It’s kind of fitting that Red Bank Catholic and DePaul Catholic High School of Wayne are meeting for the NJSIAA Non-Public Group B Football Championship on Nov. 26 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.

In 2018, RBC won the Non-Public Group III sectional title by defeating Mater Dei Prep of Toms River in the championship game. In 2019, DePaul also beat the Seraphs in the Non Public III final (groups were changed from numbers to letters this year).  

Mater Dei was not going to make it this year as it shut down its football program last summer. But the two teams it played in the previous two championship games are fittingly meeting each other for the ultimate prize this season.

“It’s interesting,” coach Mike Lange said. “It’s pretty much identical, it’s the same teams that were in the bracket that time around except for Mater Dei. I’ve talked to (DePaul coach Nick Campanile) and it was kind of something we potentially felt could happen at the end of the year. It’s kind of ironic that here we are right now.”

RBC (10-1 record) arrived there with playoff wins over Morris Catholic High School of Denville and St. Joe’s Academy of Hammonton. The Spartans (9-2) got there after defeating Immaculata High School of Somerville and Holy Spirit High School of Absecon.

“They’re very similar to us,’ Lange said. “They’re big, they’re physical, they’ve got skill kids, they’re well coached. They have a great defensive line, they’ve got a kid going to Rutgers (Q’yaeir Price) that’s legit. But we’re a good football team too and our kids feel pretty good.”

Price’s stats are eye-popping, as he has 90 tackles, including 35 for a loss, and 14.5 sacks. He’s helped by linebackers Chris Chasia (68 tackles) and Kenneth Pierce (60 tackles). Nevin Earl has 6.5 sacks and Lucas Young has five.

They will try to contain RBC’s Alex Brown-led offense. With the Caseys trailing 10-7 at halftime last week, Brown ran for two second-half touchdowns. That gives him six TD passes and four rushing TDs in two playoff games.

“We had a series of games we didn’t need to use it, but him running around has always been there for us,” Lange said. “We started to put more and more epackages with him running the ball. You see when he runs it, he can separate from people so that’s something we’re gonna do this week as well.”

DePaul also has a quarterback who can run and throw in AJ Rodriguez, who has thrown for 1,690 yards and 18 touchdowns and rushed for 423 yards and four TDs. Brown’s stats are nearly identical, having passed for 1,688 yards and run for 455, although he has run/thrown for a combined 30 TDs.  

“Their kid makes good decisions,” Lange said. “He manages their offense well, he makes some plays with his feet. He’s a well-balanced quarterback. He presents a lot of problems.”

Rodriguez also has an explosive receiver in Marshawn Ferguson, who has 46 catches for 756 yards and eight touchdowns. Lange said if he knew who would be covering Ferguson, he wouldn’t say. But, in fact, he doesn’t know.

“He’s a slippery guy, they line him up all over the place,” the coach said. “I really can’t tell you who’s gonna cover him, because they put him all over the place. They’re well coached. They run a good offense and I think they do a real nice job of presenting a challenge for us. But if we’re playing at a high level, we’ll be alright.”

Sophomore Davin Brewton has led the Caseys defense with 83 tackles and Alex Bauman has 56 tackles and a team-high five sacks and 15 tackles for loss. The defense did a stellar job of shutting down St. Joe’s in the second half last week.

“They had kids who were absolutely terrifying,” Lange said. “We did a nice job defensively keeping them in check, and making them earn everything. Everything for them was big plays this season and our goal was to make them work it down the field and hope eventually they’d stub their toe, which they did a few times. It was a good collective effort on defense.”

It was also a nice job by the offense last week, as it had to battle back from 7-0 and 10-7 deficits. That is not a position the Caseys have been in much this year.

“Our whole thing was about keeping our composure,” Lange said. “When you get in the playoffs everybody’s good. That was our message to our kids. At halftime there weren’t a whole lot of changes, it wasn’t really  a lot of confusion. We just had to execute a little better. I was happy with our kids’ approach to the second half.”

Actually, Red Bank Catholic’s approach has been pretty good for the past several years. This is the Caseys third trip to the championship game since 2014. They won the previous two and will go after their third state crown in seven seasons (there were no playoffs last year).

“I think it’s great for the program because it sets the expectations so high, which is kind of where we want to be,” Lange said. “I don’t want to say it’s ‘Championship game or bust,’ but it’s just the level and the expectations that go along with coming to Red Bank Catholic. It’s become something we’re accustomed to – making it far in the playoffs. Obviously, we’ve got one more hill to climb but we like where we’re at.”

The coach has been impressed with the team’s focus this week. It was an emotional night on Friday when the seniors won their final game on their home field. But Lange feels they have come off that high and are back to work this week with a strong focus on DePaul.

“I give a lot of credit to the senior kids,” Lange said. “Guys like Alex Bauman, Alex Brown, Rajahn Cooper, Vince Carpenter. This has been a goal of theirs. They’ve always talked about it. Now that it’s becoming a possibility, we’re that much more dialed in as a program.”