Gridiron Classic: Red Bank’s Party of Five to Cap Unforgettable Season in Final High School Game
For the five Red Bank players that will take part in Thursday’s U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic, just mentioning their epic 2015 season was enough to bring a smile to their faces.
After 11 consecutive non-winning seasons, Red Bank turned the corner in a major way by going 11-1, winning a division title and reaching a state final behind a standout senior class that combined to produce an unforgettable season in Little Silver. Offensive lineman Ricky Wild, wide receiver/defensive back Sadiq Palmer, wide receiver/defensive back Teddy Mitchell, defensive back Matt Reardon and kicker Jack O’Connor will represent the Bucs on Monmouth County’s team for the Gridiron Classic.
“It was crazy,” Mitchell said. “We knew coming in we were something special. A lot of people doubted us but we knew.”
“I think about starting from my sophomore year going from a 1-9 record to 11-1, and that’s the biggest thing,” Wild said. “Beating RBC was probably the best part.”
In a season that galvanized the student population at Red Bank, a 24-21 win over rival Red Bank Catholic on October 16 in Week 6 was undoubtedly the Bucs’ signature moment. In that back-and-forth game, senior quarterback Jack Navitsky ran for a 57-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to put Red Bank in front, and the Bucs’ defense stopped Red Bank Catholic one chain link short of a first down on fourth-and-2 with 1:57 left in the game.
“The rivalry is huge and to see all the people that came out for both sides and the crowd rushing the field after was amazing,” said Wild, who will continue his career at St. Anselm College, a Division II program in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Palmer was a first-team All-Shore selection by Shore Sports Network and the Class B North Defensive Player of the Year as selected by the coaches. As a dynamic offensive threat, Palmer caught 48 passes for 660 yards and seven touchdowns and also ran for 452 yards and nine touchdowns. As a standout defender at safety, Palmer made 66 tackles and intercepted five passes on a defense that allowed 10.2 points per game. He will continue his career at UMass.
Also a first-team All-Shore pick by SSN, O’Connor converted a Shore Conference-high nine field goals on 11 attempts with a long of 42 yards, while also making 36 of 37 extra points. He will play at Salve Regina University.
Reardon was a second-team All-Shore pick by SSN with 52 tackles and four interceptions. He also caught 12 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns. Wild was the Bucs’ top offensive lineman and Mitchell was a versatile player on both sides of the ball.
After going 5-5 in 2014, Red Bank began the 2015 season with wins over Wall and Colts Neck to start 2-0. The Bucs would find out what they were made of over the next four games with wins over Ocean, Neptune, Central Jersey Group II champion Raritan and then Red Bank Catholic before the bye week.
“Raritan was our turning point,” Wild said. “Leading into it they were undefeated and we were undefeated. We knew we had to beat them.”
Following the bye week, Red Bank took care of Holmdel and Manchester to finish the regular season 8-0 and earn the No. 3 seed in the state playoffs. The Bucs shut out South Plainfield, 30-0, in the first round of the Central Jersey Group III playoffs to set up a rematch with Ocean in the semifinals. They went on the road and defeated the Spartans, 21-14, to reach their first sectional final since 2003. The next week Red Bank beat longtime rival Long Branch on Thanksgiving to officially clinch the Class B North division title, the first for the program since 1977.
The storybook season didn’t have a storybook ending, however, as the Bucs lost the Battle of Ridge Road to Rumson-Fair Haven, 24-21 in the Central Jersey Group III championship at Rutgers University. But months later and after some time to reflect, these Bucs couldn’t be more proud of what they accomplished.
“I was just honored to be a part of it, honestly,” Reardon said. “It was awesome and a good change of pace for us. Hopefully it sets the standard for years to come.”
What keyed the turnaround was a close-knit group that simply had enough of being mediocre.
“We were all determined, and we were tired of losing,” Mitchell said. “All the seniors, we sat down and talked about how we had to put it all together, and we did. A lot of us played together since we were young, so the chemistry was there the whole time. The juniors really stepped up and so did a few sophomores.”
On Thursday they’ll represent Red Bank one final time in front of thousands of fans at Central Regional’s Joseph J. Boyd Memorial Field, running onto the field to cheers as they did throughout their senior season.
“This is the last hurrah for me and probably the last time I’ll put on the pads,” said Reardon, who will attend the University of Michigan. “I wouldn’t want to go out any other way than with all the guys I played with.”
Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.