Casey Coronation: RBC Wins Non-Public Group III Championship for First State Title Since 1976
EAST RUTHERFORD — Leading by six points at halftime with its ultimate goal just two quarters from being realized, Red Bank Catholic made sure to finish off its greatest season yet with an authoritative stamp.
Junior quarterback Eddie Hahn directed the Caseys’ offense to 32 second-half points with a dazzling performance under the bright lights of MetLife stadium on Sunday night, and Red Bank Catholic ended a 38-year title drought by taking down Delbarton, 45-20, to finally capture the NJSIAA Non-Public Group III championship.
“The feeling right now is priceless,” Hahn said.
“It’s everything I thought of and more,” said senior linebacker Jamie Gordinier, who unofficially finished with seven tackles and a forced fumble in his final high school game. “It feels great to prove to the state we can win a state championship. We definitely stamped it. Beating St. Joe’s (in the semifinals) was a great win, but our goal was to win a state championship and that’s what we did."
Hahn was electric in guiding the Caseys’ record-setting offense, going 9-of-10 for 234 yards and a touchdown while adding 47 yards rushing and a touchdown to deliver the program its second NJSIAA title and first since 1976. Senior tailback Tommy Spernal scored three rushing touchdowns and ran for 98 yards on 19 carries, senior Nick Lubischer hauled in four passes for 122 yards and a touchdown, senior Mike Cordova scored on a short run and senior Nick LaGrippo put the finishing touches on a win years in the making with a blocked punt for a touchdown in the final minutes. It all added up to the Caseys' third straight postseason win of 25 points or more and a put the once elusive state championship firmly in their grasp.
“We didn’t see anything different in the locker room at halftime, we were just told to play our game and take it all in,” Hahn said. “Playing in MetLife Stadium for a state championship is something everybody dreams of, and it was a great overall win. We played great in the second half.”
“At halftime we knew we had to step up our game and go get it,” LaGrippo said.
Hahn sparked the Caseys with his arm over the final two quarters by throwing for 199 yards and a touchdown on 6-for-6 passing. He threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Lubischer in the third quarter after running for a 15-yard score in the second quarter, and engineered scoring drives on four of five Red Bank Catholic possessions in the second half. He was precise in the pocket and creative on the move, hitting big play after big play to bring a state championship back to RBC.
“Nick Lubischer is a playmaker, Trevor Cowley (3 receptions for 91 yards) is a playmaker, and when you have Eddie Hahn to deliver the football it’s good stuff,” said Red Bank Catholic head coach Jim Portela. “The second half was scary stuff. We come out and score, they score, and it’s back and forth. That’s not typically our style, but when you have a kid like Eddie you can win different types of games.”
“Having Eddie Hahn as our quarterback changed our offense,” Gordinier said.
Red Bank Catholic’s win on Sunday ended years of frustration and once and for all silenced the critics. The Caseys beat the big boys, blowing out Bishop Eustace, pummeling defending champion and playoff nemesis St. Joseph-Montvale, and finally pulling away from Delbarton in the final to become the first Shore Conference non-public school to win a state title since 1980. The Caseys also set a school record for wins in finishing 11-1 while scoring a school-record 543 points.
“It feels pretty good, maybe better than we thought,” Portela said. “We were full of emotions the last two weeks but trying to stay in the moment and not think too much. We wanted to play for the guy next to us and for the ones that came before us.”
The Caseys got off to a great start thanks to a pair of turnovers by Delbarton (9-2) in the first quarter to jump out to a 13-0 lead. Sophomore star Andrew Papantonis fielded the opening kickoff for the Green Wave and had the ball jarred loose by junior linebacker Dylan Murphy and recovered by Cordova. The Caseys took over at the Delbarton 33-yard line and ran nine straight running plays to take a 6-0 lead on Spernal’s one-yard touchdown run with 7:15 left in the opening quarter.
Another fumble by Papantonis after Delbarton had moved into plus territory on its next drive gave the Caseys the ball at midfield, and Hahn directed another scoring drive to put the Caseys up two scores early in the second quarter. Hahn began his great night with an 11-yard strike to senior Mike DeMonte, then connected with Lubischer for 14 yards and again with DeMonte for 10 to put the ball inside the Green Wave 20-yard line. On third-and-12 from the 15, Hahn broke from the pocket up middle, juked a defender at the three-yard line and glided into the end zone to give Red Bank Catholic a 13-0 lead with 10:31 left in the first half.
The Caseys’ early success on offense put the Green Wave on high alert and put them in pressure situations early on. The Green Wave went for it on fourth-and-7 from the RBC 37 on their next drive, but quarterback John Chiarolanzio’s pass for tight end Ian Lodge fell incomplete. Delbarton forced the Caseys to go three and out to get the ball back, and then embarked on an eight-play, 70-yard scoring drive to trim the Caseys’ lead in half.
Chiarolanzio took to the air on play-action passes, hitting Lodge for 30 yards to move the ball to the RBC 29-yard line. Papantonis converted a third-and-one with a four-yard run, and two plays later sophomore running back Luca Tria scored on an 11-yard run to cut RBC’s lead to 13-7 with 1:55 left in the half.
Delbarton then stopped the Caseys on three straight plays again to get the ball back with 59 seconds left in the half. Chiarolanzio drove the Green Wave to the Caseys’ 36, and although they didn’t come away with any points, the Green Wave had shifted the momentum toward their side heading into halftime.
That’s where the Caseys regrouped and set the stage for a second-half takeover. With a state championship finally within reach, the Caseys players made sure they seized the moment.
Red Bank Catholic received to begin the second half, and put together a four-play, 65-yard scoring drive to take a 19-7 lead. The big plays started to flow in the second half for RBC, beginning with Spernal’s 42-yard touchdown run to open the third quarter. Hahn made a huge throw on the drive when he hit Lubischer on a slant for a 20-yard gain on third-and-seven. On the next play, Spernal hit a big hole on the right side and outran the Green Wave defense the rest of the way.
“That was a humongous play on third-and-eight,” Portela said. “He hits Lubischer on that empty set with a slant and that energized us. We got off to the great start and had a big adrenaline rush, and we lost a little bit of that as the game settled in. Eddie and Nick (re)energized us and Tommy had a big run."
Delbarton responded quickly when junior running back Andrew Sanders broke free for a 55-yard touchdown run to make it 19-14 with 7:43 left in the third. The Red Bank Catholic offense had found its groove, however, and it was unstoppable in closing out the victory.
Starting from their own 36-yard line, the Caseys needed just four plays to answer back as Hahn hit Lubischer over the middle for a big gain, and the senior did the rest by shaking off two defenders and zooming to the end zone on a 52-yard scoring play for a 25-14 lead.
Delbarton wouldn’t go away easily, however, and drew to 25-20 with a penalty-aided 68-yard scoring drive on its next possession. Thirty-seven yards in penalties, including two dead-ball personal fouls on the Caseys along with a few big runs by Papantonis, moved the ball to the two-yard line. On second-and-goal, Sanders scored on a one-yard run to close the gap to five points.
That was all the Green Wave would get on the night, however. The Caseys continued to counter with scores of their own to pull away for the convincing championship victory. RBC followed with another four-play scoring drive and took a 31-20 lead on a five-yard touchdown run by Spernal. After Spernal began the drive with runs of eight and nine yards, Hahn hit Cowley with a perfectly-thrown deep ball for a 44-yard gain down to the five-yard line. Spernal’s score gave the Caseys an 11-point lead with 1:51 left in the third quarter.
Sensing they couldn’t stop the Caseys’ offense, Delbarton was forced to go for it on fourth-and-one from its own 36-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Green Wave could’ve stayed in the game with a conversion, but Chiarolanzio’s pass fell off the hands of Lodge and incomplete, giving RBC the ball in Delbarton territory. A 36-yard pass from Hahn to Cowley put the ball at the one-yard line, and Cordova plowed into the end zone on the next play for a commanding 38-20 lead with 9:26 to play.
"The Jackson loss (33-27 in overtime on Nov. 7) showed us a lot and helped us out the most for the playoffs," Hahn said. "You're not always going to beat a team 62-0, you have to battle every game. It was 13-7 at halftime and we took some punches. But we punched back and came out with a win in the second half."
Red Bank Catholic’s defense and special teams then put the finishing touches on the greatest Caseys season in a generation. Delbarton drove to the RBC 31-yard line on its next possession, but on fourth-and-two, Sanders was stopped for a short gain by senior lineman Dan Wilen to turn the ball over on downs. Another brilliant play by Hahn on a scramble and flip to Lubischer for a 36-yard gain moved the ball to the Delbarton 28, but on second down from the 14 Spernal was stripped of the football and Delbarton’s William Murray recovered to briefly halt the Caseys coronation.
It would be a short-lived respite for the Green Wave, however. Delbarton went three-and-out and was forced to punt from its own 16-yard line with under two minutes left in the game. That’s when LaGrippo knifed through the Green Wave’s line to block the punt and recover it in the end zone for a touchdown, putting the Caseys up 45-20 and providing the exclamation point on a historic victory.
“The linemen split and I had a clear view,” LaGrippo said. “I just ran in there and put my hands up. When I blocked it there was no stopping me. I had to get on that ball.”
A thundering sack by junior linebacker Mike Wilen for a 13-yard loss on fourth down with just over a minute left gave the Caseys the ball back, allowing Hahn to get into victory formation one last time and set off a celebration 38 years in the making. Heading into the season, the only thing separating the Caseys from true greatness was that elusive state title, and they brought it home once and for all on a Sunday at MetLife Stadium that no one associated with Red Bank Catholic football will soon forget.
NJSIAA Non-Public Group III Final
Red Bank Catholic 45, Delbarton 20
|Delbarton||Red Bank Catholic|
Delbarton (9-2) 0 7 13 0 – 20
Red Bank Catholic (11-1) 6 7 18 14 – 45
RBC – Tommy Spernal 1-yard run (kick blocked)
RBC – Eddie Hahn 15-yard run (Vince Gallo kick)
D – Luca Tria 11-yard run (Carter Massengill kick)
RBC – Tommy Spernal 42-yard run (kick failed)
D – Andrew Sanders 55-yard run (Carter Massengill kick)
RBC – Eddie Hahn 52-yard pass to Nick Lubischer (run failed)
D – Andrew Sanders 1-yard run (pass failed)
RBC – Tommy Spernal 5-yard run (run failed)
RBC – Mike Cordova 1-yard run (Vince Gallo kick)
RBC – Nick LaGrippo blocked punt recovery in end zone (Vince Gallo kick)
Rushing – D: Andrew Sanders 15-95, Andrew Papantonis 10-61, Luca Tria 2-12, John Chiarolanzio 2-(-9); RBC: Tommy Spernal 19-98, Eddie Hahn 8-47, Mike Cordova 6-8, Nick Cella 2-4, Dan Lukawski 1-0.
Passing – D: John Chiarolanzio 15-26-0 162; RBC: Eddie Hahn 9-10-0 234.
Receiving – D: Ian Lodge 5-68, Andrew Sanders 4-40, Andrew Papantonis 2-23, T.J. Comizio 2-19, Luca Tria 1-8, Samuel Johnson 1-4; RBC: Nick Lubischer 4-122, Trevor Cowley 3-91, Mike DeMonte 2-21.