For the better part of three quarters, this wasn’t just another night at the Granatell Stadium office for Don Bosco Prep. It surely didn’t take long, either, for every fan in attendance to understand this wasn’t going to be another cake-walk for the best team in the country.
But in the end, the Ironmen did what they’ve done for 38 consecutive games prior to Friday’s showdown: find a way to win, even if it wasn’t easy.
This wasn’t about watching Don Bosco escape with a 33-22 victory, though. The fact that Bergen Catholic, ranked third in MSG Varsity’s tri-state poll, stuck with its heralded opponent until the waning minutes only proves that the gap between the Crusaders and their rival is no longer widening.
"There are a lot of things in a big game,” said Bergen Catholic coach Nunzio Campanile, who had spent 10 years as an assistant at Don Bosco prior to arriving in Oradell in 2010. “There are a lot of plays that, I think, if you go back and look at the tape, there's four or five plays on each side of the ball that hurt us. Field position hurt us and special teams.”
In the past three weeks, the Ironmen easily handled Mission Viejo (Calif.), caused Manatee (Fla.) to melt by the fourth quarter in sweltering temperatures down South, and blanked Ridgewood. Such is why it was a shock for them to experience life on the ropes.
“They came out strong and kind of punched us in the mouth, but we hit them back,” Don Bosco wide receiver Leonte Carroo said. “It just goes to show what type of rivalry this is."
A revamped rivalry, that is.
Bergen Catholic entered knowing its last win against Don Bosco came when current NFL star Brian Cushing helped the Crusaders roll to a slim victory in the 2004 Non-Public Group 4 finals. Since then, it’s been Bosco alone at the top.
But consider last December’s tight championship game and now this matchup; we’re back to seeing the Ironmen breathe a sigh of relief, while the Crusaders breathe down their necks.
John Tsimis scored two touchdowns and Ryan Finkel added another, one that put Bergen Catholic ahead, 22-21, entering the final quarter, until an interception by Kyle Sakowski and a rushing touchdown from Elijah Shumate handed Don Bosco a lead it wouldn’t relinquish with 10:25 remaining.
After that, Campanile still believed, enough to go for a fourth-and-two on the 28-yardline with 8:25 left. The gamble proved to be the Crusaders’ deep and dying breath, as Darius Hamilton mauled Mike Gerst behind the line of scrimmage to force the turnover on downs and create another score for Shumate to seal the win.
"My thought process was we were going to get it,” Campanile said. “It didn't really occur to me that we wouldn’t get it. They battled, and I said to them I half regret going for that fourth down, but we expect to make those plays.”
Real winners expect those results. It says so much about the progress the Crusaders have had over the last 13 months.
“Obviously, we’re not there yet,” Campanile said. “We’re happy with the program, though. I ask them to play hard every day, and they’re expecting to win these games now.”
You can also expect Bergen Catholic to meet Don Bosco again this season. While it might not come in the championship game due to playoff seedings, another riveting chapter is coming.
And if nothing else, this was one heck of a prologue.
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter