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RED BANK – For a program that has become known for its explosive offenses during its ascent to elite status in the Shore Conference, it’s easy to forget that Red Bank Catholic has also fielded some punishing defensive units over the years.

Friday night marked the return of high school football in New Jersey, and in the first big test of the season for the RBC defense, it showed an ability to not only shut down a talented opponent but to rise to the occasion with the game on the line.

The Caseys, ranked No. 6 in the Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10, mounted a memorable goal-line stand with five minutes left in the game and then came up with a turnover at their own 5-yard line with 1:39 left to hold off No. 4 Mater Dei Prep, 10-3, in the Shore Conference season-opener at Count Basie Field.

CLICK HERE FOR A PHOTO GALLERY BY RICHARD O'DONNELL

Red Bank Catholic defensive end Alex Bauman had Mater Dei quarterback Alex Brown on the run all night. (Photo by Richard O'Donnell).

Trailing 10-3, Mater Dei began a drive from its own 22-yard line with 1:42 left in the third quarter having struggled to move the ball for much of the night. After moving to the 32-yard line, a 15-yard facemask penalty against RBC moved the ball across midfield. Later in the drive, a sideline penalty on the Caseys resulted in another 15 yards to move the ball to the RBC 18-yard line. After a four-yard run on second down, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave Mater Dei first-and-goal at the RBC 7-yard line.

After 45 yards in penalties put them on the hot seat, the Caseys defense found a way to keep the Seraphs out of the end zone. A five-yard run on first down by junior running back Ra’Jahn Cooper moved the ball to the 2-yard line but on second down, junior quarterback Alex Brown was stopped for no gain. On third-and-goal, senior linebacker Luke Guidetti stopped Cooper for a 1-yard gain to bring up fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

On fourth down, the handoff went to Cooper once again and this time it was junior defensive end Alex Bauman making the play. The 6-foot-5 Bauman shed a block just enough to get his right shoulder on Cooper, spinning him to the turf where senior safety Anthony Borriello came in to ensure he did not cross the goal line. RBC ball.

“We toughened up,” Bauman said. “We knew we had some bad penalties that brought us down here but we came together as a family and stepped up.”

“We practice this day-in and day-out so this is not a surprise to us,” said senior defensive tackle Jake Louro. “We work out tails off and it shows. Two years ago in the state championship (a 14-10 win over Mater Dei in the Group 3 state final) we did the exact same thing.”

The work wasn’t over yet, however. RBC was now at its own half-yard line and Mater Dei’s defense did its job by forcing a three and out and forcing the Caseys to punt from their own end zone. Mike O’Connor got the punt off in the face of a rush but Mater Dei now had the ball back at the RBC 26-yard line with 4:26 on the clock.

The Seraphs picked up a first down when Brown scrambled and found junior wide receiver Kyree Drake for 10 yards, moving the ball to the RBC 15-yard line. An offsides penalty on second down was followed by a 1-yard run by Cooper to give Mater Dei first-and-goal from the 5-yard line.

Then, there was some luck involved. Good for RBC. Bad for Mater Dei.

On first down, the shotgun snap to Brown was off the mark, and when he reached to his left to catch it the ball caromed off the helmet of Cooper, who was cutting to his right. The ball fell to the turf where sophomore linebacker Sabino Portella pounced on it. The Caseys were then able to take a knee and escape with the victory.

While the fumble was certainly a fortuitous bounce for the Caseys, the defense paid their dues over the prior 47 minutes. RBC held Mater Dei to 188 yards of offense and zero touchdowns. A 26-yard field goal by Jake Jacobson in the third quarter supplied the only points Mater Dei could post. It is the first time the Seraphs have failed to score a touchdown since Dino Mangiero took over as the head coach in 2016.

Red Bank Catholic wide receiver Najih Rahman made a great catch to provide the game's only touchdowns. (Photo by Richard O'Donnell).

“It was everybody,” said RBC first-year head coach Mike Lange, who earned his first career win. “Our thing with (Mater Dei) is it’s a 12-round fight. You need a lot of hands on deck. We preached that we’re going to have to play 20-plus kids to be in this game and that’s what we did. Our kids were resilient to the end and just kept battling and battling. That’s just how we play defense around here.

Bauman was especially impactful with a sack, multiple hurries and the monstrous stop on fourth and goal.

“I think you’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg with him,” Lange said. “He played about half a year last year because of injuries. Now you see we have another big-time Bauman here and he’s just going to get better.”

Mater Dei’s defense also played very well, particularly against the run where RBC had just 69 yards rushing. The Caseys’ defense set the offense up with great field position all night and RBC first cashed in on a 25-yard field goal by senior Mike O’Connor with 6:37 left in the first quarter.

The only touchdown of the game came in the second quarter when one of the Caseys’ newest players showcased his star potential. On a drive that started at the 31-yard line, senior quarterback Anthony Borriello found sophomore wide receiver Najih Rahman deep for a 48-yard gain down to the Mater Dei 21-yard line. Two plays later, Rahman made a great juggling catch for a 20-yard touchdown and a 10-0 RBC lead.

Rahman started as a freshman for St. Joseph Regional in Montvale last season before transferring to Red Bank Catholic during the offseason.

From there, the Caseys’ defense held down a talented Mater Dei defense by mostly bottling up the run and limiting any big plays in the passing game. Mater Dei ran for 130 yards but had only one big play, a 27-yard run by Cooper that led to Jacobson’s field goal. The Caseys’ pass rush kept Brown off balance all game and the secondary played tight coverage against an explosive group of receivers that includes senior Naran Buntin, who is committed to Kent State.

The win felt great, especially since it came against a program that has become a rival for RBC. But mostly, it just felt great to be playing football again.

“It’s awesome. We’ve been waiting so long, gone through all the periods where you can’t hit, can’t touch anybody,” Bauman said. “But we were ready and we came to play.”

“You step on the field, you look at the scoreboard, see the other team, and you feel it,” Lange said. “The whole experience. I’ve been playing football since I was 7-years old and that experience never gets old. To come back from where we came from, I’m happy for our kids.”

 

Box Score

No. 6 Red Bank Catholic 10, No. 4 Mater Dei Prep 3

Mater Dei PrepRed Bank Catholic
First downs148
Rushes-yards35-13023-69
Passing4-12-09-13-0
Passing yards5892
Penalties-yards6-4210-82
Fumbles-lost1-10-0

 

 1234F
Mater Dei Prep (0-1)00303
Red Bank Catholic (1-0)370010

 

Scoring summary

RBC – Mike O’Connor 25-yard field goal

RBC – Najih Rahman 20-yard pass from Anthony Borriello (Mike O’Connor kick)

MDP – Jake Jacobson 26-yard field goal

 

Individual statistics

RUSHING – MDP: Ra’Jahn Cooper 17-64, Alex Brown 11-18, Naran Buntin 2-16, Nisere Bell 2-12, Kyree Drake 1-11, Kody Gibbs, 1-5, Eric Harris 1-4; RBC: Anthony Borriello 9-31, Daniel Brewton 9-16, Robert Stolfa 1-14, Corbett Cimini 2-7, Lenny Loria 1-6, Team 1-(-5).

PASSING – MDP: Alex Brown 4-12-0 58; RBC: Anthony Borriello 9-13-0 92.

RECEIVING – MDP: Nisere Bell 1-17, Kyree Drake 1-10, Tafari Thompson 1-13, Ra’Jahn Cooper 1-13; RBC: Najih Rahman 6-89; Alex Bauman 2-3, Daniel Brewton 1-0.

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.