A four-year run by Johnny Langan four plays into the game might seem right now like the faintest of blips on the radar screen after what transpired.
But that carry on fourth-and-one, called a full 12 yards shy of midfield, was a mild act of defiance and an enormous display of confidence that would set Bergen Catholic's agenda for the remainder of the evening.
The senior quarterback achieved that first down with three yards to spare on a strong surge up the middle, and then went on and on and on from there. Almost as if the Crusaders could not stop doing positive, sometimes gutty and almost always well-executed things even if they tried really hard not to.
"We came here to win, and we felt very strongly we'd get it," said Bergen Catholic head coach Nunzio Campanile. I think our kids would have looked at me and said, 'Why wouldn’t we go for that? We've got to get a yard to get state championship; We've got to do it.'
"I thought our guys did an awesome job," he said. "They were physical, they converted the play. That was great drive. That drive set the tone for the game."
The Boston College-bound Langan would cap off that 11-play, 70-yard move with a 5-yard touchdown run, and finish the game with 91 yards rushing and two touchdowns and 117 yards passing and a score as the top-ranked Crusaders steamrolled to a 44-7 victory over second-ranked St. Peter's Prep for the NJSIAA Non-Public, Group 4 championship Friday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.
It marked Bergen Catholic's first state title since 2004 and its 14th since the playoff format was introduced in 1974. It also was the ninth consecutive victory this season for the Crusaders (10-2), and their second over St. Peter's Prep (9-3) in that span.
Bergen Catholic defeated the Marauders by a convincing, 41-14 score in that regular-season clash Oct. 14 in Oradell. But the score was 14-7 late in the second quarter and just 21-14 early in the third before the Crusaders seized full ownership of the pace for the remainder of the second half.
The Crusaders were not inclined to wait around that long for control, and yet they never appeared to be the least bit anxious, or rushed, or uneasy.
They were so smooth and in-rhythm that Bergen Catholic was able to set a running clock into motion (when a 35-point lead is established in the second half) when up-back Anthony Corbin took the snap on a fake punt and rambled 54 yards for a 37-0 lead with 5:44 to go in the third quarter. Just over six minutes later, Josh McKenzie scored on a 37-yard run for a gaping 44-0 advantage.
No one could have predicted a running clock with the Tri-State's top two teams squaring off for the right to be formally anointed the very best of the best.
Two plays into that opening drive, Langan tucked behind blockers and picked up 11 yards to get that drive jump-started. He broke off four more runs of 11 yards or better in that first half, including an 11-yarder on a fourth-and-eight on the following possession that carried him to the St. Peter's Prep 13. Two plays later, he threw a screen pass to Dylan Classi, who then pitched to a trailing Rahmir Johnson, and he ran 13 yards to give the Crusaders a 14-0 lead 8:17 into the opening quarter.
"I thought the last three or four games he's been kind of off the charts," Campanile said of Langan. "I told the team last night there's nobody ever that I want leading us in this game more than him. I'm super proud of him. I'm proud of his career. I'm looking forward to his college career."
Langan had delivered big plays in crucial spots all season for the Crusaders and probably saved his toughest, sharpest performance for his final high school game. It wasn't close to being the senior's best statistical outing, but that was beside the point. Langan left a stamp of excellence on his legacy with the poise, leadership and athletic ability he exhibited under this intense spotlight. By the way, Langan also played defense just to make his last hurrah a full-bodied affair.
And yet, Langan was also only one of many Crusaders who somehow made this tension-fraught and mega-hyped confrontation seem almost like child's play.
The offensive line of John High, Zaakir Faith, J.R. Woods, Bryan Felter and Kevin Kenerson were part battering ram, part protective shield all game for Langan and running backs McKenzie (90 rushing yards and one TD) and Johnson as they battled the fierce and well-decorated St. Peter's defensive front of twins Justin and Jayson Ademilola, R.J. Oben and Chris Stultz.
"A great group of guys, I love them to death," Langan said of his interior heroes. "They stepped up for me this game, and I knew they would."
"They were so physical," Campanile said of his line. "They (St. Peter's) have a tremendous defensive line. Our guys really got after them. We were able to get Johnny at the next level. Rahmir, Josh, they all played really well, and that was a testament to those guys up front. When you see them all playing well, it means the guys up front are kind of knocking them off the ball."
The Bergen Catholic defense was just as impressive behind the aggressive, but also smart play of Corbin, McKenzie, Jevontae Jean-Baptiste, Aeneas DiCosmo, McKenzie, Cade McDermott and others. They limited the Marauders to 55 rushing yards and held them scoreless for over 42 minutes. Maynor spoiled the shutout when he scored on a 3-yard run with 4:54 remaining.
"We did exactly what we set out to do. That's a real good feeling," said Jean-Baptiste, who recorded two of Bergen Catholic's four sacks. DiCosmo and Robert Snead had the other two. So, while Maynor was able to pass for 184 yards on a 17-of-27 accuracy, he was able to march St. Peter's inside the red zone only once.
"We wanted to set the tone early, and we did on both sides of the ball," Jean-Baptiste said. "I really would have liked to put a zero up on the board, but…this was great.
"It’s a blessing," he said. "There's nothing more that you could wish for as a high school player than to bring a state championship home with us. That's exactly what we're doing."
|St. Peter's Prep||0||0||0||7||7|
BC: Johnny Langan 5 yd Rush (TD) 0-7
BC: Rahmir Johnson 13 yd Reception (TD) 0-14
BC: Michael Kearney 20 yd (FG) 0-17
BC: Johnny Langan 6 yd Rush (TD) 0-24
BC: Tyler Devera 5 yd Pass from Johnny Langan (TD) 0-31
BC: Anthony Corbin 54 yd Rush (TD) 0-37
BC: Josh McKenzie 37 yd Rush (TD) 0-44
SPP: Maasai Maynor 3 yd Rush (TD) 7-44
|Game Summary||St. Peter's Prep||Bergen Catholic|
|3rd Down Conv||2||11||5||12|
|4th Down Conv||2||4||4||6|
|Tackles for loss||3.0||7.0|
|9||Maasai Maynor||14||21||1||2||21||Johnny Langan||14||91||2||0|
|8||Anthony Summey||2||20||0||0||5||Josh McKenzie||14||90||1||0|
|24||Dominic Meleo||5||14||0||0||29||Anthony Corbin||1||54||1||0|
|9||Maasai Maynor||17||27||184||0||0||21||Johnny Langan||9||18||117||1||0|
|5||Chase Jones||4||69||0||2||Dylan Classi||3||31||0|
|3||Shayne Simon||6||55||0||81||Tyler Devera||2||25||1|
|1||Ayir Asante||3||36||0||17||Garrett Cody||1||20||0|
|21||Adonis McGee||1||10||0||25||Rahmir Johnson||2||19||1|
|24||Dominic Meleo||1||9||0||13||Michael Feaster||1||17||0|
|8||Anthony Summey||1||3||0||88||Aeneas DiCosmo||1||5||0|
|FIELD GOAL LEADERS:|
|11||Chris Shaw||1||1||48||Michael Kearney||5||6|
|18||Patrick Haughney||3||22.3||28||97||Ronnie Vergona||1||26.0||26|
|KICKOFF RETURN LEADERS:|
|1||Ayir Asante||7||114||0||7||Cade McDermott||1||19||0|
|PUNT RETURN LEADERS:|
|No.||Player||Tackles ForLoss||Sacks||Yards||INT||No.||Player||Tackles ForLoss||Sacks||Yards||INT|
|57||Jayson Ademilola||1.0||0.0||0||0||8||Javontae Jean-Baptiste||0.0||2.0||0||0|
|90||Chris Stultz||1.0||0.0||0||0||55||John High||2.0||0.0||0||0|
|7||Justin Ademilola||1.0||0.0||0||0||15||Robert Snead||0.0||1.0||0||0|