NJ succeeds down South
BRADENTON, Fla. – We’ve grown accustomed to the Garden State’s finest high school football teams seeking out fellow national juggernauts from out of state to beef up their schedules. It’s very rare, however, for the two best to accompany each other down to the same venue.
That’s what made Friday night a little different, a little bit more special than any other Friday night in this area.
Don Bosco Prep and Bergen Catholic make up a heated rivalry equivalent to the Celtics and Lakers, the Yankees and Red Sox, and the Montagues and Capulets, but shared the same goal in Week Two of the brand new season: bring New Jersey pride down to the Sunshine State.
Boy, did they ever.
Competing in temperatures that reached the mid-90s at kick-off, Don Bosco Prep – the No. 1 team in America – overcame a halftime deficit and edged Manatee High School, 22-16, at Joe Kinnan Field at Hawkins Stadium in the first matchup of a much-anticipated doubleheader.
Then Bergen Catholic, ranked No. 2 in MSG Varsity’s tri-state Top 25 poll, scratched and clawed its way through a defensive grudge match against Plant (Tampa) in the nightcap, but suffered a 12-7 loss.
A two-game sweep never materialized, but the two North Jersey powerhouses certainly gave the sport’s golden jewel in the Southeast a taste of what Jersey football is all about. Grinding, fighting, being resilient.
It made for great theater, really, how the Ironmen trailed at halftime, 7-6, for the first time since a Thanksgiving Day contest at St. Joseph Regional, yet still rose to the occasion and got clutch touchdowns from Leonte Carroo and Jabrill Peppers to extend their state-long winning streak to 37 games.
Oddly enough, it was just as entertaining to see the Crusaders hang late in the fourth quarter behind the brilliant direction of a quarterback not named Tanner McEvoy. Jonathan Germano, in his first year under center for head coach Nunzio Campanile, completed three big passes on Bergen Catholic’s last-ditch drive with under a minute to go.
Though he was brought down at the 19-yardline with no timeouts left as the clocked melted to zeroes, in a way it was enough to walk away with pride. One of the best from New Jersey traded punches with one of the best from Florida – end of story.
The Crusaders further marketed their image as a program on the rise once again; it was only a matter of time before Campanile began closing the gap that has swelled since 2004 between his program and its rival.
Meanwhile, Don Bosco maintained its sterling reputation for handling out-of-state foes with ease. The Ironmen have defeated De La Salle (Calif.), Gilman (Md.), St. Ignatius (Ohio), Prattville (Ala.), and, most recently, Mission Viejo (Calif.) over the last two years.
This week did not shape the seasons for either Don Bosco or Bergen Catholic. The two square off on October 1 in a matchup that should only serve as an appetizer for what could be another exciting Non-Public Group 4 title game.
But it’s great to know this week did, in fact, show how far Garden State football has come.
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter