HAZLET - This regular season is shaping up to be the opposite of last year for Raritan, and the Rockets are just fine with that as long as the final result is the same.

Last year the Rockets started 3-0, went on a five-game skid, and then came alive with an underdog run to their second NJSIAA title in school history. This year they started 0-3 in losses to three Top 10 teams, but now have won two straight and continue to build steam as the postseason begins to loom on the horizon.

Senior running back Vito Aleo, shown  finding the end zone, had a career-high 256 yards rushing and three touchdowns on Senion Night to power Raritan. (Photo by Bruce Willence)

If their running game and defense can perform at the level they reached on Friday night, the Rockets will once again be a formidable playoff team as they try to repeat as Central Jersey Group II champs. Raritan exploded for 422 yards rushing, 335 of them in the first half, while holding Monmouth to 178 total yards in a 42-7 win on Senior Night at Joseph J. DeVirgilio Field.

"We're trying to get back on track and just building off each win,'' said senior tailback Vito Aleo. "Our big goal for this year is to repeat. That hasn't been done in Raritan history, and we want to be the first to do it."

Aleo erupted for a career-high 256 yards along with three touchdowns on 19 carries, and sophomore P.J. Buccine finished with a career high of his own with 121 yards and a pair of touchdowns on only nine carries. The Rockets (2-3, 1-2) did not complete a pass in the game on three attempts, but it didn't matter as the offensive line of center Matt Thompson, guards Paul Bavaro and Alex Dalmau and brothers Ryan and Sean Greaves at tackle paved the way for 11.7 yards per rush in the win.

"Everything is falling into place really nicely,'' Bavaro said. "We're going to keep rolling."

Aleo returned the opening kickoff to Monmouth's 31-yard line to set the tone, and it was all Raritan from there. Buccine scored on a 10-yard run four plays later for a 7-0 lead, which became 14-0 after Buccine ripped off a 55-yard touchdown run on the Rockets' second possession.

After the defense forced a three-and-out, the Rockets embarked on a 9-play, 85-yard drive that Aleo capped with a 9-yard score for a 21-0 lead with 11:52 left in the second quarter.

A sack by Thompson on third down killed Monmouth's ensuing drive, and the run game went right back to work. Aleo sprinted for a 36-yard score to cap a 9-play, 96-yard drive and push the lead to 28-0.

Senior linebacker Ryan Dickens, a UConn recruit, officially blew the game open when he recovered a fumble after a short completion and returned it 56 yards for a score with five seconds remaining to balloon the margin to 35-0 at the half.

Aleo added his third touchdown on a 6-yard run in the third quarter that was set up by his own 60-yard burst for a 42-0 advantage. Monmouth (2-3, 1-2) avoided the shutout when quarterback Jay Eustace hit wideout Elijah Walker for a 6-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

After lop-sided losses to Class A Central front-runners Rumson-Fair Haven and St. John Vianney to start the season, Raritan took another Top 10 team, Wall, to the wire before suffering a 29-21 loss to fall in an 0-3 hole.

"I think that (Wall) game proved that we were a good football team, and I think our team needed that kick in the butt to show us what we needed to fix,'' Bavaro said.

Aleo has now run for over 400 yards the last two weeks in a pair of wins and Buccine has emerged as a talented complement. They are trying to replace the production of Derek Ernst, who was a first-team All-Shore selection as a senior last year who led the Shore Conference with 1,777 yards rushing and scored 23 touchdowns.

"Derek was one of the best in the Shore,'' Aleo said. "I learned all my stuff from him."

"We base our offense on the run game,'' Raritan head coach Anthony Petruzzi said. "Losing a back like Derek, we just wanted to make sure our guys knew that it starts up front, and we still have that. You can't replace Derek Ernst, but these guys believe in themselves and they're a two-headed monster right now that are going to keep us in games along with playing good defense."

The Rockets also will soon have their starting lineup intact again. After back-up Dan VanMeerbeke helped guide the Rockets to a pair of wins, starting quarterback Marc Carnivale will return next week after missing three games with a concussion.

With games against a pair of sub-.500 teams sandwiched around a huge nonconference match-up against an unbeaten Spotswood squad that is in their playoff bracket, the Rockets would love nothing more than the reverse of last year by riding a five-game winning streak into the postseason.

"We have a division rival in Matawan next week, and that's the first thing that's on our mind,'' Petruzzi said. "We just have to continue the momentum that we've picked up these last two weeks and get another win."

The humbling start and a senior class eager to make its own mark also have helped the Rockets guard against the complacency that can creep in on the heels of a state title.

"My ring from last year, I don't even wear it,'' Aleo said. "This is our senior year, and I want to get a ring for my senior class and wear that one a lot."

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Box score

Raritan 42, Monmouth 7

.                                        R                 M

First downs                    18                  6

Rushes-yards           36-422             7-17

Passing                      0-3-0              14-28-0

Passing yards               0                   161

Fumbles-lost              0-0                   2-1

Penalties                  2-15                  1-15

Monmouth (2-4, 1-2)  0  0  0  7 - 7

Raritan (2-3, 1-2)     14  21  7  0 - 42

Scoring summary

R: Puccine 10-yard run (Toth kick).

R: Puccine 55-yard run (Toth kick).

R: Aleo 9-yard run (Toth kick).

R: Aleo 36-yard run (Toth kick).

R: Dickens 56-yard fumble return (Toth kick).

R: Aleo 6-yard run (Toth kick).

M: Walker 6-yard pass from Eustace (Johnson kick).

Individual statistics

Rushing - R: Buccine 9-121, Aleo 19-256, VanMeerbeke 3-27, Valdez 5-18. M: Eustace 6-18, Rife 1-(-1).

Passing: R: VanMeerbeke 0-3-0 0. M: Eustace 14-28-0 161.

Receiving - M: Rife 6-93, Walker 4-22, Johnson 1-29, Gates 3-17.