When Bergen Catholic lost to Archbishop Wood of Pennsylvania back in September, a game most people expected the Crusaders to win, Nunzio Campanile hoped his team would learn something.
“It’s hard to be at your best every week, week in and week out, and the lesson we learned in that game was to not be frustrated when it doesn’t go exactly to plan,” Campanile said. “I think we’ve learned that it’s hard to win games and to not lose your composure when it’s not going perfect.”
No. 1 Bergen Catholic wasn’t at its best and it certainly wasn’t perfect or even pretty, but the Crusaders relied on their defense and special teams to come from behind twice and knock off No. 4 Pope John, 20-19.
Pope John had a chance to win the game in the final two minutes. The Lions started on their own 31-yard line with 1:58 to go and got into Bergen Catholic territory with a 30-yard catch and run by Sam Darrell from Niko Hroncich, but Javontae Jean-Baptiste came up with a big sack and then Griffin McGovern had a tackle for loss on third down. With no time outs left, Pope John rushed its field goal team on the field and attempted a 50-yard field goal. The kick had the distance, but was well left as time expired.
“We were not at our best, especially on offense today, but we found a way to win,” Campanile said. “It was a great team win. Our defense played great. Our special teams played great and our kicker was clutch nailing two kicks. Great teams have each other’s backs when it’s not going great.”
Michael Kearney booted two field goals, one from 30 yards and one from 36 yards, and Dylan Classi caught two touchdowns from Johnny Langan in the win.
“We didn’t back down from adversity today. We had a couple things not bounce our way and we stuck with it,” Langan said. “We took the advantages that they gave us though and we came out with a good team win.”
Pope John showed immediately that they could play with the No. 1 team in the Tri-State. The teams traded a couple punts and Boston College-bound Nick DeNucci sacked his future teammate, Langan, on a fourth down play to stop a mini drive by the Crusaders.
Jhadir Charles then picked Langan off and returned it to the 17-yard line. After Bergen Catholic got a stop, the Crusaders roughed the field goal kicker, setting the Lions up with a 1st-and-goal. Berrell Neal waltzed into the end zone from five yards out for his first of two touchdowns. He had 96 yards on 13 carries.
Langan hit Classi with a 15-yard strike that the Princeton-bound senior caught, spun, and then dove into the end zone, tying the game, 7-7. Neal answered though on the ensuing offensive play with an 86-yard burst up the gut. A blocked extra point gave Pope John a 13-7 lead and tons of momentum.
Bergen Catholic got something going towards the end of the second quarter though. Langan carried for seven yards and then 14 yards into Pope John territory. Josh McKenzie busted loose for 21 of his 61 yards, but Pope John buckled down and Bergen Catholic settled for a 30-yard field goal from Kearney with 40 seconds left.
Pope John decided to kneel on its first play after the kickoff, and Bergen Catholic went for the kill. The Crusaders called three consecutive time outs to force a punt. The punt snap was mishandled and Garrett Cody tackled the punter at the 10-yard line with 13 seconds left. One play later, Langan threw a fade to Classi who came down with it in the end zone, giving Bergen Catholic a 17-13 lead at the half despite possibly being outplayed for most of it.
“It had to be tough for them going into halftime after the events that happened at the end,” Langan said. “But that’s football. It happens every single week, and I’m glad I was on the good side of it this week.”
Pope John’s Ty Hranicka picked Langan off to start the second half and he brought it 30 yards down to the five-yard line. Two plays later, Niko Hroncich hit powerback Ron Fox out of the backfield for a four-yard touchdown to regain momentum and the lead for Pope John though.
Kearney then kicked a 36-yard field goal with 5:55 to go in the third quarter giving Bergen Catholic a 20-19 lead, nobody scored again as the defenses took over.
Jacob Brown, Ryan Greenhagen, and Nick DeNucci were magnificent for Pope John on defense. Brown had four tackles for loss and Greenhagen and DeNucci each had a sack. Along with the secondary and others, the Lions contained Langan on the day. He finished 14 of 27 passing for 70 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He had 28 yards rushing on 16 carries.
“We just made sure we didn’t make bad plays worse and that’s where we’ve improved,” Campanile said. “A bad snap and Johnny just goes down instead of forcing something. Those are key plays. We’ve learned to trust each other. The offense isn’t going to win, the team is going to win.”
Bergen Catholic’s defense was tough all day too. If you take away Neal’s 86-yard touchdown run, the Lions had -1 yard on the ground. Hroncich completed 20 of 32 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.
“Our defense did a great job when we put them in tough spots,” Campanile said. “Team, tough, and accountable. Those are the three things we preach and we have guys say it’s not about me, it’s about the team and that’s why we’re ready to play.”