Return of the Caseys: RBC edges Mater Dei for Non-Public Group 3 title
EAST RUTHERFORD – For the past two seasons, Red Bank Catholic’s defense has been the second act to an offense stocked with Division I recruits that piles up points on a weekly basis. But in one of the Caseys’ most important games in school history, it was the defense that was as clutch as ever.
A goal-line stand with under five minutes to play kept RBC in front and another defensive stop in the final minute clinched a championship as the No. 1 Caseys outlasted No. 2 Mater Dei Prep, 14-10, to capture the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 3 state championship on Saturday night at MetLife Stadium.
An 80-yard touchdown drive to open the second half gave RBC a 14-3 lead and the defense forced three second-half turnovers along with the unforgettable goal-line stand to give the Caseys (10-0) their third state title and first since 2014. RBC (10-0) also finished off its first undefeated season since 1960 and cemented itself as the No. 1 team in the Shore Conference.
“It’s surreal, the craziest thing I’ve ever experienced in my whole life,” said senior two-way lineman Tommy Smith.
“I’m speechless right now,” said senior quarterback Steve Lubischer.
“It’s a heck of a feeling and it certainly didn’t come easy,” said RBC head coach Frank Edgerly. “This game had everything you could imagine.”
If football games were decided on yards gained, RBC would have been in trouble. Mater Dei’s ground attack churned out 344 yards rushing, including 250 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries by standout junior Malik Ingram. The Caseys were the epitome of the phrase ‘bend but don’t break’ on defense by shrugging off big plays and digging in their heels in the game’s biggest moments.
RBC stopped Mater Dei on downs on the game’s opening drive when senior linebacker John Columbia chased down Mater Dei quarterback Rob McCoy, holding him to four yards on fourth-and-11. Late in the first half, junior linebacker Charlie Gordinier dropped Ingram for a three-yard loss on third-and-4 from the 7-yard line, forcing the Seraphs to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Gavin Toth to conclude a 16-play drive.
The sequence that will live on forever in RBC lore, however, is the goal-line stand with just under five minutes left in the game. The Caseys had forced Mater Dei to punt from its own 18-yard line and got the ball back at the Seraphs’ 44-yard line with 7:39 left in the game. This was a chance to put in another score and deliver a final blow, but at the end of a 10-yard run by junior Billy Guidetti he was stripped and the fumble was recovered by Mater Dei’s Calogero Amorelli.
The Seraphs had life once again.
Mater Dei quickly went to work as Ingram broke a 31-yard run and followed it up with a 23-yard run to put the ball at the RBC 9-yard line. At this point, it seemed like a sure thing the Seraphs were going to take the lead, but RBC’s defense was not about to concede anything and buckled down for an epic stop that was the difference. Ingram gained four yards on first down but was stopped for no gain on second down. On third down, McCoy carried for two yards to the 3-yard line to bring up fourth-and-goal.
With the game hanging in the balance, RBC’s defense made its biggest play of the year when Gordinier, senior linebacker Steve Cmielewski and sophomore defensive lineman Jake Louro combined to stop McCoy after only one yard. Drive, stopped. Caseys ball.
“It was a double B-gap blitz with me and John Columbia,” Cmielewski said. “We knew it was going to be a run or play-action so we just came through and did what we had to do.”
“That’s toughness and character right there,” Edgerly said. “The thing that separates us from a lot of people is the investment our kids have made in each other as a team, and that showed up on that fourth-and-3.”
Backed up at their own 2-yard line, the Caseys weren’t yet out of harm’s way. A defensive stop by Mater Dei would have given the Seraphs a short field, so Edgerly gambled with a play-action fake. It paid off as Lubischer found a wide-open Kevin Bauman for 56 yards to immediately flip the field.
“The anticipation is obviously that everybody is geared up to stop the run and pinch inside, but that was one where the priority was to get Lubi on the edge as a run-pass option,” Edgerly said. “Fortunately, no one in the stadium covered Kevin and 50 yards later we reversed the field.”
“That was a great play call by coach Edgerly,” Lubischer said. “Even I didn’t see that coming.”
RBC kept it on the ground from there and forced Mater Dei (10-2) to burn two of its timeouts. Senior Ryan O’Hara then dropped a punt to the 14-yard line to pin the Seraphs deep with 2:35 to play. O’Hara averaged 46 yards per punt with a long of 51.
“Ryan O’Hara’s punting tonight is something that cannot be overlooked,” Edgerly said. “Especially the one at the end off a high snap. The way our defense was playing, forcing a team to drive 80, 85, 90 yards was big.”
Mater Dei moved the ball out to the 25-yard line and then hit a long pass down the sideline to Isaiah Alston, but the play was called back for offensive pass interference. The Seraphs were now backed up first-and-22 at the 13-yard line and the ball never moved from there. RBC forced four straight incompletions to set off a celebration three years in the making.
“(Mater Dei) played great defense, as well,” Edgerly said. “There were times our drives stalled out or we turned the ball over; the pendulum was swinging both ways tonight. This was one of those games you knew the margin of error was going to be very slim, and in the end, you can’t say enough about our defense.”
“For years we’ve been known for our offense but those guys that play predominantly defense develop a chip on their shoulder. This was an example where our defense picked up our offense. Our defense gave up one touchdown in eight quarters in the playoffs. This time of year you have to play defense, and down the stretch, it was our defense that pulled it out for us.”
Cmielewski led the RBC defense with a game-high 17 tackles, while senior safety Anthony Romano had an interception, seniors Jaden Key and MJ Wright forced fumbles and Gordinier, Sean Rossback and Gino Tartamella had fumble recoveries. Smith finished with 10 tackles while Gordinier had nine total stops and Bauman had eight tackles.
“We came together as a family,” Cmielewski said. “We just put our feet in the ground and came downhill on every play.”
Lubischer threw for 187 yards and ran for 39 yards and a touchdown, while Guidetti had a 3-yard touchdown run that stood up as the difference and also caught two passes for 60 yards. Key had two catches for 54 yards and Bauman had a 56-yard catch.
Mater Dei’s offense out-gained Red Bank Catholic 404-256 and rushed for 344 yards. Ingram had 250 yards rushing while McCoy added 93 yards rushing and 63 yards passing, but was held to 0-for-7 with an interception in the second half.
Senior linebacker Russell Ferrisi had 12 tackles for the Seraphs’ defense while senior linebacker Shittah Sillah had six tackles and a sack. Clarence Lewis had an interception and Amorelli recovered a fumble.
Red Bank Catholic took a 7-0 lead in the second quarter when Lubischer scored on an 11-yard touchdown run to cap an 85-yard drive. Key had a 42-yard catch on the drive and Columbia kept the chains moving when he ran a fake punt for 14 yards on fourth-and-6 from the 38-yard line.
Mater Dei trimmed its deficit to 7-3 at halftime when senior Gavin Toth connected on a 27-yard field goal with four seconds left in the first half.
The Caseys then took a 14-3 lead by opening the third quarter with a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Guidetti took a screen pass 44 yards to the Mater Dei 34-yard line and then converted a fourth-and-2 with a three-yard run at the Seraphs’ 26-yard line. Runs of 11 and nine yards by Lubischer set up Guidetti for a 3-yard touchdown and a two-score lead with 7:57 left in the third quarter.
“That was important. Both teams were kind of sitting on the edge of their seat waiting for the other one to explode,” Edgerly said. “To come out 7-3 at the half and take the first possession down for a score, that was critical.”
On the second play of the following drive, Romano intercepted McCoy to give RBC the ball back. Lewis returned the favor on the next play, however, by intercepting Lubischer at the 18-yard line. Mater Dei then drove 82 yards for a touchdown when McCoy ran for 20 yards and Ingram followed with a 51-yard touchdown run to cut RBC’s lead to 14-10 with 5:22 left in the third quarter.
The RBC defense made sure that would be the only time Mater Dei would find the end zone. The Caseys went for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 29-yard line but Mater Dei came up with what looked to be a game-changing stop when Tajay Passmore dropped Guidetti for a 2-yard loss. The Seraphs now had phenomenal field position and all the momentum, but two plays later Wright stripped McCoy at the end of a run and Gordinier pounced on the loose ball.
RBC had to punt from its own 12 and Mater Dei started its next drive from the Caseys’ 47-yard line, but a fumble recovery by Tartamella gave RBC the ball back again. Next game the goal-line stand and the final defensive stop to seal the state championship.
When Edgerly returned to the Red Bank Catholic sidelines three seasons ago, the current class of seniors made their varsity debut as sophomores. The Caseys went 5-5 in 2016 – a far cry from their six-year stretch from 2010 to 2015 where the program went 49-9 – but the foundation was being constructed for this season’s title run. The Caseys went 8-2 last season and are now undefeated state champions for the first time in 58 years.
“It’s satisfying,” Edgerly said. “The best teams year after year are the teams that hold themselves accountable. This senior group is in a class of its own.”
As Mater Dei’s final pass fell incomplete and RBC had officially clinched the title the Caseys finally exhaled. Mission accomplished.
“I was already in tears at that moment, just hoping we were going to come away with it,” Lubischer said. “We did it.”
"The Caseys are back, baby," Smith said.
Red Bank Catholic 14, Mater Dei Prep 10
|Mater Dei Prep||Red Bank Catholic|
|Mater Dei (10-2)||0||3||7||0||10|
|Red Bank Catholic (10-0)||0||7||7||0||14|
RBC – Steve Lubischer 11-yard run (Ryan O’Hara kick)
MDP – Gavin Toth 27-yard field goal
RBC – Billy Guidetti 3-yard run (Ryan O’Hara kick)
MDP – Malik Ingram 51-yard run (Gavin Toth kick)
RUSHING – MDP: Malik Ingram 34-250, Rob McCoy Jr. 14-93, Isaiah Noguera 1-2; RBC: Steve Lubischer 12-39, Billy Guidetti 13-20, John Columbia 1-14, Steve Cmielewski 2-(-1), Kevin Degnan 1-(-2).
PASSING – MDP: Rob McCoy Jr. 5-14-1 63; RBC: Steve Lubischer 7-13-1 187.
RECEIVING – MDP: Isaiah Noguera 2-52, Malik Ingram 2-9, Isaiah Alston 1-0; RBC: Billy Guidetti 2-60, Kevin Bauman 1-56, Jaden Key 2-54, Kevin Degnan 2-17.
INTERCEPTIONS – MDP: Clarence Lewis 1-0; RBC: Anthony Romano 1-0.
Managing 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.