Greg Toal says this is the one everybody remembers. Nunzio Campanile admits this is the game he and his team look forward to the most.
Nobody in North Jersey – or even the nation, for that matter – will argue against Don Bosco Prep and Bergen Catholic comprising one of the most celebrated rivalries in high school sports.
So naturally, the latest installment didn't disappoint.
Daivon Ellison recovered a muffed punt late in the fourth and provided good enough field position for Cameron Baels to drill a 25-yard field goal with 70 seconds remaining as the No. 1 Ironmen posted a thrilling 20-17 victory over the No. 5 Crusaders on Saturday afternoon at Overpeck Park.
"It was the first time I've ever done something like that," Baels said. "I owe it to my teammates for getting us to that position. I can't kick an 80-yard field goal. It's an amazing feeling."
Don Bosco (6-1), which retained the top spot in MSG Varsity's Tri-State Top 25 poll, has won 11 straight and 19 of 22 over its rival. As much as this triumph is about Baels coming through in the clutch, the boys in maroon and white have Ellison's toughness to thank.
The 5-foot-8, 170-pound sophomore paved the way for Mike D'Alessandro's interception late in the third by emphatically laying a ferocious block on BC's John Feaster, and he later scooped up the opposition's biggest turnover of the afternoon which led to Bael's golden kick. For good measure, Ellison -- playing with a broken hand -- was one of the few to hop on a fumble during the Crusaders' last-ditch comeback effort in the waning seconds to seal the deal.
"This was very emotional," Ellison said. "There was a lot of hype and the atmosphere was crazy."
Immense drama began to stew late in the third. It appeared Bosco was on its way toward cruising to the finish line when Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks hauled in a 51-yard pass from Frank Nutile and ran it in to erase a four-point deficit, claiming a 17-14 cushion with 2:27 remaining in that stanza. That score was made possible by D'Alessandro's interception near midfield moments prior, the same play in which Ellison crashed into Dawson and gave his UNC-bound teammate ample room to grasp the ball.
"I tried to help the team any way I can," said D'Alessandro, who is slated to play lacrosse for the Tarheels. "They're a great team every year, but we came to play and we beat 'em. That's it."
True to form, the Crusaders didn't go away easily.
Bergen Catholic kicker Ryan Rose -- looking to shake the demons of missing a PAT in the epic 38-37 overtime loss to St. Joseph Regional weeks ago -- converted a 25-yard field goal with 4:38 left in the fourth to pull even at 17-17.
However, after BC misplayed a punt just outside the two-minute mark, Ellison jumped on the ball to swing the momentum for good. That eventually spelled doom for the Crusaders, who dropped to 4-3 on the season and likely squandered the chance to earn the top seed in Non-Public Group 4.
Baels, who had previously missed a short attempt in the first, promptly sent his kick through the uprights on a fourth-and-four situation, sending the raucous crowd into a state of hysteria.
Razohnn Gross, the senior lineman who serves as team captain, came up with two sacks and, along with Division I recruit Alquadin Muhammad, helped anchor a defense that did just enough to contain all-state quarterback Jon Germano.
"He has so much heart," Toal said of Gross, also a state-champion wrestler. "He puts everything on his sleeve and never looks for the easy way out. He and Muhammad were pretty special today."
Before the multiple dramatic occurances that made the second half a gut-wrenching nail-biter, Germano plunged in for a 1-yard touchdown run to give his team a 7-0 advantage with 2:49 left in the second. Baels cut the deficit for Don Bosco by booting a 20-yard field goal with 6.1 seconds on the clock.
D'Alessandro got things started for the Ironmen early in the third, nabbing a 22-yard scoring strike from Nutile at the 8:44 mark to forge a 10-7 cushion. Germano brought the Crusaders back, however, by connecting with Garrett Dickerson on a 4-yard touchdown pass just over three minutes later.
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter