RED BANK - It’s the matchup everyone has been waiting for – No. 1 Red Bank Catholic versus No. 2 Mater Dei Prep.
The two Shore Conference powerhouses will meet in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group III final at MetLife Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 24 at 4:00 p.m. in a classic showdown that pits two teams stocked with enough D1 talent to field an All-Star team.
The Caseys were the unanimous preseason No. 1 team and validated that ranking by running the table with a perfect 9-0 record so far this season. As the No.1 seed, the Caseys received a first-round bye before shutting out fifth-seeded Pope John, 27-0, in the semifinals.
Pope John, who’s a member of the elite Super Football Conference in North Jersey, easily got by fourth-seeded Saint John Vianney, 33-12, in the first round. But even though Pope John entered the semifinal with a 2-8 record, all the talk centered on their strength of schedule and the teams they lost to, including powerhouses DePaul, Paramus Catholic, St. Joe’s Montvale, Don Bosco, Bergen Catholic and St. Peter’s Prep, and not the Caseys’ perfect record.
Feeling somewhat disrespected not only for themselves but for the Shore Conference as a whole, a motivated Caseys team took care of business in a rather workmanlike manner, easily dispatching Pope John while holding them scoreless and to just over 200 yards of total offense.
The Caseys did, however, move up a slot to No. 8 in this week’s NJ.com Top 20 football rankings following the win.
Saturday’s game is the Caseys’ second sectional final in five years when they defeated top-seeded Delbarton, 45-20, in 2014 to win its first state title since 1976.
Third-seeded Mater Dei also delivered a big blow to the SFC and heaped some added respect upon the Shore Conference when they upset second-seeded and defending champions DePaul, 28-23, in a wild game that went down to the wire.
DePaul had taken a 23-21 lead with 2:38 left in the game, but the Seraphs regained the lead, 28-23, on a 29-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Rob McCoy to junior wide receiver Clarence Lewis with 41 seconds remaining.
The Spartans took over at their 29-yard line with 35 seconds left and moved into the red zone on Penn State-bound Taquan Roberson’s 44-yard completion to junior tight end Charles Finley down to the 10-yard line with 10 seconds remaining. DePaul moved to the two-yard line with four seconds on the clock but Roberson’s last-ditch pass was knocked away by junior defensive back Tahaj Parland as time expired.
With the win, Mater Dei entered the NJ.com Top 20 for the first time this season at No. 15 even though they came into the game at 9-1 with their only defeat coming in a one-point loss, 34-33, to Connecticut Prep power Cheshire Academy, while DePaul entered the game ranked No. 8 in the state.
Saturday’s state final will be the third straight for Mater Dei when they try to win their second state title in three years with a win over the Caseys.
Mater Dei has a flair for the dramatic in winning big games. In their 26-20 victory over Holy Spirit to take the state title in 2016, it took a 50-yard Kyle Devaney hook-and-ladder lateral to Eddie Lewis off a pass from current Central Michigan quarterback George Pearson with three seconds left to win the game.
That was Mater Dei’s first championship in program history and it secured its first undefeated season as well at 12-0.
Saturday’s final will be the first meeting between the two schools since 2008 when the Caseys routed the Seraphs, 43-0.
Red Bank Catholic’s high powered offense is led by Boston College-bound, duel-threat quarterback Steve Lubischer, who's passed for over 1,200 yards and 17 touchdowns with only two interceptions and a completion percentage of close to 70 percent. He’s also rushed for 263 yards and five touchdowns holding a 9.4 yards per carry average.
His top targets are: Fordham-bound wide receiver M.J. Wright (29-465-6), senior Jayden Key (16-392-5) – a University of Pennsylvania commit, and Notre Dame-bound junior tight end Kevin Bauman (13-241-1).
Junior running back Billy Guidetti (99-719-9) gets the bulk of the carries with junior Kevin Degnan, who filled in for Guidetti when he was injured, rushing for 275 yards and a touchdown on 27 attempts.
Three-year starter Tommy Smith (6-foot-2, 285 pounds) anchors the offensive line that is big and athletic.
Senior linebackers John Columbia, Gino Tartamella and Steve Cmielewski and junior Charlie Gordinier, who has a number of D1 offers, including University of Pittsburgh and Rutgers, form one of the most feared linebacker units in the state.
Seniors Adam Demurjian, Ambrose Richards, Smith and Ian Sullivan and sophomore Jake Louro man the defensive line that is big and physical.
Key, Wright, Degnan and senior safety Anthony Romano form a solid secondary that excels in coverage as well run support.
For Mater Dei, McCoy – a Camden Catholic transfer – has really come into his own after having to sit out the first four games due to transfer rules. He hands the ball off to junior running back Malik Ingram, who has rushed for over 1,200 yards and 20 touchdowns, as a bruising north-south runner.
Freshman running back Rajahn Cooper and sophomore Jahqual Talmadge backup Ingram.
Lewis, seniors Isaiah Alston and Gunnison Bloodgood and junior Isaiah Noguera, along with 6-foot-7 tight end Chris Autino, give McCoy dependable options at wide receiver and tight end that have produced nice numbers.
Senior Nolan Aloia – a 6-foot-5, 300 pound lineman – anchors the offensive line.
Boston College-commits Izaiah Henderson at defensive tackle and linebacker Shittah Sillah are the backbone of a very talented defense that also includes two-year starting linebacker Russell Ferrisi, who’s weighing numerous college offers, and senior linebacker Andre Spann.
Junior transfers Amir Coleman (Matawan) and Khurram Simpson (Montclair Immaculate) join Henderson on the defensive line along with Kajell Whyte and Malachi Treadwell.
Lewis, Parland and Noguera are at the corners with senior Sincere Saunders, who can also double at running back if need be, and Cologero Amorelli at the safety spots.
Anytime you have a No. 1 meeting a No. 2 there will be a lot of hype in the days leading up to the game. However, the Shore Conference hasn’t seen a game of this magnitude in quite some time, so the hype is justified and the game itself has the potential to be as good as advertised.