When the Red Bank Catholic High School football team beat DePaul, Wayne, in the NJSIAA Non-Public B championship game Nov. 28, it capped a wild ride for a group of seniors who will always be special to Mike Lange.
For one thing, it was the first senior class that Lange coached since they were freshmen. Secondly, they turned adversities into successes while going 35-6 with three trips to the state finals, two state championships and three Shore Conference division championships.
“These were kids I met coming through the door as freshmen,” Lange said. “You knew this group was elite. They were special kids where you knew you had a chance to make a special run. To actually have it happen with so many big games over the past couple of years is just unbelievable.”
It did not start well, as Covid-19 restrictions limited their season to six games and no playoffs as freshmen. One year later RBC won the state title but did so under the cloud of quarterback Alex Brown losing his mother to cancer. As juniors, the Caseys returned to the state final but could not repeat as they fell to DePaul.
The journey ended joyfully as the third straight championship meeting between the two teams ended with a 14-7 RBC win at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. It concluded a 10-1 season for the Caseys, who won 10 straight after losing their opener to three-time Non-Public A champion Bergen Catholic, Oradell.
Senior linebacker Davin Brewton felt that loss lit a fire.
“Losing your first game, there’s a lot of anger and you don’t want to feel that way anymore,” he said. “So, at practice we just worked twice as hard and were motivated to really go on and win the state championship. And playing them right at the start was a very good way to see where we were at.”
The well-played loss sparked a confidence that led to regular-season wins over Group V champion Toms River North, Group II finalist Rumson-Fair Haven, and sectional playoff semifinalsts Colts Neck and Donovan Catholic, Toms River.
“These kids have been through everything,” Lange said. “You throw in the schedule we had this year and how they handled it, and it just says a lot about them.”
The seniors were Brewton, Isaiah Nash, Vincent Muscillo, Max Kulawiak, Logan Graham, Emmanuel Ross, Stephen Myers, Colin Earnest, Louis Ambos, Justin LaMorte, James McDonald, Jameson Norton, Luke Wassef, Daniel Hailu, Nick Bracco, Avery Barnes, Tommy Marrin, Bryan Miller, Luke Mascarenhas, Tyler Burnham, Daniel Lezeau, Lorenzo Portella, Patrick Magee, Jack Bohm-Squicciarini and Luke Krzyzkowski.
As Lange watched them grow as players and young men, they watched him grow as a coach.
“Having him was a huge thing,” said Brewton, who will play at the University of Pittsburgh. “He helps us with colleges. And just him as a person, he’s great. He’s a defensive dude so being a player under him meant a lot. He came in during Covid, that was tough. We had to give him our all and do what we could. We built good relationships. That’s like my main man. He does a great job getting us ready.”
That readiness for the DePaul game had nothing to do with revenge from last year’s loss which seemed to be a big topic in the media after RBC won.
“I think that’s more overplayed outside of our program,” Lange said. “In the summer our conversation was not about getting revenge but just learning from what happened. That’s what we rolled with.”
Brewton added that “Our goal going into this game to make that statement of saying that RBC is here and we’re not going anywhere.”
The game started like the season for RBC – on a down note. DePaul scored on its first possession for a 7-0 lead.
“We had to get used to their speed and their offensive play style,” Brewton said. “They came out with a different type of offense than in the previous games. They had a wildcat (formation), which we never saw before. We had to adjust to it, and tell our players just to come up, make those tackles and play hard.”
Which is exactly what happened. The defense clamped down and junior quarterback Frankie Williams tossed first-half touchdown passes to Stanford-bound Ross and Wassef for all the points RBC would need.
Lange felt his team never lost composure despite DePaul’s early score. The coaches made adjustments and the players calmly executed. As for Williams’ play, the coach said “You saw the culmination of just being in a lot of big games. He’s had 23 starts now, we didn’t ask him to do a whole lot in the passing game but he managed the game the right way, especially at the end when we were trying to burn the clock out.”
Father Richard Osborn, parochial vicar of St. James Parish, Red Bank, and RBC chaplain, was among the supporters who attended the championship game. Photo from Facebook
The defense got 12 tackles from Wassef, 10 from Graham, nine from Brewton, eight from Portella, seven from junior Jamie Gutridge and six from Earnest.
“Kevin Gaul, my defensive coordinator, does a great job,” Lange said. “We had 10 practices to go against what DePaul does. We challenged some guys to play some man-to-man coverage and be on an island by themselves and they rose to the occasion. The defense has led us all season in some aspects.”
Once the championship trophy was safely procured, the Caseys upheld tradition when the bus got back to Red Bank.
“After we win a championship, we touch the back of St. James Church,” Lange said. “We used to do it after every game, now we do it after winning the state championship. It’s those little things that make the place unique.
“We have a lot of faith-based kids. One of the draws at Stanford for Emmanuel Ross and his family was they met with some of their pastors and priests when they were out there. It’s a big thing for our program. We have the tradition of praying before and after the game.”
Brewton takes pride in it, adding that “Friday we have a Bible study before school and talk about the Lord. Faith really drives our team.”