On-Time Launch: 2022 Raritan High School Football Preview
Anthony Petruzzi would love for his team to get off to a fast start this season, but when some of Raritan’s greatest finishes to the high school football season have come after rocky starts, maybe there is something in the struggle that makes the Rockets take off when it matters.
For the second time in Petruzzi’s 13-year tenure, Raritan reached the Central Jersey Group II championship game after falling two games under .500 in the middle of the season. The Rockets won the 2015 title after entering the playoffs 3-5 and last year, the Rockets were 2-4 at one point and 4-4 entering the state playoffs. That was enough to earn Raritan a No. 1 seed in the section, but the Rockets fell to Haddonfield in the sectional final, 28-7.
While a slow start has been a part of a successful postseason formula, the Rockets wouldn’t mind some edits to the script. Good health would go a long way toward achieving that end, particularly with Raritan’s talented collection of backs and receivers. Seniors Kieran Falzon, Dan Calicari, Joe Murphy and Matt Agar are the core of the offense, both in their ability to gain yards on the ground and through the air, as well as in their overall leadership.
“I don’t think you ever want to lose games at any time in the season, but our emphasis has always been on improving every week and playing our best at the right time,” Petruzzi said. “Last year, it was more injuries early in the year that limited what we could do and that forced some younger guys into the lineup maybe a little earlier than expected. It made us a better team by the end of the year, but we would definitely like to have a little more luck on the injury front this year.”
Last year’s schedule was a big reason why Raritan both suffered some early losses while also maintaining a power-point total that was enough to draw the No. 1 seed in its section. The schedule structure is similar, with a non-public and Group IV opponent on the schedule, but instead of Red Bank Catholic and Central Regional, this year includes St. John Vianney and Toms River South. Beyond those two opponents, Raritan will have to deal with several fellow Group II hopefuls, including Point Pleasant Boro, Holmdel and Monmouth Regional.
As the Rockets look to launch on time at Matawan on Sept. 1, they will still have the bigger picture in mind. The Rockets were four quarters from a sectional title last year and with so many key pieces back, the goal is to find a way back to the championship game and finish the job.
“It’s a pretty experienced team overall and obviously they are pretty motivated after last year,” Petruzzi said. “Most of the roster is seniors and juniors and with the seniors, it’s either guys who have starting experience or guys who have been waiting their turn and are hungry for the opportunity. We’re still working out some kinks and it’s never a completely smooth process, but we like our group and once we get into late October, these guys know what it takes to win games.”
Raritan at a Glance
Projected Starters (RS=Returning Starter; 3RS=Third-Year Starter)
Offense: Flex Bone
Returning Starters: 7
QB: Logan Goldsbery, Jr.
RB: Kieran Falzon, Sr. 3RS
Slot: Dan Calicari, Sr. 3RS
Slot: Joe Murphy, Sr. RS
WR: Stephen Moser, Jr. RS
WR: Matt Agar, Sr. 3RS
LT: Nicolas Dalmau, Sr.
LG: Stephen McCabe, Sr. RS
C: Tommy Jeleniewski, Jr. RS
RG: Paul Diorio, Sr.
RT: Jaxon Tsap, Jr.
Returning Starters: 6
DE: Jack Coleman, Jr. 3RS
NT: Tommy Jeleniewski, Jr. RS
DE: Stephen McCabe, Sr.
OLB: Ryan McCormack, Sr.
ILB: Kyle Walling, Jr. RS
ILB: Nick Godkin, Jr.
OLB: Matt Agar, Sr. 3RS
CB: Joe Murphy, Sr. RS
CB: Jayden Craft, Jr.
SS: Dan Calicari, Sr. 3RS
FS: Logan Acevedo, Jr.
K: John Molnar, Jr.; Michael Casiano, Sr.
P: Kieran Falzon, Sr.
Head Coach: Anthony Petruzzi, 13th season
Career Record: 57-61
Record Last Five Years
Assistant Coaches: Chris Damian (Off. Coordinator/QB/RB/DB), Tyler Murphy (DL), Matt Dempsey (OL), Joe Schroeck (DB), Nick Mahoney (Slots/WR), Keith Rescorl (Special Teams/DL), Chris Vurchio (Freshman), Jonathan Rodriguez (Freshman), Nicholas Sparacello (Freshman), Mike Desocio (Athletic Trainer)
Player to Watch: Kieran Falzon, Sr., RB
Falzon was one of three Shore Conference players to reach 1,500 rushing yards in 2021 and one of two returning for 2022. He was also one of five Shore Conference players in 2021 to scored at least 20 touchdowns, with Falzon scoring 23 times while dashing for 1,512 yards. On top of the production Falzone brings back, he is also a third-year starter who has operated in Raritan’s flex bone offense and should be ready to teach the offense to his teammates.
“As a coaching staff, I think we’re just asking him to be a little bit better at everything,” Petruzzi said of Falzon. “We’re asking him to seal the edge, be a better blocker, protect the ball a little better, finish his runs stronger. He is an explosive runner, but when we give in the ball, we want him to be thinking of hitting his head on the goalpost. He has been around this offense for four years now and he knows it as well as anybody, so we would like to see him be another coach on the field for some of the younger guys.”
Player Under the Radar: Joe Murphy, Sr. Slot/CB
With Raritan enduring injuries throughout the 2021 season, Murphy was a constant in the lineup, even if it did not always show up on the stat sheet. With Joe Campanella graduating following a productive season, don’t be surprised to see Murphy emerge on that stat sheet more often as well and not at the expense of the “little things” either.
“If you’re putting together a highlight reel of Joe Murphy, you’re not making it with a lot of touchdown runs, but there are a lot of third-down conversions, blocks that are springing big runs, pass deflections on third down, making sure guys are lined up right on defense. It’s not a lot of the flashy stuff but those are the things that make the difference between winning and losing and he is on top of it.”
Top Position Group: Backs and Receivers
Raritan’s flex bone offense makes frequent use of an array of ball-carriers and receivers and this year’s group contains a lot of options. It also contains a lot of experience, in part because a rash of injuries required the services of more players than expected. After Falzon, Calicari is likely to get a heavy dose of touches. Calicari was one of three 100-yard rushers in Raritan’s round-one playoff win over Barnegat last fall and his presence will keep opposing defenses off Falzon’s tail.
With Murphy and Calicari at the slotback positions, junior Stephen Moser and senior Matt Agar will be the receivers, which do plenty of blocking in the flex bone while also serving as threats in the passing game as well. Agar was also slowed by injury last year, but that gave Moser a chance to make an impact and now both are ready to roll in the Raritan offense.
Big Shoes to Fill: Logan Goldsbery, Jr., QB
With Raritan’s dangerous running game, Ben Hutchins took advantage by leading a potent passing attack – one that the Rockets will try to reprise with a new, junior signal-caller. Goldsbery has the capacity to duplicate when Hutchins did last year and he will be aided by that collection of experienced skill players and an offensive line that comes with considerable upside despite returning only two starters.
Newcomer to Watch: Jaxon Tsap, Jr., RT
A big reason for Raritan’s promising potential on the offensive line is Tsap, a 6-foot-5, 265-pound junior who will essentially be replacing standout 2021 senior Jason Trotta. The Raritan offensive line returns a pair of versatile senior starters in Stephen McCabe and Tommy Jeleniewski – both of whom are switching positions for this season – and if Tsap can hit the ground running on the right side of the line, the Rockets should be a well-oiled machine on offense, even with a new quarterback.
“He is a guy who is in the mold of a Jason Trotta and eventually, that’s what we’re hoping he can become: a big, physical right tackle,” Petruzzi said.
Rivalry Game: Oct. 21 at Holmdel
A 30-24 loss to Holmdel on Oct. 15 of last season dropped Raritan to 2-4 and marked a turning point for the Rockets, who then reeled off four straight wins to reach the Central Jersey Group II championship game. This year’s matchup with Holmdel comes in game No. 8, so there could very well be postseason ramifications for both teams, not to mention some saltiness on the Raritan side after coming up six points short of their neighbor school last season.
Thursday, Sept. 1 at Matawan, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 9 vs. Monmouth, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 17 at Manasquan, 2 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 23 vs. Point Boro, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 30 vs. Ocean, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 7 at St. John Vianney, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 14 vs. Toms River South, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 21 at Holmdel, 7 p.m.