ANNAPOLIS, Md. – All good things must come to an end, and the defending national champions learned that the hard way in their season opener.
Don Bosco Prep, which entered the 2012 campaign ranked No. 1 in the MSG Varsity Tri-State preseason poll, had hoped to defend its illustrious title and extend its portly winning streak this opening weekend, but found itself in a rare position: outside the winner’s circle.
Doomed by a futile effort on special teams and a lack of fluid execution on the offensive end, the Ironmen saw their 46-game winning streak come to a screeching halt as Gilman (Md.) rallied late and shocked the high school football universe by pulling out an ugly 13-6 win at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.
Thanks to the sterling, past contributions from a bevy of current Division I stars and the daring proposition to compete outside the Garden State, Don Bosco had constructed a dynasty that spanned over the entire country for the last few years.
Rattling off six straight state championships and clinching a national crown in two of the last three seasons transformed the Ramsey school into a household name from coast to coast, treating the Garden State to a front-row seat of football in its finest form.
After falling to St. Xavier (Ohio) on September 13, 2008 by a 17-10 margin, legendary coach Greg Toal and his team knocked off nine out-of-state foes -- including Gilman, 33-6, in September 2010 – during its remarkable run.
But glistening memories were washed away when Gilman’s Maryland-bound quarterback Shane Cockerille hurled his frame into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown with 4:27 remaining in the fourth quarter, handing Gilman the lead for good.
"As a captain, I take full responsibility for this," lineman Razohnn Gross uttered with dejection. "We have to work so much harder. I haven't lost a football game here before. I'm speechless. I don't know what to say."
He wasn't alone. There was no sign of Toal’s famous “Can anybody beat Don Bosco” rally chant after each triumph, because that question had already been answered with a harsh truth. The fact is, the Ironmen appeared drastically flawed.
Perhaps this shocking outcome was a coincidence in Week 1, since the two longest winning streaks in the tri-state area were snapped in a 24-hour span. St. Anthony of Long Island had its 29-game run popped by fellow North Jersey powerhouse Bergen Catholic on Friday night.
Whatever the reasoning, the forensic evidence portrays a cloudy future for the Ironmen and their winning tradition. With tough games ahead against Florida juggernaut St. Thomas Aquinas next week and four upcoming tilts against teams inside the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, you have to wonder if their struggles against Gilman are a dark foreshadowing of things to come.
Toal was the first to admit a deflated feeling wrapped its tentacles around his squad by saying, “At this point, I don’t think we are a very good football team. I am not hiding from that -- we are not a good football team at this point.”
In the first quarter, Don Bosco looked like the vintage freight train it has been. The defense, anchored by an inspiring outing from high-profile recruit Alquadin Muhammad, forced the opposition into a three-and-out on the first possession and then marched down the field for a quick, 1-yard touchdown run by Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks with 8:36 to go in the frame.
But Gilman adjusted and somehow, someway changed the DNA of how a typical Ironmen contest unravels. A missed PAT and field goal kept the Greyhounds in the game. And with 22 seconds left before the half, Micah Kiser, a Virginia recruit, intercepted Frank Nutile’s pass attempt and ran 68 yards to knot the count at 6-6.
Forced to punt on each possession eventually catches up to a team, especially against another who possesses some national credibility. Bosco couldn’t find a rhythm on offense, and those shortcomings eventually led to Cockerille sealing the upset with his score late in the fourth.
To make matters worse, Bosco exits Week 1 knowing Bergen Catholic turned a lot of heads with its 59-point explosion and obvious chemistry.
The Ironmen figured it’d take time for the new faces in new positions to jell, but no one ever guessed New Jersey’s premiere team would be desperately scrambling for solutions this early.
You got the feeling a dynasty ended on this rain-soaked night, based on the solemn expressions worn by each member of the team and its staff, walking toward the bus. Of course, that won't be the case if Don Bosco can catch fire and clinch another championship.
For now, though, this group has a lot to prove by building from the ground up.
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter