Donovan Catholic Heading to Shore Title Game After Win Over RBC
TOMS RIVER - Over the past three seasons, there have been a lot of firsts for the Donovan Catholic football program and the Griffins can add a new one to the list following Friday night's NJSIAA Playoff showdown with Red Bank Catholic.
For the first time ever next Friday night, two teams will play to crown an unofficial Shore Conference champion in a season and Donovan Catholic - an afterthought of a program before coach Dan Curcione took over for the 2017 season - will be one of them.
The Griffins - the No. 2 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - beat perennial power and No. 3 Red Bank Catholic, 28-14, Friday night to earn a spot in next week's championship game at No. 1 Wall.
"I think it's great that we're playing," Curicione said. "There was a time where the way things were going, we weren't sure we were going to play and I'm afraid to check my phone."
Watch the Replay: Red Bank Catholic at Donovan Catholic
Fittingly enough, it will be a homecoming of sorts for Curcione, who won a state championship at Wall in 2016 before stepping down to take the head job at Donovan Catholic. The two squads are the only two undefeated teams in the Shore Conference with one day of games remaining in Week 7.
"This next game isn't about me and where I was at - it's about the kids," Curcione said. "They (Wall) are pretty damn good. They have a long streak going, we've scrimmaged them and we know how good they are. We know a lot of their coaches and we know how well-coached they are."
Donovan Catholic beat the Caseys with an efficient offensive game that saw the Griffins ride senior running back Jahdir Loftland to 160 yards on 30 carries, put the ball in the air 16 times with senior quarterback Evyn Menta and complete 14 of them and protect the ball with no turnovers.
"I think we had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder," Curcione said. "They have heard it all in our last bunch of years: 'We don't play anybody. We don't do this, we don't do that.' I think it's a tribute to the kids today that they were able to put their foot in the ground and play in a big game and win one."
When it came to breaking the game open, however, senior wide receiver Jayon Farrar was Donovan Catholic's go-to weapon. The Long Branch transfer hauled in 10 passes for 95 yards and three touchdown receptions, while also rushing for 35 yards and a two-point conversion. He even created the game's only turnover when he came up with a key fourth-quarter interception.
In the middle of the fourth quarter, Farrar made plays on three consecutive plays, excluding a kickoff in between. Donovan Catholic made a huge stop on 4th-and-3 while leading 20-14 and on the very next play, Menta fired deep to Farrar over the middle for a 51-yard touchdown connection.
"All game long, I was like, 'I got this, coach. I got this man one-on-one,'" Farrar said. "He finally called it. He called my number and I was able to catch a ball from my amazing quarterback. Our offensive coordinator, coach (Chip) LaBarca, he set us up perfectly for that play."
"I think the fourth-down play was the defensive play of the game and then the play Jayon made - those two plays kind of put the nail in the coffin a little bit," Curcione said.
Farrar then ran the two-point conversion in on a reverse and on RBC's first play of the next possession, Farrar picked off RBC quarterback Anthony Borriello with just over six minutes to go.
"I was able to get my eyes on (RBC sophomore receiver Najih Rahman), because that is their number-one receiver," Farrar said. "I found him and I was able to come over the top and pick it off. I had so much excitement."
Menta threw four touchdowns, with his first of the game going to senior Ethan Capone for a seven-yard touchdown that capped the first drive of the game. While Menta and Farrar accounted for most of the scoring, the Griffins moved the ball most effectively with their running game. Loftland carried the ball seven times for 58 yards on Donovan Catholic's opening drive, which went 70 yards in 11 plays and took more than half the first-quarter clock.
"I love the offensive line that we've got and we have to trust them in a big game," Curcione said. "You've got to be who you are. Menta made a couple plays tonight and Jayon made a couple of plays as well, but (the running game) is who we are."
Early in the second quarter, Red Bank Catholic tied the game with a 67-yard bomb from Borriello to sophomore Najih Rahman.
"Games against really good teams come down to a few plays and fundamentals," Curcione said. "Our fundamentals stunk on the pass play. We're capable of covering that, but it was a breakdown and they have really good players that are going to make you pay."
Donovan Catholic regained the lead on the next drive, with Farrar delivering the two biggest plays of the series. He broke a 22-yard run on a 3rd-and-5 sweep to extend the drive and on 4th-and-goal from the two, he caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Menta to extend the Griffins lead to 14-7.
RBC started the third quarter by returning a short kick to its own 47 and navigated its way down to the four yard-line. Sophomore Sabino Portella finished off the drive with a four-yard run.
The Griffins grabbed the lead back with a 16-play, 73-yard drive that ended with Farrar catching a five-yard touchdown toss from Menta.
Red Bank Catholic extended its next drive with a fake punt on fourth down, with Portella running for seven yards on 4th-and-5 from RBC's own 35. The Caseys set themselves up for a 4th-and-3 with a 15-yard pass from Borriello to junior Alex Bauman on third down and Borriello called his own number on fourth down - only to be stopped a yard short.
Menta went up top to Farrar on the next play and Farrar's interception signaled the beginning of the end for Red Bank Catholic.
It also signaled that Donovan Catholic is one win away from climbing to the top of the mountain within the Shore Conference.
"It means a lot, man," Farrar said. "At first we didn't think we were having the season and now, I couldn't be more happy."
Donovan Catholic 28, Red Bank Catholic 14
|Donovan Cath. (7-0)||7||7||0||14||28|
DC - Ethan Capone 7-yard pass from Evyn Menta (Gavin Nguyen kick)
RBC - Najih Rahman 67-yard pass from Anthony Borriello (Mike O'Connor kick)
DC - Jayon Farrar 2-yard pass from Evyn Menta (Gavin Nguyen kick)
RBC - Sabatino Portella 4-yard run (Mike O'Connor kick)
DC - Jayon Farrar 5-yard pass from Evyn Menta (kick missed)
DC - Jayon Farrar 51-yard pass from Evyn Menta (Farrar run)
Rushing - RBC: Anthony Borriello 9-42, Daniel Brewton 4-19, Sabatino Portella 5-17, Najih Rahman 1-3, Jaiden Hayes 1-(-8); DC: Jahdir Loftland 30-160, Jayon Farrar 5-35, James Bivins 1-3, Evyn Menta 6-(-7)
Passing - RBC: Anthony Borriello 6-16-1 153; DC: Evyn Menta 14-16-0 128
Receiving - RBC: Najih Rahman 2-68, Robert Stolfa 2-55, Alex Bauman 2-30; DC: Jayon Farrar 10-95, Jahdir Loftland 4-26, Ethan Capone 1-7
Interceptions-Return Yards: Jayon Farrar 1-3