A Caseys Classic: No. 2 Red Bank Catholic rallies for epic overtime win over No. 3 Toms River North
TOMS RIVER – This was the game so many in the Shore Conference football community had waited over a calendar year to witness. Powerhouse vs. powerhouse, champ vs. champ, All-Shore and All-State talent going head-to-head, the unknown availability of the reigning state player of the year, division title implications, playoff seeding. This one had it all.
The buildup was enormous, and somehow on Friday night at Gernerd Field, Red Bank Catholic and Toms River North exceeded the hype to deliver an all-time instant classic in the annals of Shore Conference football.
Junior quarterback Frankie Williams orchestrated a game-tying, 86-yard scoring drive with no timeouts left and under two minutes to play in regulation, and senior wide receiver Emanuel Ross made a spectacular catch for the go-ahead touchdown in overtime to lift Red Bank Catholic, ranked No. 2 in the Shore Sports Network Shore 16, to an epic 35-28 come-from-behind overtime victory over No. 3 Toms River North in a crucial American Division game.
Ross snagged his second touchdown of the game and kept one foot in bounds to give the Caseys the lead on the first play of overtime before the RBC defense delivered two consecutive sacks by Logan Graham and Lorenzo Portella to stop Toms River North and set off a raucous celebration on the rain-soaked turf.
“I believe in my coaches, I believe in my teammates, and I knew we were going to get this thing done,” Williams said. “And we did.”
“It was an all-timer,” said RBC head coach Mike Lange. “I think (Toms River North) is a tremendous football team and I’m proud of our guys. We persevered at the end and literally fought to the very last second. That’s what we’re all about.”
To get to the point where Ross was bringing down the go-ahead touchdown and the Caseys were celebrating a monumental win, RBC had to drive 86 yards in 1:42 with zero timeouts against a fast and physical Toms River North defense. Impossible? Clearly not. Improbable? Absolutely.
But Williams, the Caseys’ unflappable junior quarterback, made it look relatively easy with pinpoint throws and smart and timely runs. He hit Ross for 13 yards out to the 25-yard line, then ran for seven yards and found Ross again for a short gain that moved the chains to the 38. He connected with sophomore wideout Daniel Zabora for 22 yards to get into Mariners’ territory, then scrambled for nine yards on third and 10 to give the Caseys a manageable fourth down. A fighting chance was all they needed, and Williams delivered with a Patrick Mahomes-esque play to avoid a sack and find junior running back Matt Lonczak in the opposite flat for an 11-yard gain and a first down.
The magic continued two plays later when Williams made a fantastic throw and Ross made an even better catch, shielding himself from the coverage of Toms River North standout cornerback Tareq Council to secure a 24-yard reception just barely in bounds at the 1-yard line. There were just two seconds on the clock and time for one more play, a handoff to Lonczak up the middle where he lunged across the goal line to pull the Caseys within one point at 28-27.
“I saw the safety toward the middle of the field and one-on-one coverage, and I’m taking Emanuel 100 percent of the time,” Williams said of his pass to Ross that set up Lonczak’s touchdown.
“It was a great ball because he threw me away from coverage,” Ross said. “I stayed with him and was able to back out of it and give myself as much space as possible along the sideline.”
Red Bank Catholic lined up to go for the 2-point conversion and the lead, and the sideline erupted when Ross ran in what appeared to be the go-ahead score. Flags flew at the snap, however, an illegal motion penalty negating the conversion. That pushed the try back five yards and forced the Caseys to settle for an extra point attempt that senior Justin LaMorte calmly knocked through the uprights to send the game to overtime tied at 28.
“Frankie stepped up big,” Ross said. “When we got that stop I walked up to him and said ‘Brady Mode’. I got that from (University of Colorado quarterback) Shedeur Sanders. He said we’re going to go score and when we do we’re going for two. We got it, but it was called back. In overtime we didn’t have a doubt in the world that we were going to score.”
“He’s a very cerebral kid,” Lange said. “With our game in the RPO it’s him making the reads pre-snap and post-snap. He has a lot of game experience and we do a lot of these situations in practice. We run no-huddle so we really didn’t have to go into a two-minute offense. Everything was at our disposal. Our offensive staff did a good job as far as managing the sidelines and getting out of bounds when we could, all those little things similar to what we did in the first half to get a field goal. Our kids persevered. It’s a physical game, but those parts of the game are mental. We had a lot of guys step up.”
In overtime, Ross made an incredible touchdown catch in the back-right corner of the end zone on the first play, falling out of the end zone while reaching his foot forward to stay in bounds.
“I don’t know exactly where I was on the field but I knew I had to keep my feet on the ground and maintain control of the ball,” Ross said. “I just had to do everything in my power to stay in.”
A Stanford University commit and one of the best players in New Jersey, Ross made several jaw-dropping plays and finished with a career-high eight receptions for 170 yards and two touchdowns, plus three carries for 63 yards.
“We don’t win this game without him,” Williams said of Ross. “He’s very special and that’s why he’s doing the things he does.”
Williams completed 20 of 30 passes for 317 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 100 yards on 15 carries. Zabora finished with five catches for 60 yards and senior tight end Jack Bohm-Squicciarini had a 12-yard touchdown reception.
“As a young quarterback he reminds me of (Heisman Trophy winner, No. 1 overall NFL draft pick, and current Carolina Panthers quarterback) Bryce Young sometimes,” Ross said of Williams. “He doesn’t flinch. You won’t see too many expressions on his face. He’ll just go in there and do what he has to do.”
Toms River North showed plenty of resolve, too. Star senior quarterback Micah Ford had to leave the game late in the first quarter with a leg injury and did not return. Ford, who was last season’s state player of the year in leading the Mariners to a 14-0 record and the inaugural NJSIAA Group 5 state championship and is also committed to Stanford, was previously injured in a September game vs. Donovan Catholic and missed three straight games before returning in Week 7 vs. Toms River South. He started vs. RBC on Friday night and was electric in his limited action, ripping off a 76-yard touchdown run on fourth and one to give Toms River North a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
In his absence, junior quarterback TJ Valerio shined. There is no plug-and-play option with Ford out of the lineup, but Valerio showcased talent and toughness by rushing for a touchdown and throwing touchdown passes to Camryn Thomas and Nasir Jackson in the fourth quarter to give the Mariners the lead with 7:21 to play. Ford finished with 93 yards rushing on seven carries, senior running back Josh Moore ran for 87 yards, and Valerio contributed 67 yards rushing as part of a 260-yard team rushing performance.
“I really hope Micah is okay,” Ross said. (Ford was walking on the sidelines and encouraging his teammates during the second half). “I wish we could have finished the game with him under center. It might have been a little tougher but I would have loved it. TJ came in and played great. I used to train with him when we were younger and he’s a talented player.”
“They’re a great team and even with Micah out the next quarterback was great,” Lange said. “They’re going to go far in the playoffs. Nothing but good things to say about them. For us, it shows our resolve. Historically, we’re not down a lot but to be in that spot; we get a punt and in the huddle, our kids are still believing. They kept their poise all the way to the end.”
Ford’s touchdown run gave Toms River North a 7-0 lead with 6:45 left in the first quarter but RBC (7-1) answered in just three plays when Williams connected with Ross over the middle and he broke a few tackles before racing to the end zone for a 57-yard touchdown.
“Like a boxer,” Ross said. “If you get punched in the mouth you have to spit the blood out, spit the teeth out, and get back in the ring.”
The Caseys went ahead, 10-7, on a 22-yard field goal by LaMorte early in the second quarter. Ross had a 23-yard run on third and two that moved the ball to the 10-yard line. On its first series after Ford exited the game, Toms River North (7-2) put together a great drive but could not come away with any points. The combination of Valerio and Moore ran the ball from the Toms River North 15-yard line down to the RBC 14-yard line with a key 19-yard pass from Valerio to Thomas mixed in. But after reaching the 14-yard line on second and seven, the Caseys defense stopped the Mariners for no gain on two straight plays to force a field goal attempt that missed wide left.
Red Bank Catholic took over at the 20-yard line with 1:31 to play in the first half and drove into field goal range for LaMorte to extend the lead to 13-7 with a Shore Conference season-long 43-yard field goal. It was a harbinger to the game-tying drive at the end of regulation with Williams leading another calm and collected march to points. He connected with Zabora for 12 yards and then again for eight more. Two plays later Zabora caught a nine-yard pass and Williams had runs of eight and two yards to put the ball at the Toms River North 26-yard line with just a few seconds on the clock. LaMorte’s kick was true and sent the Caseys to the locker room with a six-point lead.
The teams traded punts on the first two series of the third quarter before Toms River North took possession at midfield. Valerio led the charge with five carries for 34 yards and scored on a 5-yard touchdown run. Yianni Papanikolas added the extra point to give Toms River North a 14-13 lead with 6:45 left in the third quarter.
Red Bank Catholic’s defense then came through with a huge stop after a sudden change gave Toms River North the ball right back. On the first play of the Caseys' next series, Ross took a shovel pass but was stripped of the ball and the Mariners recovered at the RBC 26-yard line. A fumbled snap on first down lost eight yards and RBC forced two incompletions to bring out the Toms River North punting unit from the 35-yard line.
Upon getting the ball back to its offense, RBC quickly moved into Toms River North territory on a 26-yard pass from Williams to Bohm-Squicciarini, a 34-yard run by Williams, and an 11-yard run by Williams down to the North 15-yard line. On third down, Toms River North lost Bohm-Squicciarini in coverage and Williams found him wide open in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown. Ross then ran in the 2-point conversion for a 21-14 lead with 3:06 remaining in the third quarter.
The heavyweight fight continued with another counter uppercut that Toms River North delivered with a seven-play, 78-yard drive to tie the score at 21. It was Valerio and Moore again combining to rush the ball to the RBC 19-yard line before a holding penalty on the final play of the third quarter brought up first and 20 from the 29-yard line. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Valerio lofted a pass to the end zone down the home sideline and Thomas climbed the ladder to snag and 29-yard touchdown.
Toms River North forced RBC to punt and senior Jeremiah Pruitt weaved his way through the coverage down to the RBC 35-yard line. The Mariners gained one first down and then went to the end zone where Valerio threw a perfect pass over the outstretched arms of Ross in coverage and into the hands of Jackson for a 29-yard touchdown. The Mariners had rallied without their star quarterback to take a 28-21 lead with 7:21 left in regulation.
Red Bank Catholic drove to the Toms River North 26 on its next possession, highlighted by a 35-yard catch and run by Ross. The Caseys went for it on fourth and nine from the 26 but came up one yard short when Council drove Zabora back after a catch for an eight-yard gain. The turnover on downs gave possession back to Toms River North with just under four minutes to play. The Mariners had a chance to run out the clock with a handful of first downs and got off to a great start when Moore ran for 23 yards on third and four to put the ball at the RBC 47. North chewed more time off the clock but gained just one yard on the next three plays before punting it back to RBC.
The 14-yard line is where Williams, Ross, and company picked up the pen and wrote the latest chapter on unforgettable victories.
“Everyone was waiting a long time for this game,” Williams said. “It was worth the wait.”
No. 2 Red Bank Catholic 35, No. 3 Toms River North 28 (OT)
|Red Bank Catholic||Toms River North|
|RBC (7-1, 4-0)||7||6||8||7||7||35|
|TR North (7-2, 3-2)||7||0||7||14||0||28|
TRN – Micah Ford 76-yard run (Yianni Papanikolas kick)
RBC – Emanuel Ross 57-yard pass from Frankie Williams (Justin LaMorte kick)
RBC – Justin LaMorte 22-yard field goal
RBC – Justin LaMorte 43-yard field goal
TRN – TJ Valerio 5-yard run (Yianni Papanikolas kick)
RBC – Jack Bohm-Squicciarini 12-yard pass from Frankie Williams (Emanuel Ross run)
TRN – Camryn Thomas 29-yard pass from TJ Valerio (Yianni Papanikolas kick)
TRN – Nasir Jackson 24-yard pass from TJ Valerio (Yianni Papanikolas kick)
RBC – Matt Lonczak 1-yard run (Justin LaMorte kick)
RBC – Emanuel Ross 25-yard pass from Frankie Williams (Justin LaMorte kick)
RUSHING – RBC: Frankie Williams 15-100, Emanuel Ross 3-63, Luke Wassef 6-22, Matt Lonczak 2-2, Jordan Mosenthine 1-1, Justin Spitzfaden 1-(-15); TRN: Micah Ford 7-93, Josh Moore 12-87, TJ Valerio 23-67, Jeremiah Pruitt 3-9, Nasir Jackson 1-4.
PASSING – RBC: Frankie Williams 20-30-0, 317; TRN: TJ Valerio 5-11-0, 83
RECEIVING – RBC: Emanuel Ross 8-170, Daniel Zabora 5-60, Jack Bohm-Squicciarini 2-38, Matt Lonczak 2-23, Luke Wassef 1-7, Johnny Williams 1-2, Patrick Magee 1-(-1); TRN: Camryn Thomas 2-48, Nasir Jackson 2-29, Tareq Council 1-6.