Red Bank Catholic falls to DePaul in NJSIAA Non-Public B football state championship
EAST RUTHERFORD -- Red Bank Catholic's quest for history and another state championship came to an end at the hands of DePaul Catholic on Friday night.
With revenge on their minds, DePaul rallied from a 10-point first-half deficit, took the lead in the third quarter, and held off a late charge to defeat the Caseys, 19-17, and secure the 2022 NJSIAA Non-Public B state championship on Friday at MetLife Stadium.
A 7-yard touchdown run by senior running back Anthony Almeida with 30 seconds left in the third quarter gave DePaul its first lead of the game and a blocked punt that resulted in a safety put the Spartans up by nine points with just over seven minutes left in the game. RBC rallied to pull within two points on a 10-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Frankie Williams to senior wide receiver Robert Stolfa with 3:22 left in the game, but DePaul turned the Caseys over on downs with 2:04 left and was able to run out the clock.
The state title is DePaul's eighth in program history and its first since 2019. Red Bank Catholic was attempting to become the first Shore Conference non-public football school to win back-to-back state titles. RBC defeated DePaul in last season's state final, 13-8.
"(DePaul) is a good football team and you knew it was going to be a battle," said RBC head coach Mike Lange. "I'm proud of our guys because that looked bleak with seven minutes to go, and to have a shot to win the game at the end, that's what Red Bank Catholic football is about. Our kids don't give up."
Senior running back/safety Sabino Portella concluded his exceptional career with 94 yards rushing and a touchdown plus seven tackles in the final football game of his career. A three-year, two-way starter for the Caseys on the gridiron, Portella is also a star wrestler who is signed to the University of North Carolina.
"He's a legend," Lange said. "For what he has at stake with where he's going, to come back and have the year he had...I don't care and I'm totally biased but he's the best player in the Shore."
Portella ran for a 4-yard touchdown run and Justin LaMorte kicked a 21-yard field goal in the second quarter to give RBC a 10-0 lead before DePaul tied the game at 10 late in the first half. Williams finished with 56 yards passing and a touchdown and 18 yards rushing. Senior wide receiver Najiah Rahman caught three passes for 32 yards.
Portella had 79 yards rushing and a touchdown at halftime behind an RBC offensive line that was winning the battle up front, but the tide turned in the second half. DePaul put the clamps on the Caseys' running game to allow just 32 yards rushing over the final two quarters. They also got after Williams with more regularity, forcing him from the pocket and sacking him three times. Senior defensive lineman Lucas Young had two key sacks in the fourth quarter, including one on RBC's last drive.
"They packed the box to take Sabino and Torin (Harmon) away and we missed some shots," Lange said. "They're a good football team and it's going to be every year with these guys. I'm proud to be our kids' football coach. They emptied the tank at the end there."
Red Bank Catholic scored on the second series of the game, but it was an extended possession thanks to the Caseys recovering a muffed punt at the DePaul 30-yard line. Portella and the offensive line did much of the heavy lifting on the drive with a few passes sprinkled in, but the drive stalled at the 4-yard line where LaMorte converted a 21-yard field goal attempt for a 3-0 RBC lead.
RBC then forced a three-and-out and got the ball back at its own 49-yard line with 9:55 left in the first half. Runs of 9 and 2 yards by Portella plus a holding penalty on DePaul put the ball across midfield and the Casey continued to pound the ball with Portella. He gained six yards and a first down to the DePaul 28-yard line, his first of six straight carries that concluded with a 4-yard touchdown run and a 10-0 RBC lead with 4:10 left in the second half.
At this juncture, RBC was controlling the game in the trenches and DePaul couldn't get untracked, offensively. That changed in an instant when Spartans freshman quarterback Derek Zammit hit sophomore wide receiver De'zie Jones for a 60-yard touchdown on the first play of the next series, igniting the DePaul sideline and cutting the RBC lead to 10-7.
"We thought it was a shot coming," Lange said. "We had a guy slip and that guy (Jones) is a weapon."
DePaul's defense then forced a three-and-out and took over at the RBC 49-yard line after the Caseys punted from their own 16. Zammit had an 18-yard scramble and completed passes to Keaon Jenkins and Jadin Johnson to advance the ball to the 4-yard line. The RBC defense held and forced a field goal attempt, which Luke Monteyne converted from 29 yards out to tie the score 10-10 with 16 seconds left in the first half.
RBC received the second-half kickoff but had to punt after gaining one first down. The teams traded punts on the first three series of the third quarter, including a phenomenal play by RBC punter VJ Muscillo to avoid a turnover or worse. With RBC punting from its own 31-yard line, the wind blew the snap just over Muscillo's head and he had to race back toward his own end zone to field the bouncing ball and somehow get a punt off cleanly. The ball took an RBC roll and was downed at the DePaul 41-yard line.
DePaul used that good field position, however, to drive for the go-ahead touchdown. A 19-yard pass from Zammit to Jhonson put the ball at the RBC 32-yard line and two plays later the freshman quarterback made, arguably, the play of the game. On third-and-7 from the RBC 29, Zammit's pass hit off the helmet of one of the DePaul linemen and deflected high into the air but he caught the deflection and raced 10 yards for a first down.
After Zammit hit tight end Jake Kucera for 10 yards and a first down, Almeida scored on a 7-yard touchdown run to give DePaul a 17-10 lead with 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
RBC had to punt on its next possession after a sack by Young on second down ruined the series, but Aidan Donohue returned the favor for the RBC defense with a sack and a 13-yard loss to force DePaul to punt. The punt was downed at the 6-yard line and RBC couldn't do anything in three plays. Then, DePaul brought the house and Stephen Fiorndino blocked Muscillo's punt out of the back of the end zone. The safety gave DePaul a 19-10 lead and possession back with 7:18 left in the game.
Red Bank Catholic needed a defensive stop and got it, getting the ball back at its own 37-yard line after the punt. On first down, Williams hit Rahman for 22 yards and then hit junior wideout Emanuel Ross for five yards. A false start made it third and 15 but Williams moved the chains with an 18-yard scramble, and a holding penalty on DePaul was tacked on to make it a first down at the Spartans' 19-yard line. Two plays later, Williams hit Stolfa and he extended the ball over the pylon for a 10-yard touchdown.
Down 19-17 with 3:22 left, RBC did not attempt an onside kick but did kick off short in hopes of creating a loose ball situation without yielding too much field position. DePaul fielded and downed the kick at its own 34-yard line, and the RBC defense did exactly what it needed to do by forcing a three-and-out and getting the ball back to its offense with 2:53 on the clock.
Red Bank Catholic had a chance to drive for the go-ahead score starting from its own 29-yard line, but DePaul stood tall and forced a turnover on downs to effectively end the game.
Over the last two seasons, RBC went 21-3, won two division titles and one state championship, reached two state finals, and set a new standard for Red Bank Catholic football.
"I'm proud of them," Lange said. "Tonight is not an asterisk on their careers. These seniors have been here the whole time I've been the head coach and I owe them a lot for what they've done for us on and off the field."
PHOTOS BY TOM SMITH
DePaul vs. Red Bank Catholic - Non-Public B state final