Unrelenting Defense Saves the Day for No. 1 Red Bank Catholic in Victory over No. 3 Donovan Catholic
RED BANK -- On a night when the Red Bank Catholic offense had its share of struggles, it was the Caseys' defense that saved the day to deliver a massive victory over one of their fiercest rivals.
Junior linebacker Davin Brewton, junior defensive end Logan Graham, senior defensive end Aidan Donohue, and senior linebacker Michael Palmieri led a ferocious defensive effort that limited Donovan Catholic to under 100 yards of offense, while senior running back Sabino Portella ran for 187 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Caseys, ranked No. 1 in the Jeep Store Football Top 10, to a 14-7 Shore Conference American Division victory over the No. 3 Griffins on Friday night at Count Basie Field.
Portella's touchdown runs of 49 and 8 yards in the first quarter signaled that the Caseys and their potent and experienced roster might be too much for a talented yet youthful Donovan Catholic squad to handle. But the Griffins dug in on defense and RBC had some costly miscues and missed opportunities that kept the score 14-0 heading into the fourth quarter. Donovan was a play away from getting right back into the game, and that moment came in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.
Red Bank Catholic was lining up for 37-yard field goal attempt that, if successful, would have made it a three-score game. Instead, the kick was blocked and Donovan standout sophomore Michael Thomas III scooped up the loose ball and raced 80 yards down the visiting sideline to make it a 14-7 game with 10:17 to play in the fourth quarter. Then, on the third play of the next series, Portella was walloped on a run up the middle and the ball came loose. Junior defensive end Samuel Rock III pounced on it to give the Griffins the ball at midfield. A game that RBC had controlled since the opening whistle was now in danger of getting away from them.
Instead, the Caseys' defense clamped down and kept Donovan from even sniffing the end zone.
On the Griffins' first series after Rock's fumble recovery, RBC's defense held firm to bring up a fourth-and-1 from the RBC 42-yard line. The Griffins ran left with standout freshman running back Najee Calhoun but the Caseys blew up the play at the point of attack, allowing Palmieri to knife in from the back side and drop Calhoun for a 2-yard loss.
Red Bank Catholic was able to run some time off the clock on its next series but once again had a drive stall in Donovan territory. The RBC backfield is usually a two-headed monster of Portella and senior running back Torin Harmon, but Harmon was hurt on the opening kickoff and did not return. That pressed junior Luke Wassef into more action than usual in the running game, and he came through with some of the game's biggest plays. He converted a third-and-6 from the RBC 48 with a 12-yard run and then plowed ahead for an 8-yard gain on third-and-7 from the Donovan 37-yard line. The Caseys' eventually were faced with fourth-and-3 from the Donovan 21-yard line with just 1:56 on the clock., The Griffins stopped sophomore quarterback Frankie Williams on a designed run one yard short of the marker and took over on downs with 1:49 left.
Donovan moved out to its 28-yard line on a run by Calhoun - just its fifth first down of the game - and then pushed into RBC territory on a pass interference penalty and then an offsides flag on the Caseys. In between, RBC had two chances to seal the game but couldn't come down with interceptions. Robert Stolfa nearly had a pick-6 when he jumped an out-breaking route and Portella couldn't bring down what looked to be a sure interception in the middle of the field. Donovan still had life, but the RBC defense wouldn't give them an inch. Junior quarterback Todd Lambertson's final two passes fell incomplete and the top-ranked Caseys survived.
Through five games, Red Bank Catholic's first-team defense has yet to allow a touchdown. The Caseys limited the Griffins to 80 yards of offense and six first downs, keeping Thomas III at bay on the outside and holding Calhoun to 40 yards rushing on 16 carries.
And to say the Caseys were thinking about this one for a while would be putting it mildly. On Oct. 29 of last season, Donovan scored a 28-7 victory that handed RBC its only loss of the season. The Caseys went on to win the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 3 state championship, but that single defeat was a lingering bitter taste from an otherwise stellar year.
Red Bank Catholic needed just two plays to get into the end zone on the game's opening possession. After a 3-yard run on first down, Portella broke free for a tremendous 49-yard touchdown run and a quick 7-0 lead. Portella reached the third level of the defense where he was able to spin out of a tackle and continue toward the end zone.
Donovan netted minus-4 yards on its opening possession when Lambertson was sacked by Avery Barnes on second down and Brewton dropped Calhoun for a 2-yard loss on third down to force a punt. RBC got the ball back at its own 22-yard line and used an eight-play drive to get back into the end zone. Runs of 10 and seven yards by Portella moved the ball to the 42-yard line and he then converted a fourth-and-1 from the 44 with a 3-yard run. On the next play, Williams connected with junior wide receiver Emanuel Ross for a 45-yard gain down to the Donovan 8-yard line and Portella promptly punched it in for a 14-0 Red Bank Catholic advantage.
Then, the game took a weird turn.
Donovan had trouble handling the snap and junior defensive end Logan Graham came up with the fumble recovery. RBC could not do anything off the turnover after Zaeir Day brought down Portella for a 3-yard loss on second down and a dropped pass on third down sent on the punting unit. The snap, however, sailed over the head of RBC punter VJ Muscillo and gave Donovan excellent field position at the RBC 32-yard line. Again, the Caseys' defense rose to the occasion with a combined tackle for loss by Palmieri and Graham on first down and a tackle for loss by Brewton on second down. On third down, Donovan had trouble with the mesh point on a jet sweep and Donohue jumped on the fumble to give RBC the ball right back at its own 38-yard line.
In the second quarter, Donovan finally gained a first down when freshman wide receiver Emanuel Gerena hauled in a 24-yard pass from Lambertson to move the ball out to the Donovan Catholic 42-yard line. Donovan was forced to punt from midfield, however, when pressure up the middle by Brewton forced an incomplete pass on third down.
RBC looked to stretch its lead to three touchdowns late in the first half but a 33-yard field goal attempt missed its mark.
Donovan gained one first down on the opening possession of the third quarter, but a fumbled snap on third-and-1 from the DC 37-yard line went for a 5-yard loss and forced the Griffins to punt. RBC then drove inside the Donovan Catholic 10-yard line, fueled by a great 31-yard catch in traffic by senior wide receiver Najih Rahman. But on third-and-goal from the 8-yard line, Portella had the ball knocked loose and Donovan recovered the fumble at the 4-yard line.
Donovan gained one first down on its next drive but had to punt from its own 16-yard line. That led to the RBC possession where the Caseys drove to the DC 20 but had a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown to set up the final sequence.
Watch the video highlights below. The box score is after the videos.
No. 1 Red Bank Catholic 14, No. 3 Donovan Catholic 7
Red Bank Catholic
Donovan (3-1, 2-1)
Red Bank Catholic (5-0, 3-0)
RBC — Sabino Portella 49-yard run (Justin LaMorte kick)
RBC — Sabino Portella 8-yard run (Justin LaMorte kick)
DC — Michael Thomas III 80-yard blocked field goal return (Dante Priolo kick)
RUSHING — DC: Najee Calhoun 16-40, Elijah Davis 1-5, Michael Thomas III 2-(-2), Zach LaBarca 1-0, Todd Lambertson 3-(-15); RBC: Sabino Portella 31-187, Luke Wassef 12-62, Frankie Williams 4-6, Robert Stolfa 1-0, Team 2-(-28).
PASSING — DC: Todd Lambertson 8-15-0 52; RBC: Frankie Williams 8-14-0 114.
RECEIVING — DC: Emanuel Gerena 1-24, Michael Thomas III 4-18, Najee Calhoun 2-8, Eric Zebrowski 1-2; RBC: Emanuel Ross 2-53, Najih Rahman 1-31, Robert Stolfa 4-22, Luke Krzykowski 1-8.