Non-Public Group III Championship Preview
NON-PUBLIC GROUP III CHAMPIONSHIP
Sunday at 7 p.m. at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford
(1) Delbarton (9-1) vs. (2) Red Bank Catholic (10-1)
Delbarton's best win: 38-26 in semifinals over St. John Vianney (10-1).
RBC's best wins: 44-14 over three-time defending champion St. Joseph's-Montvale in semifinals; 35-7 over Central Jersey Group V finalist Manalapan.
Red Bank Catholic keys to the game:
1. Dominate up front.
RBC's offensive line manhandled a talented St. Joe's-Montvale defensive front in rolling up 333 yards rushing in the semifinals, so if it has that kind of performance against Delbarton, it should be another lop-sided Caseys' win. The group of juniors Liam Smith and Ryan Oneidas and seniors Nick Roy, Neil Horenburg and Ryan Kroeger, along with senior tight ends Steve Dnistrian and Jamie Gordinier, sets the tone for what RBC does, and if they are clearing big holes for Tommy Spernal, Mike Cordova, Nick Cella, Eddie Hahn and Co., it will be a long night for Delbarton.
2. Put Delbarton in obvious passing downs.
The Green Wave base everything they do around the running game, often lining up in the wildcat formation and mainly throwing on play-action on third down. If RBC can stuff them on early downs and force them into third-and-8, then it can unleash senior Doug Zockoll and it's other pass rushers. A lot of what Delbarton does is pretty simple off-tackle runs, power, counter - nothing RBC hasn't seen from other top teams already. The key is getting stops or negative plays on first down. On the passing downs, an important key will be RBC's linebackers tracking Delbarton's running backs out of the backfield because the Green Wave like to throw to their backs in space for big plays. RBC has talented cornerbacks, led by senior Mike DeMonte, that it can leave on an island in man coverage on the outside in order to attack the line of scrimmage on stunts and blitzes with its front seven, which also is a big advantage.
3. Take advantage of shots downfield.
St. John Vianney's Anthony Brown threw for 278 yards on Delbarton in the semifinals, so RBC's own junior standout, Eddie Hahn, should have plenty of opportunities with wideouts Nick Lubischer and Trevor Cowley. St. John Vianney had receivers running free for most of the game, so it simply comes down to execution and taking care of the ball for RBC.
4. Limit mistakes.
Delbarton showed in its semifinal win over the Lancers that it will punish teams for turnovers in the red zone, so RBC has to finish drives and avoid the type of plays that give the Green Wave the momentum back after the Caseys' have the Delbarton defense on its heels.
5. Play well on special teams.
This is an area that could allow Delbarton to hang right in the game even if RBC is moving the ball consistently. The Green Wave had a kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half right after a field goal as time expired in the first half against St. John Vianney, which shows how much its special teams can swing a game. RBC's special teams have been outstanding all year on kickoff and punt returns, and Hahn has been a solid punter, while senior Vince Gallo has been a reliable performer as the kicker. The Caseys also have multiple punt blocks for touchdowns this year, so if they can get the edge in this department, it shuts off another avenue for Delbarton to close the gap on them.
Have to stop: Andrew Papantonis, So., RB/DB
Junior running back Andrew Sanders may be a 1,000-yard rusher, but it's Papantonis who is the team's primary playmaker, as he displayed by putting on a show in the semifinals against St. John Vianney with 178 yards rushing, two rushing touchdowns, a receiving touchdown, and a kickoff return for a touchdown. They often lined him up in the wildcat and ran direct snaps to him for huge plays in the game. RBC has to send an early message that someone else will have to beat them and that the rotation of senior quarterback John Chiarolanzio and junior Matt Zebrowski are going to have to consistently move the chains with throws under pressure. Papantonis also is a threat on special teams and in the secondary, so he needs to be accounted for no matter where he is lined up.
Underrated player(s): Nick LaGrippo, Sr., LB; Dylan Murphy, Jr., LB
While Miami recruit Jamie Gordinier deservedly gets plenty of attention as RBC's top linebacker, LaGrippo and Murphy have also been outstanding. LaGrippo leads the team with 117 tackles and Murphy has 96. They will play a crucial role against Delbarton's running game out of the wildcat and other formations as well as the screen game.
X-factor: Eddie Hahn, Jr., QB
If Hahn is doing his usual dazzling job of breaking off big runs and being efficient and accurate in the passing game, the Caseys should be in great shape because their running game is already a lot to handle.
Notes: Red Bank Catholic is seeking its first state title since 1976 and its second title since the state playoff system was formed in 1974...This is RBC's first appearance in a state final since 1980..Head coach Jim Portela has a career record of 54-10 in six seasons...RBC can set a school record of 11 wins with a victory...Delbarton is gunning for its third state title overall and its first since 1998 in its 13th appearance in a state final...The last time the two teams played, Delbarton outlasted RBC 30-23 in double overtime in the 2011 Non-Public Group III semifinals...The Caseys can become the first non-public school from the Shore Conference to win a state title since St. John Vianney beat RBC in Non-Public South A in 1980...RBC's 498 points (45.3 ppg) scored are a school record and the most in the Shore Conference this season.