RED BANK - In most cases, Red Bank Catholic football coach Frank Edgerly and his staff might have to implore their players not to overlook an opponent with a losing record, but this week was quite the opposite. Pope John and its 2-8 record had the Caseys' full attention on Friday night at Count Basie Field.

Against a Lions team coming off a convincing first-round win over St. John Vianney and sharpened by a loaded regular-season schedule, Red Bank Catholic proved to be another top-tier opponent with whom Pope John could not hang. The top-seeded Caseys blanked the No. 5 Lions, 27-0, in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group III semifinals to reach a sectional championship game for the second time in five years.

"We were tired of hearing about their strength of schedule, who they play, North Jersey football," said Edgerly of Pope John, which didn't win its first game until Oct. 26 thanks to a schedule that included powerhouses DePaul, Paramus Catholic, St. Joseph Montvale, Don Bosco, Bergen Catholic and St. Peter's Prep. "It's something that definitely motivated our team and I think we came out here with a chip on our shoulder.

"All the attention given to the schedule they play was disrespectful to the teams we played - Long Branch, Rumson, Red Bank. I think we came in with a chip on our shoulder to say, 'We play some good football down here too.' Tonight I think we kind of made a statement."

Senior Steve Lubischer hands off to junior running back Billy Guidetti. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Senior Steve Lubischer hands off to junior running back Billy Guidetti. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Junior running back Billy Guidetti highlighted the offensive effort with 154 rushing yards on 23 carries, including an 18-yard touchdown run to open the scoring in the first quarter.

"We knew they were going to be gearing up on some level to stop the passing game, which has been very fruitful for us," Edgerly said. "Our ability to come out and run the football, control the game on a cold night did a lot to keep their quarterback on the sideline. We ran the ball well, especially when we needed to."

RBC's defense, meanwhile posted the shutout while sacking Pope John quarterback Nick Hroncich six times. Senior Gino Tartamella accounted for 2 1/2 of the sacks, seniors John Columbia, Ambrose Richards and Steve Cmielewski each collected one and junior Charlie Gordinier combined with Tartamella on the sixth and final sack.

"We heard they told SJV last week that they are the North, so they must be a different type of animal," Columbia said. "We just had to shut their mouth.

"We play who we play, it doesn't matter what the records say. We focus on doing our jobs each play and that's it."

Pope John's designs on another statement win for North Jersey football took suffered an early blow when RBC's defense forced a three-and-out on the first possession of the game and went 38 yards in just two plays to take a 7-0 lead. Quarterback Steve Lubischer hit M.J. Wright for a 20-yard gain on a wide receiver screen and Guidetti rumbled 18 yards for the game's first touchdown.

"It was awesome," Guidetti said of scoring on his first touch of the game. "The hole was right there so I have to give credit to my lineman and all the guys blocking for me. That's the only way that can happen."

The Caseys kept Pope John in the game early with turnovers by Lubischer on back-to-back possessions. After Jaden Key intercepted Hroncich to set RBC up at midfield, Lubischer fumbled away the ball near midfield on his team's second possession and was intercepted by safety Sean Brennan on the following possession.

As was the case throughout the game, Red Bank Catholic's defense did not break when faced with a threat by the Pope John offense. Brennan's interception set the Lions up on the RBC 18 yard-line, but after a false start penalty, the Caseys defense forced a 4th-and-12 from the 20 and kicker Justin Hartlein came up short on a 37-yard field goal try.

"The defense: what can you say?," Guidetti said. "Those were momentum changing plays - the sacks, the turnovers, the fourth-down stops. That's what creates that momentum."

After the offense stalled out near midfield, RBC's defense again stopped Pope John, this time by snuffing out a fake punt attempt on 4th-and-12 from the Caseys 42.

The offense got back on track on the ensuing drive, with Lubischer and Wright setting the tone with a 17-yard connection on the first play. Cmielewski capped the drive by plowing into the end zone from seven yards out on his second carry of the drive, the first of which went for 11 yards.

Ryan O'Hara missed the extra-point attempt to keep the score 13-0 and end his bid for a perfect season on extra points.

Guidetti set up Red Bank Catholic's third touchdown with a 38-yard run down to the Pope John four yard-line late in the third quarter. Lubischer finished off the drive with a six-yard touchdown run with 2:06 left in the third.

RBC began to drain the clock on its next drive, but decided to take one last shot to put the game away. With Pope John's defense geared up to stop the run on a first-down play, Lubischer faked the handoff and flipped a pass over the defense to junior tight end Kevin Bauman, who hauled in the pass and streaked 41 yards for the touchdown with 8:13 left to play.

After the interception, Lubischer completed his only three pass attempts the rest of the way, capped by the 41-yard touchdown to Bauman. Wright caught the other four completions by Lubischer for 52 yards, with the senior quarterback finishing 5-for-7 for 93 yards through the air.

Pope John running back Chris Rodriguez finished with 115 yards on 16 carries with 91 yards coming on just two plays. The Caseys bottled up Rodriguez for just seven yards on 11 carries in the first half, but he hit a 41-yard run on his first touch of the second half and later broke a 50-yard gain to set Pope John up at the RBC 25.

Tartamella answered by sacking Hroncich on second down and Cmielewski ended the drive with a sack on 4th-and-7.

"There were a couple bend-but-don't-break scenarios, but in large part, the few times they were able to crack off big plays, we responded," Edgerly said. "When you look at the whole picture, I think we played very solid defense."

The defense also held Hroncich to just 7-for-21 passing and 108 yards through the air, including the first-quarter interception by Key.

RBC's win locks in an All-Shore showdown for the Non-Public Group III title on Nov. 24 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. Mater Dei Prep upset No. 2 DePaul on Saturday, 28-23, to advance to the final at set up a battle between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, with the winner finishing the season No. 1.

"It's another Shore team and they are a good team - a great team," Guidetti said. "It says a lot about the Shore Conference. Those schools up north are great, but two Shore teams are playing for a state championship in a couple weeks and that's awesome."


Box Score

Red Bank Catholic 27, Pope John 0

Pope JohnRBC
First Downs817
Passing Yards10793


Pope John (2-9)70000
RB Catholic (9-0)767727


Scoring Summary

RBC - Billy Guidetti 18-yard run (Ryan O'Hara kick)

RBC - Steve Cmielewski 7-yard run (kick missed)

RBC - Steve Lubischer 6-yard run (Ryan O'Hara kick)

RBC - Kevin Bauman 41-yard pass from Steve Lubischer (Ryan O'Hara kick)


Individual Stats

Rushing - PJ: Chris Rodriguez 16-115, Anthony Caputo 1-9, Nick Hroncich 8-(-18); RBC: Billy Guidetti 24-154, Kevin Degnan 6-47, Steve Cmielewski 3-16, Steve Lubischer 8-(-2)

Passing - PJ: Nick Hroncich 7-21-1 108, Sean Brennan 1-1-0 (-1); RBC: Steve Lubischer 5-7-1 93

Receiving - PJ: Ryan Dengler 3-66, Menyelek Ward 2-24, Tajimier Jones 1-9, Anthony Caputo 1-(-1); RBC: M.J. Wright 4-52, Kevin Bauman 1-41

Interceptions-Return Yards - PJ: Sean Brennan 1-28; RBC: Jaden Key 1-2


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