Red Bank Catholic players, from left, Robert Stolfa, Michael Palmieri, Sabino Portella and Christian Engema say a prayer while surrounding the state championship plaque after defeating DePaul Catholic. Photo courtesy of Sabino Portella's Twitter page
Red Bank Catholic players, from left, Robert Stolfa, Michael Palmieri, Sabino Portella and Christian Engema say a prayer while surrounding the state championship plaque after defeating DePaul Catholic. Photo courtesy of Sabino Portella's Twitter page

Freshman Alex Bauman was in uniform and on the sidelines when big brother Kevin, a senior, helped Red Bank Catholic beat Mater Dei in the 2018 state championship game. Alex didn’t get into the game but knew his day would come.

“Ever since that day it was my goal,” Bauman said, “[to] get back to that point and win it again.”

His goal became reality Nov. 26 when the Caseys took a 13-8 victory over DePaul Catholic High School, Wayne, in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group B title game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. It is RBC’s fourth championship overall, third since 2014 and first since 2018.

It was also its third straight playoff win since the passing of quarterback Alex Brown’s mother, Michelle.

“Mama Brown lifted us through this whole playoff run and gave us strength and will to pull it off, God bless her soul,” running back/linebacker Rajahn Cooper said.

The game-winning drive went 71 yards and culminated with Brown scoring the game-winning points on a 2-yard run late in the third quarter.

“Those are the kind of moments that define football players,” Brown said of the drive. “When you get those moments you just gotta step it up. This is what defines you as a person and as a player. I was proud of my guys for everyone getting it done. Me making plays with my feet, the line stepping up, some great catches from my receivers. Everything kind of came together. That’s how you know you have a tight-knit family; when you have big moments like that, and everyone steps it up.”

The drive was kept alive by a fake punt play on fourth-and-3, when running back Sabino Portella threw a 12-yard completion to Joe Diorio that wobbled its way there.

“He really floated it over two guys,” Brown said with a laugh. “A wobbly, wobbly ball – and our guy caught it and we got the first down. After that I was like ‘Now we have to score.’”

“I was nervous until he completed it, that’s for sure,” coach Mike Lange said. “We’ve had that fake in for two years and never had the guts to actually run it. But they were coming every time to block the punt; they had all the momentum when we called it. We thought it was a good swing for us and a huge part of the game.”

After taking the lead, RBC (11-1 record) leaned on its defense, which allowed 278 yards of offense but yielded just one touchdown.

“We played a great defensive game,” said Cooper, who had six tackles. “They tried to do a lot of short and intermediate routes and little runs. We knew that they would come out with that, so we came out and stopped it. Thanks to Coach KG (defensive coordinator Kevin Gaul) and the defensive unit.”

Linebacker Davin Brewton led the team in tackles with 18, while Bauman had 13 and Mike Palmieri 12. Portella came up with a big interception to stop a drive.

“I thought we played amazing defense,” Bauman said. “We had everyone flying to the ball every single play. We showed our toughness, and we were determined to stop them in any way.”

Lange felt the key to the defensive effort was RBC’s physical play, not just on the line but on the perimeter as well.

“We tackled pretty well,” the coach said. “That was a big point of emphasis. You know they’re gonna come out physical and you gotta do just that. I thought we did a great job with that.”

Fittingly, the game ended with Brown, while playing in the secondary, batting down the final “Hail Mary” pass of the game. “That,” Brown said, “was pretty cool.”

COMING TOGETHER: Last summer, Brown, Cooper, kicker Jake Jacobsen and lineman Ashton Mejias transferred to RBC. And while that added talent to the Caseys, the big question was, would the newcomers mesh with the guys already there?

Answer, affirmative.

“It worked absolutely perfectly,” Bauman said. “We accepted them as our family from day one. They really fit into the RBC football team. They showed up and everything they did was great.”

Lange felt that due to social media, many of the players already knew each other, or knew of each other, which made the transition smoother than it would have been 20 years ago. He also praised his coaching staff and the character of each kid for enabling the players to come together.

“It’s a close-knit group,” Lange said. “It’s obviously a unique scenario with those kids coming in this year, but they got along really well. You see the result, with them playing that complementary football for each other. Collectively they all bought in the right way.”

Bauman felt that after the chemistry began to form during summer workouts, “we knew we had the potential to make history and be one of the best teams in the state.”

A FIRST FOR LANGE: In just his second year as head coach, Lange won his first state title. He was a Caseys assistant when they won it in 2018.

“I’m just happy for the kids and the program,” he said. “We’re all pretty tight: the staff and I, and the kids. [The title] does have a different feel, but the range of emotions is the same.”

BROTHERLY LOVE: Kevin Bauman is now playing for Notre Dame University, Ind., but his heart is still in Red Bank as he gave little brother Alex advice on how to handle things during the playoff march.

“He was talking to me every day through the whole playoffs,” Alex Bauman said. “He would give me great advice, really push me to do my best and keep playing the way I was playing. He had my back every minute.”

THE THRILL OF VICTORY: Several days after winning the championship, the players were still feeling immense joy over the magnitude of what they accomplished.

“I think we’re still on that unbelievable high,” Bauman said. “It’s really surreal just taking everything in. It’s awesome though.”

Cooper agreed, saying, “This game meant so much to me and my team. I told everybody this was the biggest game of my life – state championship game, senior year. And with all the adversity we faced, we needed to win this.”

The guy who faced the biggest adversity was still absorbing it all one day after the game.

“It’s kind of hard to comprehend, but I think these next couple days I’m gonna realize it,” Brown said one day after the game. “I gotta get back to all these texts and calls and guys telling me ‘You did it.’ I think I finally realized it when we pulled out that banner at RBC that said 2021 state champs. That’s when I thought we really did make history. It’s gonna be a story people remember for a long time.”