While Bergen Catholic flexed its muscles and earned a highly impressive victory, the Crusaders might have received something a tad more valuable in the process: a free test-run for a potential matchup in the Non-Public Group 4 championship game.
Jon Germano accounted for four touchdowns, while JJ Kulcsar racked up 187 yards and was on the receiving end of two scores as Bergen Catholic used an aerial attack to dispose of Paramus Catholic, 35-21, in a battle of title contenders on Thanksgiving morning.
Germano completed 19-of-35 attempts for 277 yards and added 40 yards on the ground for the Crusaders, who used a 14-point run in the third quarter to create enough separation and eventually clinch a victory that could mean a move up from No. 6 in the MSG Varsity Tri-State Top 25.
Bergen Catholic will now look to its state semifinal showdown with rival Don Bosco Prep, the poll's No. 1 team which fell to St. Joseph Regional, 20-10, this morning.
On Oct. 27, the Ironmen edged the Crusaders, 20-17, thanks to a fourth-quarter burst at Overpeck Park. That setback punctuated a dreary stretch during which they dropped three of five games. Since then, though, Germano and Kulcsar's boys have now won three straight.
Meanwhile, Jabrill Peppers -- working under center for most of the first half -- posted 224 yards and three touchdowns for the Paladins, who will likely fall from the No. 3 slot before their semifinal game against St. Peter's Prep on Saturday.
If both of these teams win next weekend, the state's most magnified championship game will transform into a rematch of this contest. According to Kulcsar, that's a good thing.
"Now we have 'em on film, so we'll be watching," said Kulcsar, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark and ran his season touchdown total to 11. "We're going to be ready."
The Crusaders, of course, have their work cut out for them before they can plan on seeing Peppers and the high-octane Paladins again. Taking down Don Bosco, which has won 11 straight over Bergen Catholic, is certainly a tall order.
“We have to execute,” Germano said. “Last time we really didn’t execute too much, so we have to focus on ourselves. We’re not overly confident, but it’s something we’re looking forward to.”
This complete, well-rounded performance is a good start toward building enough confidence to pull off such an upset.
After James Dawson and Peppers traded touchdowns early in the first quarter, Kulcsar caught a 4-yard scoring strike with 4:43 left in the frame to give Bergen Catholic a 14-7 cushion.
Peppers knotted the game once again, scampering 60 yards for another jaw-dropping run midway through the second. The Crusaders defense handed their team some momentum with three minutes left before halftime, however, when John Feaster picked off Steve Shanley on the 40-yardline and brought it down to the 9. After that, Germano took care of the rest and plunged in for a short touchdown with 51 seconds on the clock for a 21-14 advantage.
Germano and Kulcsar combined again to deliver another blow to the PC secondary with 8:43 left in the third, and Feaster hauled in a 26-yarder as the Crusaders forged a commanding, 35-14 lead six minutes later.
“We play hard to the last whistle,” Germano said. “I’m very lucky that when I see (my receivers), they’re open.”
For Kulcsar, this contest served as a celebration for all his hard work in the offseason preparing to step in for John Tsimis, a Rutgers-bound wide receiver who tore his ACL this summer.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior was not aware he had a shot to get over the 1,000-yard mark, but it made his Thanksgiving a bit happier when notified.
“I didn’t know. I had no idea,” he smiled. “But that’s an incredible thing. Coach Nunzio believed in me. I knew I had it in me when coach told me I had to step up. John’s a great player, but sometimes things happen and other guys have to step up.”
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter