RED BANK - Red Bank Catholic's first season-opening loss in four years came at the hands of the No. 1 team in the state and the No. 23 team in the country, but a 24-6 setback to Bergen Catholic on Friday night did have some positives for the Caseys to build on in the coming weeks.

"I'm not into moral victories, you know that, but this will make us better," RBC head coach Mike Lange told his team in his postgame speech.

The Caseys will look to bounce back next week when they travel to Colts Neck for a nondivisional game against a familiar face, Cougars head coach Matt Ahearn, who was formerly RBC's offensive coordinator on multiple division and state championship squads.

Here are my takeaways from Friday night's nonconference showdown between two of the top non-public programs in the state at Count Basie Field.

RBC's defense looks to be the backbone of the team.

The Caseys' defense generally held their own against an explosive offense featuring a host of FBS talents. Don't forget, this is the same Bergen Catholic team that detonated fellow powerhouse Don Bosco Prep 45-0 in last year's NJSIAA Non-Public A final.

While Rutgers recruit Kaj Sanders got loose for touchdown runs of 39 and 11 yards, the Crusaders only had two other runs of 10 or more yards in the game and one of them was a harmless 10-yard run on 3rd-and-24.

The Caseys' linebacking crew led by Pittsburgh recruit Davin Brewton and senior Luke Wassef tackled well in space. Wassef was impressive with an interception on a tipped pass in the first quarter and a hit for a loss, and Brewton also had a sack and a hit for a loss. It's not going to be easy for teams to run the ball against this defense.

They also only got beat up top once by Bergen Catholic quarterback Dominic Campanile when he found wideout Anthony Perrotti for a 35-yard touchdown down the sideline in the final seconds of the second quarter. They limited Campanile to underneath throws and short throws on the run against a group of wide receivers that includes multiple FBS talents.

Lange trusted his defense so much he went for it on 4th-and-1 from RBC's own 33-yard line in the second quarter. The Caseys got stuffed, but the defense responded to the adversity by getting a three-and-out keyed by an 11-yard loss on a sack by Brewton.

RBC also covered pretty well in the secondary given that Campanile often had time to throw behind the Crusaders' mammoth offensive line, which includes massive 6-foot-8, 315-pound tackle Nyier Daniels, who is committed to reigning national champion Georgia. You could put him in an NFL game right now and he would look the part.

That human mountain (#79) is Georgia recruit Nyier Davis of Bergen Catholic.
That human mountain (#79) is Georgia recruit Nyier Davis of Bergen Catholic. (Photo by Scott Stump)

RBC's defense also got tougher as the game went on, limiting Bergen Catholic to just seven second-half points.

Emanuel Ross is more than just a game-breaking wide receiver

We all know the Stanford recruit is one of the most explosive wideouts in the state, but the RBC senior showed a lot more than that on Friday night. He was relatively quiet offensively with 5 catches for 57 yards, although he did have a great second effort to break a few tackles on a 13-yard catch that set up Jamie Gutridge's 3-yard score for RBC's only points.

However, Ross was outstanding at cornerback. He was frequently matched up in man with Bergen Catholic's 6-foor-4, 205-pound junior wideout Quincy Porter, a four-star recruit with offers from the likes of Georgia, Michigan, and Florida State. Porter had 3 catches for 32 yards, and none in the second half.

"I've said that that's the corner he is," Lange said about Ross. "I mean that kid over there is a five-star kid with every offer in the country, and he really didn't kill us. And we were playing him man. I know (Ross is) an offensive guy, but he's a hell of a defensive player, too."

The Caseys are a cohesive team

Down 24-0, it looked like it was heading toward running clock territory, but RBC buckled down and fought to keep the Crusaders off the scoreboard for the rest of the second half.

A team that's had as much success as RBC could easily start pointing fingers or pack it in when things don't go their way, but they stuck together and stayed in the game.

"I think that one thing that was very comforting was there was a couple of spots where this could've gotten ugly," Lange said. "We didn't bend, we didn't fold up the tent, and that's encouraging. It says a lot about the character of the kids that we have here, and I think we'll build from it."

RBC's special teams will be a weapon. 

With Ross as a dangerous return man on punts and kickoffs and sophomore Johnny Williams returning a kickoff past midfield on Friday night, they have some playmakers on returns.

Also, senior V.J. Muscillo boomed multiple punts against a heavy rush that helped tilt field position. After hitting one off the side of his foot from his own end zone for a 20-yard punt against a swarming rush in the first quarter, he bombed a 48-yard punt and followed that with 59-yard blast after RBC's next possession. His ability to flip the field and allow RBC to play to their defense could be a real factor.

RBC punter VJ Muscillo was able to flip field position with some booming punts. (Photo by Scott Martin).
RBC punter VJ Muscillo was able to flip field position with some booming punts. (Photo by Scott Martin).

RBC's kicker, senior Justin LaMorte, is another talented part of the group. He only handled kickoffs on Friday because the Caseys went for two on their lone touchdown.

Senior Luke Krzyzkowski is ready to emerge as one of the Shore's best tight ends

This is good for RBC and bad for reporters everywhere who have to repeatedly try to spell his name correctly. Krzyzkowski had 3 catches for 52 yards in the loss and looked like a playmaker with his ability to go across the middle for the Caseys. He's a large target at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds and showed he is sure-handed even while taking a big hit from a safety.

His ability to make catches over the middle could be crucial in making teams pay if they roll a safety over to Ross' side to try to double him.

The offense needs work

This was a question mark we mentioned in the Shore Sports Network podcast about whether RBC would be able to consistently move the ball and put up points against high-level defenses, which was an issue last year.

The Caseys finished third in the Shore in scoring at 33.9 points per game last year, but they were shut out in a loss to Seton Hall Prep in the regular season and held to 17 points in the Non-Public B final by DePaul.

Now, part of Friday night's struggles could certainly be that Bergen Catholic's defense is going to make a lot of teams look bad this year because they have scholarship guys all over the place.

The Caseys did not have a first down or a completed pass until the final seconds of the first half when the Crusaders were just sitting back in a prevent defense to stop any Hail Mary-type touchdowns. RBC also struggled in the run game until the score got a little lop-sided.

Junior quarterback Frankie Williams was on the run all night from the Crusaders' pass rush. Plays where he saw daylight and broke the pocket turned into only short gains because of the speed of BC's linebackers and edge defenders coming from the backside. Those will most likely be much bigger gains against Shore Conference defenses.

It felt like the game slowed down for him a little more in the second half, but that was after it was already 24-0.

"I don't know how many Power 5 guys they have, but I think (Williams) is going to watch the film and see some of the things could've been simpler for him than they were," Lange said. "We'll get better. He's going to be fine."

The bigger question is who may emerge as RBC's feature back as they try to replace graduated star Sabino Portella. The Caseys have had an assembly line of stud tailbacks going back nearly 20 years, but this may be the first year in a while that there's no clear cut guy from the start.

On Friday night, four different running backs carried the ball, none of them more than five times. Their leading rusher was junior Matt Lonczak with 40 yards. Junior Jamie Gutridge scored their lone touchdown on a 3-yard run.

"I think we saw that's going to be the collection (of running backs) over the year," Lange said. "They all play defense, but sometimes you want to get a hot hand. We just couldn't find it. I think better days are ahead for them as far as that."


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