Red Bank Catholic shuts down DePaul to win Non-Public B state championship
EAST RUTHERFORD – For a calendar year they waited, the date circled in anticipation of a potential rematch with a playoff foe that ended their season in last year’s state final.
Red Bank Catholic finally had its third round with DePaul on Tuesday night, and with a state championship on the line, the Caseys delivered a title-worthy performance that secured another state crown.
Junior quarterback Frankie Williams tossed touchdown passes to senior wide receiver Emanuel Ross and senior running back Luke Wassef in the first half and the defense foiled a dynamic DePaul offense as RBC defeated the Spartans, 14-7, to win the NJSIAA Non-Public B state championship at MetLife Stadium.
A 24-yard touchdown pass from Williams to Ross answered a game-opening touchdown by the Spartans to knot the score 7-7. In the second quarter, Williams scrambled and connected with a wide-open Wassef for a 14-7 advantage. The defense took over from there and held DePaul to 193 yards of offense and limited standout sophomore quarterback Derek Zammit to just 97 yards on 8 of 21 passing. With the Spartans driving for a potential game-tying or go-ahead score in the final minute, senior defensive end lineman Logan Graham delivered a sack for a 16-yard loss, and on fourth down senior Isaiah Nash knocked down a desperation heave to clinch RBC’s fifth NJSIAA group/sectional championship and second in the last three years.
“This means everything,” Graham said. “Last year we didn’t get it done and it felt like crap. We had to sit with that all offseason. We did this for the last year's seniors. It was a great team effort and no better way to end the season.”
“Obviously we were waiting for this game the whole year,” said standout two-way senior lineman Lorenzo Portella. “After we lost last year and even first week against Bergen, we wanted DePaul so bad. We came out here today and got it back.”
Tuesday’s state championship game was the third straight in which RBC and DePaul met for the Non-Public B title. The Caseys completed an 11-1 season in 2021 with a 13-8 win over DePaul in the state final. Last season, the Spartans emerged victorious with a 19-17 victory. The rubber match saw RBC win its fourth group title to add another trophy to its championships won in 2021, 2018 (Non-Public Group 3) and 2014 (Non-Public Group 3). The Caseys also won the Parochial South B sectional title in 1976.
“It feels great,” Ross said. “After last year we knew the job wasn’t finished and we were going to come out this season with a task ahead of us. We got it done and I’m so proud of my guys.”
The Caseys’ defense was exceptional following DePaul’s game-opening drive when it drove 68 yards in 12 plays and took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Zammit. Junior running back Nolan James Jr. had a 23-yard reception down to the 5-yard line and the Spartans were able to punch it in on fourth-and-goal to strike first.
For the rest of the game, RBC allowed just 125 yards. Zammit completed just 38 percent of his pass attempts and James Jr. averaged just 3.7 yards per carry after entering with 1,333 yards on an average of 6.8 yards per rush. The Spartans managed just 79 yards rushing as a team on 32 attempts (2.5 yards per carry). Ross blanketed DePaul’s top receiver, junior De’zie Jones, and came up with several clutch pass breakups, none bigger than a deflection in the end zone on a fourth-and-10 from the 18-yard line with 6:49 left in the fourth quarter.
“That first drive was a fluke,” Graham said. “We got it together after that and shut them down. They couldn’t run the ball on us.
“They’re a really good offense but we’re a dynamite defensive team,” said RBC head coach Mike Lange said. “We made some adjustments and sometimes it’s simple. We had to play assignment football and tackle a little better.”
Williams’ stats were pedestrian but his play was anything but. The box score will show he completed 5 of 7 passes for 61 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 22 yards on 10 carries including sacks, but his impact went beyond the numbers. He had two clutch scrambles for first downs on RBC’s second scoring drive that provided the eventual game-winning points. The touchdown pass to Wassef came when Williams scrambled and bought enough time to connect with his running back for the score.
“The poise,” Lange said. “Between all the starts he’s had; maybe we didn’t put up a lot of points on the board but in a game like this it’s important you don’t turn it over and you manage the game, like at the end there with the clock winding down. All those things matter.”
After DePaul’s scoring drive to open the game, RBC answered with a five-play, 79-yard scoring drive of its own to tie the score. Wassef had a 23-yard run that moved the ball to the 46 and a roughing-the-passer penalty pushed the ball to the DePaul 31-yard line. Two plays later, Ross got open over the middle and Williams found him for a 24-yard touchdown. Justin LaMorte added the extra point to pull the Caseys even.
RBC then forced a three-and-out and got the ball back at its own 28-yard line with 1:48 left in the first quarter. Williams ran for 14 yards to convert a third-and-10 and Wassef had a 16-yard run to put the ball at the DePaul 42-yard line. A 9-yard run by Williams on third-and-6 moved the chains to the DePaul 29 and a pass interference penalty advanced it to the 12-yard line. On first down, Williams scrambled to his right and found Wassef wide open for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead.
That was the last time either team would reach the end zone, and it was enough for RBC to take home another championship because of what its defense did over the final three quarters. Senior Stephen Myers had a pass breakup on third down of the next DePaul drive and the Caseys then stopped the Spartans on fourth-and-4 from the RBC 34-yard line.
DePaul appeared to have tied the game in the third quarter but a 33-yard touchdown pass from Zammit to sophomore Mason James was negated by an illegal formation penalty. The Spartans next drive ended in a punt and its third drive of the second half was thwarted thanks to Ross’s pass breakup in the end zone. Zammit looked to Jones on a corner route but the Stanford-bound Ross read it perfectly and got his hand in to knock the ball away and force a turnover on downs.
“Seeing him line up in the slot, I knew they didn’t pull out the corner (route) all game,” Ross said. “He kind of stacked me a little bit but I knew he was going to break to the corner because there was room. I had to take that away and get my hand around.”
“He’s an elite receiver but he’s also a dynamite corner,” Lange said.
RBC chewed over five minutes off the clock late in the game before punting to DePaul. The Spartans took possession at their own 34-yard line with 1:14 left and moved to the RBC 31-yard line, but a big hit by junior linebacker Jamie Gutridge left Zammit hurt. He came off the field for only one play, but on that down Graham burst through the DePaul offensive line and sacked junior quarterback Gavin Bickford for a 16-yard loss that reloacted the ball back to the 46-yard line and brought up third-and-27.
“Our coach called a (stunt) where (Lorenzo) Tartamella went inside and I wrapped around, and they weren’t ready for it,” Graham said. The middle was wide open and it was a free run to the quarterback. It was awesome.”
Two incompletions later RBC had clinched the state championship. All that remained was for Williams to set up in victory formation and take a knee to run the final 25 seconds off the clock.
The Caseys lost in Week 0 to Bergen Catholic and didn't suffer another defeat the rest of the way en route to finishing 10-1. Along the way, they defeated Group 5 champion Toms River North, Group 2 finalist Rumson-Fair Haven, and Non-Public A semifinalists Donovan Catholic and Seton Hall Prep.
“It’s special for me because this group of seniors is the first I’ve had for all four years,” Lange said.
“Nothing’s perfect and I wish we could have had the three-peat tonight,” Ross said. “But I wouldn’t want it to end any other way than getting this win with these guys.”
1-Red Bank Catholic 14, 2-DePaul 7
|Red Bank Catholic (10-1)
D – Derek Zammit 1-yard run (Joey Cunningham kick)
RBC – Emanuel Ross 24-yard pass from Frankie Williams (Justin LaMorte kick)
RBC – Luke Wassef 12-yard pass from Frankie Williams (Justin LaMorte kick)
RUSHING – D: Nolan James Jr. 25-92, De’zie Jones 1-4, Derek Zammit 5-(-1), Gavin Bickford 1-(-16); RBC: Luke Wassef 14-85, Emanuel Ross 5-26, Frankie Williams 10-22, Luke Lonczak 5-13.
PASSING – D: Derek Zammit 8-21-0, 97; Nolan James Jr. 1-1-0, 17. RBC: Frankie Williams 5-7-0, 61.
RECEIVING – D: De’zie Jones 5-56, Nolan James Jr. 1-23, Elijah Burress 3-18, Derek Zammit 1-17; RBC: Emanuel Ross 3-33, Luke Krzyzkowski 1-16, Luke Wassef 1-12.