2019 Gridiron Classic: After perfect season, Red Bank Catholic seniors grateful for final high school game
For the seniors on Red Bank Catholic’s football team, the 2018 season was everything they could have ever dreamed of.
When the fourth-quarter clock finally reached all zeroes at MetLife Stadium last November it was the Caseys who held the upper hand, holding off a tough and talented Mater Dei Prep squad, 14-10, to win the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 3 title and finish with an undefeated record for the first time in 58 years.
RBC’s senior class was remarkable with Boston College-bound quarterback and Shore Sports Network Most Valuable Player Steve Lubischer, University of Pennsylvania-bound wide receiver/defensive back Jaden Key, Fordham recruit M.J. Wright at receiver and defensive back, standout two-way linemen Tommy Smith and Ambrose Richards, punishing linebackers Steve Cmielewski and John Columbia, defensive end Gino Tartamella, safety Anthony Roman, versatile pass rusher Adam Demurjian and ace kicker/punter Ryan O’Hara leading the way.
That group will head their separate ways in the coming weeks, but for four of Red Bank Catholic’s finest, one last game together awaits.
Key, Cmielewski, Columbia and Romano will represent the Caseys on Thursday at Long Branch High School when they suit up for the Monmouth County all-stars in the 42nd All-Shore Gridiron Classic. It will serve as the final act for a group that led the Caseys to a state championship and the No. 1 ranking in the final SSN Top 10.
“I just think it’s a great opportunity to represent RBC, represent my family as a high school football player one last time and be with some of my best friends,” Key said. “We get to have fun and play football like a high school kid.”
“It’s a great responsibility (to represent RBC) and it’s an honor, really,” Romano said. “I’m just excited to get out there.”
Cmielewski, who will continue his career at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, was an SSN First Team All-Shore selection after a fantastic season. After missing his junior season with an injury, Cmielewski returned with a vengeance to record 102 tackles with a team-high 15 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks, which tied for the team lead. He also had four rushing touchdowns as a fullback.
“I’m proud because this team will be remembered forever by what we did together and how we did it,” Cmielewski said. “We did it the right way, we weren’t recruited or anything like that. We all just came here and became a family over the four years.”
Key, who will head to the Ivy League and play for the University of Pennsylvania, was an SSN First Team All-Shore selection at defensive back and was an indispensable player on both sides of the ball for the Caseys. He was the Freedom Division Co-Defensive Player of the Year as a lockdown cornerback, compiling a team-high 14 passes defensed and recording two interceptions. He was a big-play machine as a wide receiver, averaging a ridiculous 25.8 yards per catch with 18 receptions for 466 yards and five touchdowns. He also made one of the biggest plays of the season when he blocked an extra point in a 14-13 win over Rumson-Fair Haven.
Columbia led RBC with 106 tackles and added 14 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks for a defense that was No. 2 in the Shore allowing just 10 points per game. He was an SSN Second Team All-Shore selection and will play collegiately at Merrimack College.
“The thing that will always stick with me is looking up at the scoreboard and seeing 14-10 after the state championship,” Columbia said. “That feeling of, ‘we did it’. The job was done.”
Romano was an underrated member of RBC’s defense as the Caseys’ free safety and made 51 tackles and brought down a team-high four interceptions. A Second Team All-Shore selection, Romano will continue his career at Long Island University.
Together, they’ll try to give Monmouth County its third straight win in the Gridiron Classic. Monmouth leads the all-time series, 22-18-1.
“It’s a great responsibility and it makes us play a lot harder knowing we’re representing something bigger than us, not even the football team but the whole community and the whole school,” Key said. “We want to do the right things and represent our team and our coach the right way.”
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.