Zach Bair, Offensive Line Pave the Way for RBC’s Win over Ocean
RED BANK - After losing its second quarterback to injury in only the third week of the season, a young Red Bank Catholic team was going to find something out about itself while clinging to a six-point lead against visiting Ocean on Friday night.
The young Caseys adjusted on the fly and showed they can handle adversity by putting the game in the hands of their third-string quarterback, their offensive line and a solid defense to put away the Spartans with a 20-7 win in Class B North. Junior running back Zach Bair led the way with a career-high 175 yards rushing and a touchdown as part of a 242-yard rushing night for No. 8 RBC (2-1, 2-1), which did not attempt a pass in the second half but still controlled the game.
"To come out this week against a talented team and have that kind of injury and then to still play that well and control the game, I think you're seeing the maturation process for these kids,'' head coach Frank Edgerly said.
Like his one-time boss when he was a scout for the New England Patriots, Edgerly had to pull a Bill Belichick and find a way to win with his third-string signal-caller when starting quarterback Tom Lang went down with a broken clavicle after being sacked mid-way through the second quarter. Lang's injury came on the heels of sophomore quarterback Steve Lubischer suffering an arm injury in a season-opening loss to Middletown South.
Junior Nick Brusca, a converted running back, served as RBC's Jacoby Brissett, running zone read and wildcat plays under center for the remainder of the game. Lang had come out on fire, going 9-for-12 for 128 yards and a touchdown pass while also running for a touchdown before getting hurt.
"The reality is, we started putting in a package for Brusca after Lubischer got hurt,'' Edgerly said. "Obviously that package grew numerically tonight. To the kid's credit, he hopped in there and he didn't blink."
The Caseys made no secret of what they were going to do offensively, putting the game in the hands of the line, which paved the way for 158 yards rushing in the second half.
"It's a nice feeling knowing that you can just physically dominate the person across from you every play no matter what,'' said 6-foot-5, 285-pound senior lineman Colin O'Hara.
"We knew we had to run the ball in the second half, especially losing Tom, who is a great quarterback,'' Bair said. "We have complete trust in our line. They've been working all summer and they got the job done today."
The offensive line set the tone from the outset, as the Caseys took the opening kickoff and drove 54 yards in eight plays, scoring on a 16-yard run by Lang on third-and-10 for a 6-0 lead after a missed extra point. A team known primarily for its running attack in the first two games came out throwing, as Lang was 4-for-4 for 35 yards on the drive.
The Caseys made it 13-0 with an eight-play, 80-yard drive highlighted by a 21-yard run by Bair and capped by a 25-yard touchdown pass from Lang to junior Brandon Lombana with 9:46 left in the second quarter.
On RBC's next possession, Lang was injured when he landed hard after being sacked by junior defensive lineman Andrew Worthington and had to leave the game. Ocean's offense rode the momentum of the defensive stop to mount its lone scoring drive of the game after having mustered only one first down up to that point.
The Spartans (1-3, 0-3) went 70 yards in seven plays, scoring on a 20-yard strike from Pittsburgh recruit Kenny Pickett to senior wideout Joey Aldarelli to cut the lead to 13-7 with 1:36 left in the half.
At that point, an RBC team comprised primarily of sophomores and juniors was down to its third quarterback in a one-score game, but never caved to the moment. Instead, the Caseys appeared to have found their identity as a traditional, power-running RBC team.
The defense, which held Pickett to a season-low 67 yards passing on 8-for-16 accuracy after he had thrown for more than 200 in each of his first three games, got a crucial stop at the start of the third quarter. Ocean drove down to RBC's 12-yard line, but the Caseys came up with a turnover on downs when Aldarelli was tackled short of the sticks.
RBC turned that big stop into a four-play, 88-yard scoring drive that began when Brusca, who finished with 71 yards rushing in the win, broke off a 17-yard run. Bair, who had 155 yards rushing a week earlier in a win over Middletown North, then had a 28-yard burst and followed that with a 37-yard touchdown run for a 20-7 advantage with 5:29 left in the third quarter.
"(Bair) is the kind of kid where you have to kill him to beat him,'' Edgerly said. "He runs with a chip on his shoulder."
"He's just shifty when he wants to be and can truck kids when he wants to,'' O'Hara said. "He's always going forward."
The Caseys' defense took it from there, with Lombana intercepting a pass to thwart one drive and then sophomore defensive lineman Gino Tartamella sacking Pickett to wreck Ocean's final drive.
"We kept (Pickett) contained and we stayed on our coverage downfield because most of their offense comes on big plays,'' Lombana said. "We knew they weren't a four-quarter team and if we got some hits on him, he would get run down."
"The key for this week was for us not to drop coverage downfield,'' Edgerly said. "One thing about that quarterback is his ability to extend the play. There's not a throw on the field that he can't make or that he won't attempt. I learned that playing (Ben) Roethlisberger. You never drop coverage."
RBC now moves forward with Brusca at quarterback and its collective fingers crossed that he can stay healthy. The Caseys have to find a way to navigate a difficult schedule the rest of the way under the guidance of Edgerly, who has returned from the NFL for his second stint with his alma mater after serving as head coach from 1999-2008.
"I knew coming in before I accepted the job that this was going to be a young team that might be a team in transition, but you never lower your expectations,'' he said. "It's heading in the right direction."
Red Bank Catholic 20, Ocean 7
. R O
First downs 15 12
Rushes-yards 34-242 27-93
Passing 9-12-0 8-16-1
Passing yards 128 67
Penalties 9-74 1-5
Fumbles-lost 1-0 2-0
Ocean (1-3) 0 7 0 0 - 7
RB Catholic (2-1) 6 7 7 0 - 20
R: Lang 16-yard run (kick failed).
R: Lombana 25-yard pass from Lang (R. O'Hara kick).
O: Aldarelli 20-yard pass from Pickett (Lee kick).
R: Bair 37-yard run (R. O'Hara kick).
Rushing - R: Bair 16-175, Lang 2-3, Brusca 14-71, Whelan 1-(-6), Guidetti 1-(-1). O: Tedesco 8-27, Pickett 18-62, Aldarelli 1-4.
Passing - R: Lang 9-12-0 128. O: Pickett 8-16-1 67.
Receiving - R: Whelan 1-4, Bauman 1-7, Lombana 1-25, Hazard 3-36, Bair 3-56. O: Aldarelli 5-53, Levy 1-4, Tedesco 1-12, Thompson 1-(-3).
Interceptions - R: Lombana 1-0.
Follow Scott Stump on Twitter at @Scott_Stump.