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HAZLET -- Under the direction of 12th-year head coach Anthony Petruzzi, Raritan has been a program that embraces the underdog and the adversity that comes with it -- anything to feed the chip on the collective shoulder of the Rockets players.

So if you are wondering whether the Rockets identify more as the No. 1 seed and favorite in the Central Jersey Group II Playoffs or as a 4-4 team that has something to prove, it should not be hard to guess which beginning they have chose for their 2021 postseason story.

After giving up a long touchdown drive to eighth-seeded Barnegat that opened the scoring in the first quarter, Raritan scored 30 unanswered points, got three different players 100-plus rushing yards and ran away with a 30-6 round-one win to open up their chase for a championship.

Raritan moves on to the sectional semifinals next week, when they will host the winner of Saturday's game between No. 4 Hillside and No. 5 Overbrook.

Junior Kieran Falzon led the way for Raritan with 121 yards on the ground on 25 carries and three rushing touchdowns. He was the last of the trio to hit the century mark, crossing the 100-yard threshold with an 18-yard first-down run and following that up with a 14-yard touchdown run to make the score 30-6 with 3:54 left to play.

"We have special players," Falzon said. "Every single one of us is very special, and I like that about this team."

Junior Dan Calicari and senior Joe Campanella each reach the 100-yard plateau as well Friday night, with Calicari racking up 109 yards on seven carries and Campanella posting 101 on only four carries. Each slot back caught as pass as well, with Calicari hauling in a 27-yard completion from senior quarterback Ben Hutchins and Campanella catching a seven-yard touchdown toss that made it 14-6 in the second quarter.

"All of our players did a great job," Calicari said. "Our line did a fantastic job, as always. They set up the blocks for us and we just hit the holes."

"That's our program," Petruzzi said. "It's never going to be just one guy. We like to get a lot of different guys involved and none of them are looking to be the man out there. They all want to be team guys, they all want to see their teammates succeed and they want to win."

The game started out with Barnegat seizing the early momentum by forcing a Raritan punt and taking over on its own two yard-line. A holding penalty on first down moved the ball to the one, but the Bengals shook it off and proceeded the drive 99 yards on 14 plays.

Junior JoJo Bivins shined during the drive, juking, driving and scampering for 57 yards on five carries on the drive -- including the 10-yard touchdown run on third-and-7 that capped it.

Raritan came right back with back-to-back touchdown-scoring drives, with each ignited by a long run by one of their slot standouts. On the first of the two touchdown drives, Calicari started the march with a 55-yard run along the left sideline to take the ball all the way down to the Bengals 25.

After the teams changes sides for the start of the second quarter, Hutchins found Campanella for a seven-yard touchdown pass on third-and-goal.

Following another defensive stand by the Rockets defense, it was Calicari who jumpstarted the next Raritan scoring drive. He did so by turning the corner and fighting off a defender to rush 66 yards up the right sideline, all the way to the Barnegat three yard-line.

"We're all dangerous runners," Calicari said. "Each of our strengths cover the other's weakness and we just play really well in our roles. Kieran runs the ball hard, I can run routes, Campanella can run routes and it's hard to cover all three playmakers like that when they're in one backfield, plus the quarterback."

Two plays later, Falzon plunged into the end zone from one yard out for the first of his three scores and a 14-6 Raritan lead.

"We have had two guys rush for 100 yards in a game before but three is very rare," Petruzzi said. "You would have to go back a ways to find out the last time we did that and I'm not even sure we ever have since I have been here. That's a special kind of performance by those three guys and the group of guys working hard out there to block for them."

The Rockets added a 26-yard field goal by junior Jeff Spengler on the last play of the first half to send Raritan into the locker room with a 17-7 lead. Senior defensive lineman Mani Abas set up the score by reading a Barnegat screen on 3rd-and-18 and intercepting the pass to allow his offense to take over on the Bengals 41.

Abas was one of a handful of defensive standouts for Raritan. Sophomore Jayden Craft also pulled down an interception in the second half, senior Anthony Bavaro contributed two sacks and senior defensive end Alex Dekis secured two tackles for a loss and was in the mix at the line of scrimmage throughout the night.

The first of the two sacks by Bavaro pushed Barnegat deep into its own territory and led to Raritan starting its second drive of the second half on the Bengals 49. An interception by Justin Bye halted Raritan's first drive of the half, but Hutchins and the Rockets made up for the miscue on their next possession.

Falzon got the drive going with a 10-yard surge and on a second-and-9, Hutchins fired a strike over the middle to Calicari, who did not score only because he stumbled and went down at the Barnegat six yard-line.

A holding penalty raised the degree of difficulty, but Calicari got those yards right back with a 10-yard run and Falzon again finished off the drive with a three-yard touchdown run on third down to make it 24-6 early in the fourth quarter.

Raritan has now won three straight since opening the season 2-4 and while Petruzzi was quick to point out Friday was far from a perfect performance by his team, it was its most complete performance of the season.

After edging a 2-8 Ocean team in the opener, Raritan lost three straight games, including blowout losses the Red Bank Catholic and Central Regional before a seven-point loss at home to Manasquan served as the start of the turnaround.

The Rockets got back in the win column with a 38-28 win over 4-6 Red Bank, then dropped a 30-24 loss to Holmdel.

Prior to the NJSIAA Playoffs, Raritan scored wins over Group I opponents Asbury Park and Shore Regional. On Friday night, Raritan did not allow Barnegat to stay in the game, even after allowing the Bengals to drive the length of the field and set the early tone.

When the scoreboard clock hit all zeroes in the fourth quarter, Raritan celebrated like a team that was heading to a championship game and that is exactly how the Rockets want it. In reality, since winning the Central Jersey Group II championship in 2015, Raritan has lost four straight first-round games in the NJSIAA Playoffs and this group relished ending that streak.

"We love to win," Falzon said. "We have been looking forward to the playoffs and winning that first game. I love this team and I love celebrating wins with them. That's what we do: we work hard, we enjoy our wins, then we go back to work and that's what we're going to do."


Box Score

Raritan 30, Barnegat 6

First Downs918
Passing Yards3934
Barnegat (5-4)60006
Raritan (5-4)01701330

Scoring Summary

B - JoJo Bivins 10-yard run (kick missed)

R - Joe Campanella 7-yard pass from Ben Hutchins (Jeff Spengler kick)

R - Kieran Falzon 1-yard run (Jeff Spengler kick)

R - Jeff Spengler 26-yard field goal

R - Kieran Falzon 3-yard run (Jeff Spengler kick)

R - Kieran Falzon 14-yard run (kick missed)

Individual Stats

Rushing - B: JoJo Bivins 16-83, Kurt Bonin 9-18, Myquan Rush 1-(-2), Justin Bye 2-(-7); R: Kieran Falzon 25-121, Dan Calicari 7-109, Joe Campanella 4-101, Ben Hutchins 6-9, Nick Godkin 1-2, Logan Goldsbery 1-(-4)

Passing - B: Kurt Bonin 6-9-2, 34; R: Dan Hutchins 2-9-1, 34

Receiving - B: Keean Paul 4-19, Amir Allan 1-11, Justin Bye 1-9; R: Dan Calicari 1-27, Joe Campanella 1-7

Interceptions-Return Yards - B: Justin Bye 1-11; R: Mani Abas 1-2; Jayden Craft 1-0

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