Junior Running Back Shoulders the Load on Game Winning Drive
ORADELL, NJ—After both teams suffered shocking losses in recent weeks, Bergen Catholic and St. Peter’s Prep squared off on the final day of the crazy 2020 New Jersey High School football season at Jack McGovern Field. A highly anticipated game every year, the two teams had a thrilling contest last season that went down to the wire.
St. Peter’s Prep would win that contest a year ago as standout quarterback, Tahj Bullock, threw a 27 yard TD pass to Jelani Mason with a half minute to play to lift the Marauders to a dramatic 33-30 victory. This year’s contest was originally supposed to be played on the final weekend of the regular season on November 7th. Moreover, it was supposed to be a match-up of No. 1 and No. 2 as both teams were undefeated at the time at 4-0.
However, in another example of how COVID-19 has just made a mess of things, the game was postponed after St. Peter’s Prep had a coronavirus issue develop during that week. The game was then moved to Thanksgiving Weekend, and Bergen Catholic was upset by arch rival Don Bosco in Oradell (21-20) on November 14th, and the Marauders fell in overtime to Seton Hall Prep (26-25) on Monday in West Orange.
The winner had a chance to still stake a claim to the No. 1 team in the Garden State with a win, and both teams played as if it were a Non-Public Group 4 Championship Game at Met Life Stadium in the Meadowlands. After both the Crusaders and Marauders combined for a total of 21 points over the first 15 minutes of play, the defenses took over, and stymied the two powerful offenses with hard hitting plays, especially in the secondary.
St. Peter’s Prep appeared to be in the drivers seat when Bullock connected with Sam Slade on a 37 yard bomb, and Sha’Zir Sullivan followed that up by finding Bullock in the end zone on a pass for the two point conversion, and a 15-14 lead with 11:16 to play. Bergen Catholic would respond though, and the response turned out to be the difference as the Crusaders pulled out the 22-15 win.
Led by junior running back, Ryan Butler, who had just less than half of his 31 carries for the game on the decisive drive, the Crusaders marched 83 yards over a span of 9 minutes and 21 seconds. Butler finished off the drive with a one yard plunge, and quarterback Steve Angeli followed that up with a pass to Christian Carti for the two point conversion, and a seven point lead with 1:55 remaining in the game.
Butler played a huge role throughout the contest. In addition to rushing the ball 31 times for a total of 137 yards, or an average of 4.4 yards per carry, Butler also had 3 receptions for another 104 yards, or an average of just under 35 yards per catch. One of those catches was a 65 yard reception for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead with 9:33 remaining in the opening half.
The Bergen Catholic junior also had a huge catch on the Crusaders first scoring drive of the game. After BC got a blocked punt from sophomore Malachi Mercr, the Crusaders got into scoring position when Angeli hooked up with Butler along the home team’s sideline for a first down inside the St. Peter’s Prep 10 yard line. Angeli would later score as time ran out in the first period for a 7-7 tie.
St. Peter’s Prep jumped out to a 7-0 lead on its first drive of the game as Bullock used both his arm and legs to make big plays while receivers Sullivan and Slade made big catches. Slade made a tremendous catch along the Marauders sideline while keeping both of his feet inbounds while Sullivan maintained tremendous concentration to hang on to the football despite absorbing a colossal hit from a Bergen Catholic hit at midfield, and then capped the drive with a 14 yard TD catch in the left corner of the end zone with 7:40 remaining in the first.
Bullock ended up completing only 40 percent of his 25 pass attempts, but still managed to throw for 151 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Bergen Catholic’s sophomore defensive end, D.J. Samuels, did his best to keep the St. Peter’s Prep QB in check by constantly applying pressure, and ending up with two sacks. The Crusaders defense finished with three sacks overall, and limited Bullock to just 31 yards rushing on 16 carries, or just under 2 yards per carry.
Angeli countered by completing 60 percent of his 15 passes for nearly 15.5 yards per completion while rushing 15 times for another 40 yards. Angeli threw and ran for a score while passing for a two point conversion to help account for 14 of the Crusaders 22 points. Sullivan, Slade, and Jaylan Sanchez combined to pull in 9 receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Each also had a highlight reel catch during the course of the contest.
Sanchez’s diving catch late in the third quarter not only helped the Marauders get out of a deep hole in terms of field position, but also set up the Marauders final touchdown of the contest early in the fourth. Mark Pretto (16 tackles) and George Rooks (13 tackles) played a huge role for St. Peter’s Prep on the defensive side of the football by accounting for over a third of the team’s 81 tackles in the contest.
Bergen Catholic’s defense would turn out to be a key factor though as it limited the highly powered offense of St. Peter’s Prep to just 10 first downs, 84 yards rushing on 28 carries for an average of just 3 yards per rush, and just 235 total yards while forcing the Marauders to punt 6 times. With the victory, Bergen Catholic finished its season at 5-1 overall while St. Peter’s Prep closed out the 2020 campaign at 4-2.
The game also marked the end of the head coaching career of St. Peter’s Prep’s Rich Hansen, who announced his decision to step down earlier this fall after over 30 years at the helm, and will focus solely on being the school’s athletic director. His son, Rich Hansen III will become the head coach next season.