2023 NJSIAA Football Non-Public B State Championship Game Preview: Red Bank Catholic vs. DePaul
NJSIAA NON-PUBLIC B STATE FINAL
WHO: Red Bank Catholic (9-1) vs. DePaul (6-5)
WHEN: Tuesday, Nov. 28, 5 p.m.
WHERE: MetLife Stadium - 1 MetLife Stadium Drive, East Rutherford, NJ 07073
RED BANK CATHOLIC'S ROAD TO THE STATE FINAL: Bye in the quarterfinals; defeated Holy Spirit, 35-21, in the semifinals.
DEPAUL'S ROAD TO THE STATE FINAL: Defeated St. Mary, 63-21, in the quarterfinals; defeated St. Thomas Aquinas, 13-10, in the semifinals.
RED BANK CATHOLIC'S BEST WINS: 34-6 over Group 2 finalist Rumson-Fair Haven; 21-16 over Non-Public A semifinalist Seton Hall Prep, 25-14 over Middletown South; 35-28 in overtime over Group 5 finalist Toms River North; 14-7 over Non-Public A finalist Donovan Catholic.
DEPAUL'S BEST WINS: 28-27 over Don Bosco Prep; 13-10 over St. Thomas Aquinas.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: Red Bank Catholic has won four sectional/group state titles with the most recent coming in 2021 when the Caseys beat DePaul, 13-8, in the championship game. RBC also won state titles in 2018, 2014, and 1976 and reached the finals in 2022. RBC defeated DePaul to win the 2021 title and DePaul returned the favor last season with a 19-17 victory in the title game...DePaul has won eight sectional/group titles in program history and will be making its 17th appearance in a state final. The Spartans have a 36-22 record all-time with recent state championships in 2022, 2019, 2017, 2015, 2014, and 2013.
RBC's defense vs. DePaul's offense
The Caseys will try to limit a DePaul offense that averaged 28 points per game against a daunting schedule that includes both Non-Public A finalists, state No. 1 Bergen Catholic and No. 2 Delbarton. As a freshman last season, sophomore quarterback Derek Zammit threw for 135 yards and a touchdown to help lead the Spartans to a 19-17 win over the Caseys in the state championship game. His 60-yard touchdown pass to now-junior wideout De'zie Jones was a huge play in the game. Those two are once again major players for DePaul along with junior running back Nolan James Jr.. Zammit has thrown for 1,665 yards with a completion percentage of 62 while throwing 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Jones is his top target with 51 catches for 837 yards and six touchdowns and James Jr. has rushed for 1,332 yards and eight touchdowns on an average of 6.8 yards per carry and caught 21 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown. Junior Elijah Burress has 27 catches for 424 yards and five touchdowns. Zammit has just 166 yards rushing on 61 attempts but has scored eight touchdowns to tie James Jr. for the team lead. It's a balanced offense that will require all three levels of the Caseys' defense to be on their game.
RBC's defense has been superb this season in allowing 13.7 points per game with one shutout en route to winning the Shore Conference's powerful American Division championship. Just three teams have scored 21 points or more on the Caseys - state No. 1 and Non-Public A finalist Bergen Catholic, Group 5 finalist Toms River North, and Holly Spirit with two late touchdowns in an otherwise comfortable 35-21 RBC win in the Non-Public B semifinals.
Senior linebacker Davin Brewton is committed to The University of Pittsburgh and leads the Caseys' defense with 123 tackles plus 3 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, and a defensive touchdown. The defensive line includes two of the Shore's best linemen in seniors Logan Graham (80 tackles, 6 sacks, 18 TFL) and Lorenzo Portella (65 tackles, 5 sacks, 17 TFL), and also has a budding star in freshman defensive end Lorenzo Tartamella (41 tackles, 2 sacks, 7 TFL). Junior linebacker Jamie Gutridge (89 tackles, 2 sacks, and 9 TFL), senior Luke Wassef (48 tackles, 4 TFL), and junior Patrick McGonnell (51 tackles, 4 sacks, 9 TFL) have had very good seasons and join Brewton to form a stout group of linebackers. Toms River North quarterback Micah Ford (7-105) and Seton Hall Prep running back Michael Dunmore (22-108) are the only players to rush for over 100 yards versus RBC this season.
The Caseys also have a standout secondary that has five of the team's eight interceptions. Senior Emanuel Ross, a Stanford University pledge, is more known as a game-breaking wide receiver but has added shutdown cornerback to his resume this season. He is a player RBC can put on Jones one-on-one to try to neutralize DePaul's top receiver, which could tip the scales for the Caseys. Senior Stephen Myers has a team-high four interceptions along with 45 tackles while seniors Isaiah Nash (62 tackles) and Colin Earnest (43 tackles) and sophomore Blake Caruso (29 tackles) have made strong contributions.
RBC's offense vs. DePaul's defense
The Red Bank Catholic offense averages 28.4 points per game and is led by the dynamic quarterback-receiver combination of Ross and junior quarterback Frankie Williams. Ross has caught 44 passes for 676 yards and 10 touchdowns and has also rushed for 350 yards and three touchdowns on just 18 carries. Williams has thrown for 1,536 yards and 17 touchdowns with just three interceptions and is completing 62 percent of his pass attempts. He is also the team's leading rusher with 419 yards and three touchdowns. Williams has 37 touchdowns and just five interceptions in 22 career starts. There isn't one standout tailback like many of RBC's top teams have deployed, but the combination of Williams, Ross, Wassef (392 yards, 5 TDs), junior Matt Lonczak (369 yards, 3 TDs), and Gutridge (4 TDs) has led a group that has combined for 1,899 yards and 19 touchdowns. Williams does an excellent job scrambling for yards and is dangerous on the move and Ross can take a jet sweep the distance any time he touches the ball. They have ridden the hot hand between Wassef and Lonczak and both will get opportunities on Tuesday night.
Ross's presence on the outside helps open things up for the rest of the RBC receivers to see single coverage. Look for senior tight end Luke Krzyzkowski (11 rec., 236 yards, 2 TDs), senior wide receiver Jack Bohm-Squicciarini (8-107-2), and sophomore wideouts Johnny Williams (14-253) and Daniel Zabora (8-99-2) to get targets when Williams isn't looking Ross's way.
A physical offensive line ties it all together. Portella and 6-foot-6, 305-pound senior tackle Tyler Burnham lead the way up front along with seniors Luke Mascarenhas, Patrick Magee, and Daniel Lezeau.
Junior linebacker Anthony Nittoli is DePaul's leading tackler for a Spartans defense that allowed 26 points per game this season. He has 110 stops and 10 tackles for loss. They haven't registered a ton of sacks with just 13 on the season. Senior Jeremy Lopez has a team-high four sacks. DePaul has allowed over 30 points four times and eight of its 11 opponents have scored at least 20 points, but you have to consider the Spartans' schedule when evaluating those numbers. They shut down an explosive St. Thomas Aquinas offense to earn a 13-10 win in the semifinals and also held RBC to two touchdowns in last season's state final.
RBC has one of the best kicker/punter combinations in the Shore with senior Justin LaMorte as the placekicker and senior V.J. Muscillo as the punter. LaMorte has converted 32 of 34 extra points and made three of five field goals, including a Shore Conference-long of 43 yards vs. Toms River North. Muscillo is an excellent punter and helped seal RBC's win over Donovan Catholic with a booming punt downed inside the 10-yard line late in the game.
DePaul senior kicker Joey Cunningham has made 28 of 34 extra points.
Special teams play comes down to more than just kicking and punting the ball far, however, and RBC knows that all too well after a blocked punt that went for a safety in last year's state final ended up being the difference in a 19-17 loss.
Red Bank Catholic is 9-1 and DePaul is 6-5, but you can toss those records away heading into Tuesday night's game. Both teams are battle-hardened with RBC winning games against Group 5 finalist Toms River North, Group 2 finalist Rumson-Fair Haven, and Non-Public A semifinalists Donovan Catholic and Seton Hall Prep, and DePaul playing the likes of Bergen Catholic, Delbarton, Don Bosco Prep, Pope John, Paramus Catholic, St. Thomas Aquinas and tri-state powers Bishop McDevitt (PA) and Archbishop Stepinac (NY). This is round three between these two teams with RBC winning the title in 2021 and DePaul winning the title last season, so they know each other very well. It will simply come down to which team executes best. RBC's top players have been at their best in the Caseys' biggest games this season, and that will be the deciding factor that leads the Caseys to their fourth NJSIAA group state title.
The pick: Red Bank Catholic