to his inspirational story with a pair of extra points on Saturday.
For the seniors, they have seen the ups and downs during the course of their careers. They had two losing seasons in the last three years, a rarity at Brick, including going 3-7 last year. That all seemed like a distant memory on Saturday.
"We all believed in Coach Dahl,'' Muratore said. "We all believed that if we followed him and had trust in each other, we would get this program back, and that's what we did."
This may just be the beginning of a two-year championship run considering Sclafani, Fattaruso and a host of other talented players return next season.
"Next year we have a really good shot at winning states again,'' Fattaruso said. "It's just an amazing feeling. There's nothing like it."
Brick 26, Colts Neck 15
. B C
First downs 18 12
Rushes-yards 46-200 28-151
Passing 9-16-0 5-14-1
Passing yards 101 40
Penalties 9-70 3-25
Fumbles-lost 2-0 0-0
Colts Neck (10-2) 0 7 8 0 - 15
Brick (9-3) 0 6 6 14 - 26
C: Sanchez 48-yard run (Letson kick).
B: Sclafani 5-yard run (kick failed).
B: Sclafani 1-yard run (run failed).
C: Sanchez 8-yard run (Volpe pass from Sanchez)
B: Fattaruso 2-yard run (Starego kick).
B: Muratore 2-yard run (Starego kick).
Rushing - B: Muratore 4-36, Sclafani 26-100, Fattaruso 15-59, Taylor 1-5. C: Gargiulo 12-46, Ververka 1-0, Quddus 1-3, Sanchez 13-92, Calabro 1-10.
Passing - B: Sclafani 9-16-0 101. C: Sanchez 5-14-1 40.
Receiving - B: Muratore 1-(-1), Johnson 2-13, Taylor 3-36, Bingelis 1-20, Scott 1-14, Fattaruso 1-19. C: Calabro 3-27, Volpe 1-2, Degroot 1-11.
Interceptions - B: Sclafani 1-0.
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