MIDDLETOWN – Saturday afternoon was supposed to provide the affirmation of which football team is the best in the Shore Conference, and it did. It just wasn’t the team most expected it to be.

Few if any outside Wall’s program gave the Crimson Knights much of a chance against mighty Mater Dei Prep in a matchup of the top two teams in the Shore, and who could blame them? Mater Dei had demolished every team in its path this season and everything – roster, results, performance against common opponents – pointed toward another Seraphs victory.

Against all odds, however, Wall believed it would win, and the Crimson Knights showed that the only facts which matter are the ones authored between the lines for 48 minutes.

A 2-yard touchdown run by junior running back Casey Larkin with 1:06 to play gave Wall the lead and an interception by junior Logan Peters with 30 seconds left clinched a monumental victory as the Crimson Knights shocked Mater Dei, 14-7, to take down a team many people thought was head and shoulders above the rest of the conference.

 

“We came in here and I’m pretty sure every single person besides us was doubting us,” Peters said. “You look at their guys compared to our guys and they’re bigger, stronger, but us 11 guys are on the field at all times and we’ve been playing together for a long time. It’s a big bond. We go out there knowing in our minds we can beat anybody.”

“We knew they had players all over the field but we’re not intimidated by anyone,” Larkin said. “If we have it rolling we feel like we can stop anybody.”

It was an old-school slugfest from start to finish and Wall (5-0, 3-0) never flinched. The Crimson Knights had absorbed Mater Dei’s power punches and a blocked extra point was all the separated the two teams heading into the fourth quarter.

“We were talking about it at halftime, we had made some mistakes in the first half and we were only down one, so we knew if we just fixed those mistakes and we were in the game in the fourth quarter, we would pull it out,” Larkin said.

Still trailing by only one thanks to a tremendous defensive performance, Wall forced Mater Dei to punt and took over at its own 28-yard line with 5:17 left in the game. The Knights moved toward midfield on five straight modest running plays before Larkin finally broke one, taking a direct snap and finding room down the left sideline for a 24-yard gain. A holding penalty at the end of the run brought it back 10 yards, but Wall was now just 40 yards from the end zone and even closer to being in position to attempt a field goal. They knew it was now or never.

“Casey had a good run that sparked momentum and we were talking in the huddle that this has to be our drive, if we don’t get in here we’re probably going to lose this game,” Peters said. “We were not going to be denied.”

A 9-yard reception by sophomore Matt Dollive moved the ball to the Mater Dei 31-yard line and on the next play Wall made the game-changing play that turned the tide for good. Peters launched a pass intended for Larkin down the left numbers, but the pass was high and Larkin was only able to get a hand on it, deflecting it up and behind him. Senior wide receiver Gus Setteducato was in the right place at precisely the right time, though, and from his knees corralled the tipped pass for a 29-yard gain down to the 2-yard line. Wall was in business.

“I knew the play was drawn up for Casey to get the ball so I’m just trying to trail him a little bit,” Setteducato said. “Right away I knew the throw was a little high so I tried to get right behind him. I slipped a little but was able to get to my knees and get it.”

“On the first look I saw Casey and didn’t see anyone near him, but I threw it and then saw the safety so I got scared for a second,” Peters said. “And then Casey made the tip on it and I thought it was just incomplete. It was a hell of a catch by Gus.”

On the next play, Larkin took a direct snap and plowed his way into the end zone to give Wall the lead. His touchdown run was symbolic of Wall’s play the entire afternoon: relentless. Larkin was met at the line of scrimmage by a Mater Dei defender, but lowered his shoulder and kept his legs churning to drive his way across the goal line.

Now leading 12-7, the Crimson Knights went for the 2-point conversion and got it when Peters found sophomore tight end Blake Rezk over the middle to push the lead to 14-7.

After returning the kickoff to the 35-yard line, Mater Dei had just 58 seconds to attempt a drive for the tying touchdown and extra point. On first down, Rezk sacked Mater Dei quarterback Alex Brown for an 11-yard loss. The Seraphs hurried to the line and got a play called, but when Brown threw over the middle it was Peters who came down with the catch, diving forward to intercept the pass and seal the win, snapping Mater Dei’s 21-game regular-season winning streak against Shore Conference teams.

“They ran the same play twice in a row,” Peters said. “I saw No. 4 coming across the middle on the first play and once he got sacked I knew they were going to run the same play because they had to get a play off quick. I just sat on it, read it and broke on it.”

Peters’ interception was the exclamation point on a fantastic defensive performance by Wall. The Crimson Knights limited a Mater Dei team that entered Saturday averaging 42.5 points per game to only one touchdown. They limited star running back Malik Ingram to just 70 yards rushing a touchdown on 13 carries one week after he ran for 310 yards and four touchdowns against St. John Vianney. They pressured quarterback Alex Brown throughout the game, forcing him into two interceptions and sacking him four times, twice by Rezk and once each by sophomore linebacker Colin Riley and senior Jaden Carasquillo.

“We talked all week of rallying to the ball,” said Wall head coach Tony Grandinetti. “The game plan was excellent, but really it was just getting 11 hats to the ball.”

Once again, a major theme was Wall outlasting a team with a fourth-quarter surge. The Crimson Knights did it in Week 1 in a 14-3 win over Rumson-Fair Haven and against in Week 2 with a 24-0 win over Jackson Memorial where they scored all their points in the final period.

“I think it’s a couple of things,” Grandinetti said. “First, it’s the amount of training these guys do, year-round in the weight room and in the summer it’s relentless. They know in July and August it will help us win in October, November and December and they buy into it. The second thing is they feed off it now. We’ve won big games in the fourth quarter this year and now they feed off that.”

“It’s a mix of both, conditioning and mentality,” Peters said. “Once it’s the fourth quarter we have that knack to make a play. We all want to be the guy who makes a clutch play to win the game, and all of us have that mentality so someone is eventually going to make a play.”

An unsung hero of the win is senior punter Frank Passantino, who prevented Mater Dei from starting any of its drives with great field position.

“It’s been a huge advantage for us all season. I can’t speak highly enough of Frank and what he does in changing field position,” Grandinetti said. “You have to win all three phases and that third phase is special teams and winning the field-position battle. There’s someone snapping it to him and guys blocking but he’s the one punting the ball and he did an excellent job.”

Wall’s offensive line of Jack Wolter at left tackle, Grant Puharic at left guard, Max Oakley at center, Ian Ackerman at right guard and Brian Byrne was also excellent in paving the way for Wall to run for 141 yards on a very respectable 4.4 yards per carry considering the defense it was opposing. The unit also gave Peters time to throw and kept him from being sacked at all.

Wall made it clear it would be no pushover when it stopped Mater Dei three-and-out on the opening series of the game. The Knights did it again on Mater Dei’s next possession as tackles for loss by Larkin and Ackerman forced another punt. Mater Dei moved to Wall’s 23-yard line on its third drive, but sophomore linebacker Charlie Sasso picked off Brown at the 5-yard line and returned it out to the 30.

From there, Wall went 70 yards in five plays to take a 6-0 lead. A holding penalty on Mater Dei moved the ball to the 40-yard line and runs by Larkin and senior Matt DeSarno put the ball at the Seraphs’ 38-yard line. That’s where DeSarno broke free up the middle for a 38-yard touchdown run to give Wall the first score. The extra point was blocked, however.

Mater Dei responded right away with a nine-play, 58-yard drive to take the lead. A 25-yard run by Ingram set up his own 3-yar touchdown run before Richie Pekmezian kicked the extra point to give the Seraphs a 7-6 lead.

Both squads dug in from that point on until Wall was the team to break through in crunch time. The Knights firmly believed they were the best team in the Shore Conference and on Saturday they proved it.

“Confidence was probably the biggest thing,” Setteducato said. “We went into this game thinking we were going to win. We knew going into the fourth quarter that it was ours.”

 

Box Score

No. 2 Wall 14, No. 1 Mater Dei Prep 7

 WallMater Dei
First downs1012
Rushes-yards32-14126-83
Passing8-14-010-20-2
Passing yards89135
Fumbles-lost0-02-1
Penalties-yards4-255-50

  

 1234F
Wall (5-0, 3-0)600814
Mater Dei (4-1, 3-1)07007

  

Scoring summary

W – Matt DeSarno 38-yard run (kick blocked)

MD – Malik Ingram 3-yard run (Richie Pekmezian kick)

W – Casey Larkin 2-yard run (Logan Peters pass to Blake Rezk)

 

Individual statistics

RUSHING – W: Casey Larkin 13-65, Matt DeSarno 10-53, Logan Peters 9-23; MD: Malik Ingram 13-70, Alex Brown 11-8, Naran Buntin 1-5, Clarence Lewis 1-0.

PASSING – W: Logan Peters 8-14-0 89; MD: Alex Brown 10-20-2 135.

RECEIVING – W: Gus Setteducato 1-29, Casey Larkin 3-28, Matt Dollive 2-16, Dale McNally 1-9, Jackson Coan 1-7; MD: Isaiah Noguera 3-87, Clarence Lewis 3-24, Naran Buntin 2-14, Malik Ingram 1-10, Kyree Drake 1-0.

INTERCEPTIONS – W: Charlie Sasso 1-25, Logan Peters 1-0.

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.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.

 

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