Football – No Fluke: 2016 Raritan Preview
Raritan’s journey to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II title last season was one of the most memorable in recent years. The Rockets came out of nowhere and eventually stunned undefeated Lincoln on a last-second touchdown to claim the program’s second state title. The challenge now is to do it again.
“The biggest thing is we want to prove we didn’t just get lucky in the playoffs last year,” said senior linebacker Ryan Dickens. “We want to win the division this year. It’s stocked, but we can do it. We have the guys.”
To accomplish their goals the Rockets will need to replace several key players like first-team All-Shore running back Derek Ernst and clutch wide receivers Nick Pasquin, Jordan Smith and Mason Sheehan. Raritan does return its starting quarterback, senior Marc Carnivale, plus an experienced group of linemen to form a solid base on offense.
Carnivale threw for 1,598 yards and 16 touchdowns, including the game-winning touchdown in the state final with under 30 seconds left. He is one of the few returning skill players from last year’s team and will be counted on to be a leader on and off the field.
“He knows the offense better and can take control of that, but like any high school quarterback there are things he needs to improve on,” said Raritan head coach Anthony Petruzzi. “Hopefully he gives us that leadership in crunch time where guys look at him and are confident he’ll make the right decision.”
“I went to a lot of camps this year trying to improve my footwork and work on getting better reads and getting the ball out quicker,” Carnivale said.
Stepping in for Ernst and his conference-leading 1,777 yards is senior Vito Aleo, who started on defense last year. There’s also sophomore P.J. Buccine, who Petruzzi said is progressing very well.
“Vito could have been a starting tailback at a lot of places last year, so we’re pretty confident with him stepping in as the starter,” Petruzzi said.
Senior Sean Agar, a returning starter, and junior Justin Goggins are the tight ends in Raritan’s multiple offense. The wide receivers are all new with junior Vinnie DiCarlo, senior Michael Wojtowicz and senior Rory Sullivan.
“We’re still trying to find the best mix of guys at wide receiver,” Petruzzi said. “We might not have game-breakers like last year but we have guys that can come in and execute our offense, make somebody miss and help us be efficient.”
The offensive line is a strength with three returning starters. Senior Matt Thompson is the center, senior Paul Bavaro is the left guard and senior Alex Dalmau is the right guard. Stepping in at the starting tackle spots are brothers Ryan and Sean Greaves.
Raritan’s multiple 4-3 defense returns eight starters and has the look of a top unit under Petruzzi, who is one of the top defensive coaches around. Thompson and Bavaro are returning starters at defensive tackle with the Greaves brothers and Dalmau also in the mix. Agar returns at defensive end along with senior Alex Garcia and junior Patrick Cooney.
Dickens, who is committed to the University of Connecticut and made 127 tackles last season, is the middle linebacker. He will be backed up by junior Brian Pasquin. The outside linebackers are sophomore Justin Acevedo and senior Nicholas Capichana.
“Our defense is based around a “mike’ linebacker so we try to funnel a lot of stuff to (Dickens) and keep him free,” Petruzzi said. “He’s also one of our senior leaders so it’s not just about him making plays, but also making people better.”
“It’s not just about me,” Dickens said. “We have a defensive line that is athletic and they can all make a play. My job sometimes is to press the ball and make Agar or Bavaro make the play. We work as a unit.”
The secondary has several players with Sullivan (returning starter), senior Eugene Kolibas, sophomore Tyler Bruno and sophomore Christian Joe at cornerback. Aleo is a returning starter at safety and will be joined by DiCarlo. Senior Thomas Burke and junior Vincent Hart will also see time at safety.
On special teams, sophomore Gavin Toth is the placekicker and Carnivale is the punter.
Winning a state title last season certainly hasn’t made Raritan complacent. If anything, the Rockets have put more pressure on themselves to raise expectations and push to deliver them on a yearly basis.
“It’s actually been harder (training camp) this year,” Dickens said. “Our motto this year has been ‘One More’. We’re just trying to get better and perfect it.”
Head Coach: Anthony Petruzzi, seventh season.
Career Record: 20-32.
Coaching staff: Chris Damian (co-off. coord.); Jeff Struble (co-off. coord); Jerome Dean (LB); Matthew Dempsey (OL); David Ernst (OL); George Gibson (DL); Michael Kinsella (DB); Michael Nunes, Joseph Schroeck, Michael Thaner (freshmen); Michael DeSocio (athletic trainer).
2015 Record: 7-5 (3-3).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Vito Aleo, Sr., RB/DB
Aleo is a returning starter on defense, but on the offensive side he’ll start at running back and take over for two-year starter Derek Ernst, who led the Shore in rushing yards last season.
Raritan had a five-game losing streak in the middle of last season, but when the Rockets turned it on they were a state championship team. The schedule is difficult again, but if they can maintain consistency they will be competing for division and state titles.
GLUE GUY: Ryan Dickens, Sr., LB
The UConn recruit is the leader of the defense and one of the top defensive players in the Shore Conference.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Sean and Ryan Greaves, Jr., OL
Sean is 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds and Ryan is 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, and both will step into starting roles as the newcomers on the offensive line as well as playing some defense.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 9 at Rumson-Fair Haven
Two returning state champions will meet in Week One in a monster Class A Central battle.
Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.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.