They call themselves members of the “Darkside”, but Paramus Catholic is certainly enjoying every bit of the beaming spotlight.
The Paladins have taken the Garden State by storm, not just through constructing creative slogans and rally cries, but by cruising their way through the first four weeks of the season thanks to an explosive offense. Now that the element of surprise is vapor, Jabrill Peppers and company are flying around the field with a giant bull’s eye on their backs.
That’s just the way they like it.
Peppers showed off some more swag on Friday evening, registering 139 rushing yards and three of his four touchdowns in the first half en route to helping Paramus Catholic blow by Ridgewood, 42-10.
Najee Clayton and James Colacci also hauled in second-half touchdowns for the Paladins, who improved to 4-0 and earned the right to maintain their No. 6 listing in the current MSG Varsity Tri-State Top 25 poll.
"Anytime you beat a team of Ridgewood's caliber, it's a big game," said PC coach Chris Partridge, whose team out-gained the opposition, 476-109, in total yards. "We started slow again, but that's building a lot of character on this team. We've got special kids on this team."
Steve Shanley completed 20-of-29 attempts for 262 yards to five different receivers. "We have the best talent in the country. I don't know anywhere else with better receivers. They're going up and getting 'em."
Peppers opened the scoring with 6:49 to go in the first, capping off a 7-play, 72-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown plunge. Ridgewood punctured the Paladins defense early in the second by converting a short field goal.
The Maroons, who fell to 2-2, showed a lot of life in the early going, especially when they forged a 10-7 lead midway through the second. After Dejon Harrison fumbled the ball on the 20, Ridgewood recovered and quickly took advantage. Fleet-footed quarterback Jamal Locke connected with Connor Van Coaugherty on a 16-yard scoring strike in the corner of the end zone at the 7:02 mark.
A disconcerting trend for the on-the-rise Paladins has been slow starts, fast finishes. That certainly didn't sway on this chilly night, as Peppers set up his own 1-yard touchdown run with a 40-yard rumble and 27-yard catch on the following drive.
"I can't do it without my O-line," Peppers said. "They work hard in practice and it shows. The full backs block for me, too, and I just do the rest."
Paramus Catholic took a 14-10 lead with 4:14 remaining in the second and never looked back. Peppers added a highlight-reel, 15-yard diving catch in the corner of the end zone with 6.2 seconds before the half to balloon the advantage to 21-10.
The Paladins beefed up the cushion in the second half, thanks to Peppers' 4-yard score in the third and an 18-yard touchdown catch by Colacci in the waning seconds of that session. Clayton added a 15-yard touchdown catch with 5:14 remaining.
Partridge’s team put a bow on the first portion of the campaign, during which it erased a 16-point deficit and eventually flew by Delbarton, 36-23, in Week 1 and then bounced DePaul by a 35-13 margin seven days later.
Now, following big wins over two public schools, the Paladins have their bye week. Then on Oct. 12, they will take on No. 2 Don Bosco Prep, the nationally known program from which Peppers and fellow electric running back Keyon Washington transferred this offseason.
"We'll prepare for that one just like any other game," Partridge said. "They'e no different than any other team."
Paramus Catholic is slated to face No.1 St. Joseph Regional, Friendship Academy (DC) and Northern Highlands before rounding out the regular season against No. 3 Bergen Catholic.
Quite a mountain to climb, but it's nothing the Paladins are nervous about. After all, they've been waiting for the chance to compete with the best -- and be taken seriously when expressing their aspirations of being the best.
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter