Don Bosco Prep was on the ropes, but in the end proved once again why it holds the definitive label as the best high school football team in the nation.
Elijah Shumate scored two of his three rushing touchdowns in the decisive fourth quarter to help the Ironmen fend off Bergen Catholic, 33-22, in a showdown of the Garden State’s best on Friday night at Granatell Stadium in Ramsey.
The latest chapter of this heated rivalry was broadcast live on MSG Varsity iO Ch. 14 and live-streamed exclusively on MSGVarsity.com.
Leonte Carroo and Jabrill Peppers also scored, while Kyle Sakowski had two big fourth-quarter interceptions on defense for Don Bosco, which improved to 4-0 and won its 39th straight contest.
"We had a good effort," Carroo, a Rutgers commit, said. "They came out strong and kind of punched us in the mouth, but we hit them back. It just goes to show what type of rivalry this is."
John Germano threw for 263 yards and three touchdowns to pace the Crusaders, who played a near perfect game until the opposition capitalized in the final quarter. John Tsimis registered 10 catches, 160 yards and two touchdowns, and Ryan Finkel added another score – one that gave Bergen Catholic a 22-21 advantage with four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
"We think we have a great team and we expect this out of our guys," Crusaders coach Nunzio Campanile said. "In the end, we made a couple of mistakes and it cost us."
Entering the fourth staring at possibly its first loss since Week 1 of the 2008 season, the Ironmen were lifted by Sakowski's first interception with 11:03 remaining. That play, followed by a big run from Peppers, set up Shumate's 1-yard score to give the Ironmen a 27-22 lead -- one they wouldn't relinquish.
Darius Hamilton later came through with a huge fourth-down tackle of Mike Gerst and enabled Don Bosco to start a new drive on its own 28-yardline with just over eight minutes to go. Shumate scored again shortly thereafter, putting the game out of reach.
Bergen Catholic did not wilt, though. Germano spearheaded another impressive comeback attempt, but Sakowski picked off the first-year quarterback in the end zone with 2:17 left to seal the thrilling triumph.
"Coach said at the half to play hard," Shumate said. "We came out a little off, but they're a good team with a great coaching staff."
Bergen Catholic opened the scoring when Tsimis struck midway through the first and then the Crusaders converted the 2-point attempt for an 8-0 cushion.
Carroo and Peppers scored on back-to-back drives in the ensuing quarter, but Tsimis leaped for an 8-yard scoring strike to hand his team the lead once again, 15-14, with 5:24 to go in the first half. Shumate enabled Don Bosco to enter halftime up, 21-15, by notching a 1-yard run with 48 seconds left.
The Crusaders have dropped nine straight to Don Bosco Prep. The last time Bergen Catholic got the best of its rival came in December 2004, when it won the Non-Public Group 4 final behind current NFL star Brian Cushing.
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter