Raritan Secures Playoff Spot, Fifth Straight Win With Big Third Quarter to Topple Red Bank
By Ella Brockway - Student Contributor
LITTLE SILVER — On a first-and-10 with 9:14 left in the third quarter of Friday night’s game against Red Bank (3-5, 3-3), the Raritan Rockets (5-3, 3-2) pushed their way into the playoffs.
A 33-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Marc Carnivale to junior wide receiver Dan Vanmeerbeke gave the Rockets a 21-13 lead in what had been a close tie game at 13. The next three touchdowns, all scored in the following eight minutes off of another pass, an interception return and a one-yard run caused by a blocked punt, sealed the deal.
The four-touchdown third quarter performance gave Raritan the 41-13 win over Red Bank and extended the Rockets’ win streak to five while clinching the eighth and final playoff spot for the defending NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II champions.
“Our guys knew that we had to win to get into the playoffs, and they knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” said Raritan head coach Anthony Petruzzi. “They gave everything they had, and I’m proud of them for coming back in the second half and putting some drives together.”
Carnivale finished with 181 all-purpose yards, and threw for 131 yards on seven completions and two touchdowns. Raritan running back Vito Aleo rushed for a team-high 74 yards and three touchdowns.
“We said (before) the game that we had to continue to believe in each other, and that everyone has a role on the field and a job to do,” said Petruzzi. “So we said, ‘Hey, do your job, and when it’s your turn to make a play, let’s make it.’”
The Rockets were the first on the scoreboard late in the second quarter off of an 8-yard touchdown run from Aleo. Aleo now has 669 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns on the season.
Aleo scored again with two minutes left in the first half on a 1-yard run into the end zone after the Raritan defense recovered a muffed punt to put the Rockets up 13-0.
The Red Bank offense came fighting back after Aleo’s second touchdown. Senior running back/athlete Chris Brannagan rushed 51 yards on a first-down carry to the fifteen yard line with less than a minute left in the second quarter, setting up a 13-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Stephen Navitsky to senior Chris Outterbridge on fourth down as the half ended.
The momentum going into the second half was with the Bucs, as Brannagan returned the opening kickoff for 90 yards and a touchdown to tie the game at 13-13. Brannagan finished with a team-high 166 all purpose yards. It was after this touchdown, said Petruzzi, when the Rockets realized what was on the line, and clicked into motion.
“Our defense took that last touchdown personally, and they came into the locker room at the half and really focused in,” said Petruzzi. “They knew that there were some adjustments that we had to make, communication-wise, but they really trusted each other and they executed.”
Raritan responded with 28 unanswered points off of four touchdowns in the third. Carnivale threw two passes, both to wide receiver Dan Vanmeerbeke to put the Rockets up 27-13. Senior defensive back Rory Sullivan intercepted a Red Bank pass attempt and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown at the 3:24 mark, and Vito Aleo collected his third score of the night with a 1-yard run after the Raritan defense blocked a Bucs punt.
“We definitely stepped up in the third,” said Aleo. “We knew going into the half that we had to pick it up, and it was tight, but we just came out and executed.”
The Raritan defense stopped any hopes of a Red Bank comeback early in the fourth. Senior defensive back Alex Garcia had two sacks for a total of 12 yards on the Bucs’ quarter-opening drive. Junior running back Jarrett Valdez, who filled in at the end of the game for Aleo, had 36 rushing yards on six carries during the fourth.
The win puts the defending sectional champions back into a spot in the Central Jersey Group II playoffs. The Rockets’ final game of the regular season is on November 24 at home against Holmdel, while the Bucs will face Long Branch on the road on the same day.
But for now, Raritan’s focus is on the playoffs, and on starting another underdog championship run like last year.
“We just wanted to get in,” said Petruzzi. “We’re going to take it one game at a time like we did (last year), and hope that we can keep this journey going.”
Raritan 7 6 28 0 41
Red Bank 0 7 6 0 13
Raritan - Vito Aleo: 14-73, Collin Powers: 6-23, Marc Carnivale: 4-50, Jarrett Valdez: 6-36 Total: 182 yards
Red Bank - Tyrese Morris: 9-18, Chris Brannagan: 6-76, Stephen Navitsky: 1-1, Makai Mickens: 5-40, Jalen Willis: 2-6, Nigel Mitchell: 2-9, Aiden Butler: 1-1 Total: 151 yards
Raritan- Marc Carnivale: 7-11-0-131 Total: 131 yards
Red Bank - Stephen Navitsky: 4-10-1-50, Donovan Turner: 1-1-0-9 Total: 59 yards
Raritan - Vito Aleo: 1-1, Collin Powers: 2-26, Dan Vanmeerbleke: 2-72, Rory Sullivan: 1-32 Total: 131 yards
Red Bank - Chris Brannagan: 2-33, Chris Outterbridge: 1-13, Danny Wagner: 1-4, Gavin Mahoney: 1-9 Total: 59