Gridiron Classic – Raritan’s Players Soaking it All in During Gridiron Classic Week
The most incredible postseason run and one of the best stories of the entire New Jersey high school football season was Raritan going from an under-.500 record and barely making the playoffs to winning a state championship against an undefeated team. There are still times the Rockets’ players have to remind themselves it really happened.
“I still think about it sometimes like it hasn’t hit me yet,” said running back Derek Ernst. “I’ll be lying in bed and I’m like, ‘Oh, wow, we won’. It’s pretty crazy to think about sometimes.”
A roller coaster season for Raritan ended at the top when the Rockets stunned previously-undefeated Lincoln, 28-26, to win the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II title at Kean University and cap a wild final month. Raritan began the season 3-0, but lost five straight games to fall to 3-5 entering the playoffs.
“We were there in the locker room and (head coach Anthony) Petruzzi is telling us there’s still a possibility we can make the playoffs, but also a possibility we can’t,” said wide receiver Mason Sheehan. “He came in the next day telling us we have our shot. Then just the run we had coming out on top against Lincoln was an unbelievable feeling.”
In the sectional final, junior quarterback Marc Carnivale led a last-minute, game-winning drive that culminated with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Nick Pasquin with just 10 seconds left, delivering Raritan its second NJSIAA title in program history and first since finishing undefeated in 2004. Pasquin’s game-winning touchdown reception is forever immortalized on video, and on MSG Varsity’s game broadcast, analyst Todderick Hunt going bonkers after Pasquin hauled in the pass, saying, ‘He caught the ball! He caught the ball!’, is something no one involved in the game will forget.
“I still keep that tab open on my phone and take a glance at it once in a while if things aren’t going well,” Pasquin said. “It’s a reminder it doesn’t matter how hard you get knocked down, as long as you’re working hard anything can happen.”
“I was literally right there when Nick caught that pass and looking through pictures and videos you get that feeling back again,” Sheehan said. “I can’t even describe it, it’s crazy.”
Ernst, Sheehan and Pasquin, along with wide receiver Jordan Smith and linebacker Sean Ennis will represent Raritan during Thursday’s U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic, 7 p.m. at Central Regional’s Joseph J. Boyd Memorial Field. After a storybook ending in the fall, getting one more game with some of their teammates and coaching staff keeps the good memories coming back.
“Our last practice on our field before the state game I took a look up in the stands to get a last look because I figured that was going to be the last time,” Pasquin said. “To get one more chance with my coaching staff is unreal.”
After going 5-5 in 2014, Raritan began last season with a road win at Manasquan before two blowout victories over Matawan and Freehold to begin 3-0. Then came the slide during the most difficult part of the schedule. The Rockets faced four playoff teams, including three state finalists, over that span, losing to Central Jersey Group III finalist Red Bank, Non-Public A finalist St. John Vianney, Point Boro, Central Jersey Group III champion Rumson-Fair Haven and Monmouth. They were certainly reeling, but at the same time still felt they could make a run if they qualified for the playoffs.
“The biggest thing for us was our coaches never giving up on us,” Sheehan said. “Our players, we were down but you could tell we were still hungry for it. We knew we still had a chance and we weren’t going to give up.”
The Rockets started their championship run with a 17-7 win over Point Boro in the first round, exacting revenge for a 33-27 loss to the Panthers in the regular season. Raritan then went on the road and waxed 2014 finalist Delaware Valley, 42-13, to reach the final. In its Thanksgiving game against Holmdel, Raritan won, 46-25, to get back over .500 at 6-5.
Individually, Ernst led the Shore Conference in rushing with 1,777 yards and 22 touchdowns and was a first-team All-Shore selection by Shore Sports Network. Pasquin and Smith were both all-Class A Central picks by the coaches. Pasquin caught 36 passes for 545 yards and four touchdowns and Smith hauled in 26 passes for 560 yards and six touchdowns. Sheehan was a solid two-way player at tight end and linebacker and Ennis was also a key member of the defense at linebacker.
“It was a good group of guys and I’m happy we got to do it with that group of seniors,” Pasquin said.
“It’s probably one of the greatest feelings to be able to strap it up with these guys one more time,” Sheehan said. “I consider these guys my brothers and I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”