No. 2 Don Bosco blows by No. 6 PC
The piercing cold swept over Granatell Stadium for the first time this autumn, signifying the warm weather is long gone and frigid evenings illuminated by high school football playoff races will soon consume us.
So it didn’t come as a surprise that Don Bosco Prep looked ready to extend its run of state titles, turning up the jet engines and stringing together plenty of big defensive stops against a team sure to contend deep into the days of late November.
In what was built up as the most hyped regular-season game in the Garden State this year, the Ironmen pounded Paramus Catholic’s playmakers and used a brilliant effort by running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks to post a 31-8 triumph before a raucous crowd of well over 7,000 on Friday night.
"This game's over," Ibitokun-Hanks said. "Now we have to get better this week, but I'm very proud of this."
Ibitokun-Hanks rushed for 172 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries, while Mike D’Alessandro and Alquadin Muhammad spearheaded another defensive gem as Don Bosco Prep won its fifth straight since falling in Week 1 to Gilman (Md.).
"We practiced hard all week," Muhammad said. "At Don Bosco Prep, it's not a one-man show. We play as a team."
Ranked second in the MSG Varsity Tri-State Top 25, the Ironmen had every reason to come out firing on all cylinders, simply because it wanted to make a resounding statement against the upstart Paladins – ranked sixth in the tri-state poll – and their new sparkplug, Jabrill Peppers.
Peppers spent his freshman and sophomore years in a Bosco uniform dazzling opponents and establishing himself as arguably the most gifted athlete in the country. When he decided to transfer to Paramus Catholic, the move sent shockwaves through New Jersey and altered the DNA of America’s toughest football conference, Non-Public Group 4.
Bosco and Bergen Catholic have spent years upon years deadlocked in a never-ending game of tug-of-war, but Paramus Catholic seemed poised to enter the equation. And thanks to the prowess of Peppers and a sizzling 4-0 start, the buzz grew immensely.
However, in a highly magnified contest littered with personal undertones, excitement didn’t last long for the Paladins. Ibitokun-Hanks opened the scoring for Bosco by plunging in for a 1-yard touchdown run with three minutes left in the first quarter.
The Shabazz transfer doubled the advantage at the 6:57 mark of the second, breaking free for a 29-yard scoring run after PC punted from inside the endzone and handed the Ironmen sterling field position. A 36-yard field goal with 36 seconds remaining before halftime ballooned the cushion to 17-0.
Paramus Catholic -- despite its three first-half turnovers -- didn’t go away quietly, but Ibitokun-Hanks struck again with 48 seconds to go in the third with a 17-yard run to give his team a commanding 24-0 lead.
"He's gotten better with every game," Ironmen coach Greg Toal said. "That's the key there."
The Paladins got on the board with 3.7 seconds left in that session off a 30-yard score from Dejon Harrison and a two-point coversion pass from Steve Shanley to Peppers, but that was all Don Bosco’s defense coughed up to a team that entered averaging 41.8 points per contest.
Dalton Friend punctuated the Ironmen’s offensive attack with a 6-yard rushing score with seven minutes remaining in the fourth. Even though a strong performance on the ground gave the scorekeeper a workout, Bosco's defense stole the show.
D'Alessandro recorded an interception and Alquadin Muhammad helped the defensive line stymie the Paramus Catholic running schemes. Muhammad's hard hit on Peppers in the waning seconds of the second quarter, followed by a momentum-swinging sack in the third, were just two highlights that eventually spelled doom for the opposition.
Peppers, who was held to just 21 total yards of offense, muffed a punt with five minutes to go, letting the ball slip through his out-stretched arms. It was a snapshot that capsulated a bitter night of frustration for the Paladins – and a gratifying one for the state’s premier squad.
"This was huge for a lot of reasons," Toal said. "One, I don't have to talk about, or will talk about. I'll leave it to your imagination."
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter