Undisputed: Red Bank Catholic tops Donovan Catholic to secure No. 1 ranking in the Shore
TOMS RIVER – The debate is settled. After 10 weeks of regular season games, we finally have an undisputed No. 1 team in the Shore Conference.
Senior wide receiver Emanuel Ross ripped off a 74-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage, junior quarterback Frankie Williams ran for a touchdown later in the first quarter, and the Red Bank Catholic defense made two clutch stops in the final four minutes as the Caseys, ranked No. 2 in the Shore Sports Network Shore 16, took down No. 1 Donovan Catholic, 14-7 on Friday night, to win the American Division championship and cement themselves as the top team in the Shore.
The touchdown runs by Ross and Williams put the Caseys (8-1, 5-0) up by two scores in the first 12 minutes of the game and the defense did the rest with big plays by defensive linemen Logan Graham and Lorenzo Portella, freshmen defensive end Lorenzo Tartamella, senior linebacker Davin Brewton, and senior defensive back Stephen Meyers to stop the Griffins (7-2, 4-1) and win their third straight division title. RBC has now won 14 consecutive games against Shore Conference opponents and completed back-to-back unbeaten seasons within the powerful American Division.
“This one was personal,” Graham said. ‘All week it was Donovan. After that (28-7) loss two years ago; that didn’t sit well with us. We came out and played our game and got the win. A big rivalry win.”
“We take a lot of pride in (being the No. 1 team in the Shore) and I think somewhere along the line people forgot who we were,” Ross said. “We beat them last season and have the longest active winning streak vs. the Shore, so I thought it was pretty disrespectful we were No. 2 going into this game and that they had their senior night today. We had to take it from them.”
Red Bank Catholic owned the first half with its defense holding Donovan to 24 yards and only one first down. The Griffins picked it up in the second half, particularly on the ground where senior quarterback Todd Lambertson and sophomore running back Najee Calhoun combined for 124 yards rushing after gaining just 22 combined yards over the first two quarters.
The Griffins kept kicking at the door in the third quarter, moving to the RBC 28-yard line on their second series before sophomore quarterback Zach LaBarca – inserted for Lambertson on fourth and eight – was stopped for a one-yard gain by Tartamella and junior linebacker Jamie Gutridge to force a turnover on downs. Donovan’s defense then forced a punt and the offense took over at its own 35-yard line. On the second play, junior wide receiver Michael Thomas III caught a pass over the middle for a 20-yard gain that moved the ball across midfield. Lambertson followed with a 17-yard run down to the RBC 29-yard line and on third down Calhoun got to the edge for a 23-yard touchdown run. Now it was a ballgame with RBC’s lead trimmed to 14-7 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
As well as the RBC defense had played up to that point, it would all be for naught if the Caseys couldn’t get a few more stops to close out the victory.
Donovan was on the move after getting the ball back at its own 20-yard line with 8:04 left in the game. Calhoun and Lambertson combined to run the ball to the 47-yard line where Thomas got loose for a 30-yard run down to the 23-yard line. The Griffins’ fans were buzzing and the home sideline was ready to erupt, but the Caseys' defense only allowed them to advance three more feet. After stuffing Donovan on three straight plays, Myers broke up a pass on fourth and nine to force a turnover on downs with 3:31 to play.
RBC ran the ball on six straight plays, gaining one first down and, more importantly, forcing Donovan to burn through its remaining timeouts. The Griffins stopped the Caseys on third and 12 to force a punt but RBC senior VJ Muscillo boomed a perfect 51-yard punt with great hang time, allowing the coverage team to race downfield and stop the ball at the Donovan 8-yard line.
The Griffins had 92 yards to go and no timeouts with 57 seconds on the clock. Lambertson scrambled for 20 yards on second down but Graham pressured him into an incompletion on the next play. Then, Tartamella sacked Lambertson and forced a fumble (that Donovan recovered) on second down. On the game’s final play, Lambertson scrambled in an attempt to find an open receiver but was dropped for a one-yard gain as the final seconds ran down.
“I love how we came together as a team at the end,” Graham said. “Whenever we need a stop we’re going to get one, that’s how I feel with our defense. When we’re in that position we’re always going to get the job done.”
Since a season-opening 24-6 loss to state No. 1 Bergen Catholic on August 25, the Caseys have won eight straight games, including wins over Seton Hall Prep, Rumson-Fair Haven, Colts Neck, Middletown South, and Toms River North. They may not have been ranked at the top all year heading into Week 9, but they earned it by settling the discussion on the field. Following a win over Howell in Week 7, everything was in front of RBC with games against Toms River North and Donovan to close out the regular season. The Caseys answered all the questions.
“It starts with the way we practice,” said RBC head coach Mike Lange. “Our motto is we practice to beat everyone. We managed them during the week to get them here because we were dinged up, so to get through the gauntlet, I’m proud of them. “It’s a great win.”
“Consistency is key,” Ross said. “You have to put in the same work every single week so you can have the same production every single week and get the job done.”
Speaking of consistency, that would be Ross finding the end zone on a weekly basis. The fans were barely settled into their seats when Ross, a Stanford University commit, took a jet sweep on the game’s first offensive play and sprinted 74 yards for a touchdown and an immediate 7-0 RBC lead. It was Ross’s 12th total touchdown this season and second rushing touchdown.
“I knew I was going to score,” Ross said. “Coach Rosie (Offensive coordinator Mike Rosenfeld) drew that play up on the bus before we got here. I said I don’t want to waste any time, I want to put up points.”
“That gets the heart pumping and it got the defense going,” Graham said.
Aside from the fireworks on play one, RBC’s defense didn’t find much room against a strong Donovan defense. Griffins senior defensive end Zaeir Day had another impactful game with a sack and a thunderous tackle for loss. His sack stopped an RBC drive at the Donovan 24-yard line but the Caseys were able to come back on the next series and march 56 yards in 10 plays to take a 14-0 lead. A 21-yard catch on third and nine by senior tight end Jack Bohm-Squicciarini set up Williams for a 12-yard touchdown run with 1:52 left in the first quarter.
RBC also had a drive that reached the Donovan 36-yard line but Williams had his pass intercepted by Donovan’s Emanuel Gerena on third and eight.
The Griffins made it a game in the fourth quarter with Calhoun’s touchdown run but, with a Shore Conference championship on the line, the Red Bank Catholic defense stood tall to affirm its program’s status as the Shore’s best.
“It’s part of our goals at the beginning of the year,” Lange said. “Kudos to Dan (Donovan head coach Dan Curcione) in helping to put it together to make it game nine. It was a special environment, that hometown feel you really don’t get at MetLife. This is one we wanted.”
No. 2 Red Bank Catholic 14, No. 1 Donovan Catholic 7
|RBC (8-1, 5-0)||14||0||0||0||14|
|Donovan (7-2, 4-1)||0||0||0||7||7|
RBC – Emanuel Ross 74-yard run (Justin LaMorte kick)
RBC – Frankie Williams 12-yard run (Justin LaMorte kick)
DC – Najee Calhoun 23-yard run (Dante Priolo kick)
RUSHING – RBC: Emanuel Ross 4-78, Luke Wassef 12-55, Frankie Williams 16-42, Luke Lonczak 5-27, Matt Lonczak 1-6; DC: Todd Lambertson 12-76, Najee Calhoun 14-72, Michael Thomas III 4-23, Zach LaBarca 1-1, Roman Moyers 1-(-1).
PASSING – RBC: Frankie Williams 4-12-1, 39; DC: Todd Lambertson 6-16-0, 36.
RECEIVING – RBC: Jack Bohm-Squicciarini 1-21, Matt Lonczak 1-10, Luke Wassef 1-5, Emanuel Ross 1-3; DC: Michael Thomas III 1-20, Emanuel Gerena 2-6, Najee Calhoun 2-6, Roman Moyers 1-4.
INTERCEPTIONS – DC: Emanuel Gerena, 1-10.