Staring at a nine-point deficit early in this game was certainly not the ideal situation for St. Joseph Regional.
But the Green Knights also knew from recent personal experience that the nine-point lead held by Don Bosco Prep was by no means the visitor's certified ticket to the win column.
"As bad as it is, last week it was Bergen Catholic. We were up, 9-0, and with the same start to the game," St. Joseph senior quarterback Nick Patti said."They persevered, they did a great job. We had to do that same job."
And so the Green Knights did, riding the poise and talent of Patti and the ball-catching ability of senior tight end Matt Alaimo on a stunning 80-yard drive in the final 1:44 to overcome that early nine-point disadvantage and rally to a 16-15 win over Don Bosco Prep Saturday afternoon at Dinallo Stadium in Montvale.
Patti marched the team downfield in nine plays to help St. Joe's (3-2), No. 3 in the Tri-State Top 25, snap a two-game losing streak against No. 10 Don Bosco (2-4) and rebound from a 41-30 loss last week to Bergen Catholic. Yep, the one in which the Knights seized that 9-0 lead.
Patti began the drive with a four-yard pass to senior Yasir Berry and then connected with Alaimo on 30-yard play that highlighted the tight end's concentration, strength and sure hands as he bodied up to a defender and pulled in Patti's throw to the Bosco 48.
"He's taking everything away from people," Patti said of Alaimo, who finished with six receptions for 89 yards. "I mean he's taking two guys with him. It's the combo we have to get the most of because they're gonna start keying on him; he's such a great player."
The drive continued with Patti finding senior Fara'ad McCombs for 13 yards on a third-and-10 from the Ironmen 46, a 12-yarder to Alaimo two plays later, and a six-yard pickup to the 15 on a pass across the middle to junior Gavin Sharkey. That set up a second-and-four for Patti and his future University of Pittsburgh teammate.
Patti dropped straight back, but could not spot an open receiver initially. As pressure developed, he waggled to his left, spotted the 6-5, 235-pound Alaimo scraping right-to-left across the end zone and fired a sidearm bullet for the game-winning play.
WATCH: Patti hits Alaimo with sidearm sling for game-winning touchdown
Don Bosco Prep, which had intercepted Patti on each of the Green Knights' previous two possessions, had 27 seconds remaining to launch an 80-yard comeback, but fumbled at their 30 on the opening play following Angelo Guglielmello's kickoff to the end zone for a touchback.
"Matt did a great job of readjusting to get the guy off him," Patti said of to go-ahead play with Alaimo. "I looked up and I see him completely covered. The next thing you know, there's no one within five yards of him. He made a great move, got open and I just threw the ball."
Looking a little more like a second baseman avoiding an oncoming runner at the bag than a QB off the rollout. But Patti has often been throwing from a lower arm slot than Is customary for a QB, the result of off-season work he did with former Giants great Phil Simms.
"His biggest thing was if your shoulders are square, you could throw from any arm slot. It's all about the shoulders," Patti said. "I think I threw that sidearm; I don't even know. I practice it so much, it's kind of a routine thing for me now."
Just like the act of placing the team's fortunes upon his experienced shoulders for a late-game comeback bid. It's something Patti has done several times since cracking the starting lineup as a sophomore.
And it's that longstanding knack for delivering in the clutch that maintained the confidence Alaimo and the other Green Knights had in Patti, despite those two interceptions, one which actually skimmed off the hands of an intended receiver and into the arms of Don Bosco cornerback Joe Destro with 8:34 left in the game.
"Nick does a great job. He's got a tremendous arm and he's been in these situations," Alaimo said. That's why then Patti was in trouble and scrambled to his left, the big tight end trusted his QB's ability to see the field under duress. He continued his route.
"I'm thinking, hit me early. Don't hit me too late because I'm running into coverage. But that was a great call by him," Alaimo said.
Destro's interception set up a four-play, 35-yard drive that began with a 25-yard pass from Jaquill Batts to fellow sophomore Jalen Berger, two rising stars for the Ironmen. Two incomplete passes and a holding penalty moved Don Bosco back to the 20, but Beger sliced through the middle on third-and-goal for a 20-yard TD run for a 15-10 lead with 7:17 to play. The Ironmen went for two, but Batts' pass-- originally signaled as good--was overruled as incomplete.
That added an extra level of anxiety to a game already fraught with more tension than is customarily between these two heated rivals. That stemmed from allegations made by Don Bosco Prep several weeks ago that St. Joseph coaches had been illegally recruiting some of its players. The case is yet to be heard by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.
St. Joseph had ample time on the clock following Don Boso's go-ahead score, but saw that opportunity shrink significantly when Jason Haber intercepted Patti at the Ironmen 34-yard line with 3:56 remaining. Don Bosco opened the possession with a 25-yard run by Berger, who finished with 108 yards on 20 carries, but the St. Joseph defense recovered after that and forced a punt that gave the Green Knights the ball with 1:44 to go.
"I said, 'Guys, those last two drives are on me. That's my fault,' Patti said in the huddle. 'I'm gonna take us down the field. Everyone stay composed and we’re gonna take this to the end zone.' "
Patti conducted a sterling 17-play, 80-yard drive that opened the second half and put the Green Knights in front, 10-9, when Guglielmello kicked a 32-yard field goal with 3:53 left in the third quarter. Patti started the drive with a 15-yard pass to wide receiver Berry, but later established Alaimo as an effective weapon underneath coverage.
"He's a big part of the team," sophomore running back Andre Johnson said of Alaimo. "We look for him all the time on third down and long. We know we’ve got to go to him."
St. Joseph went to Johnson in the second half after starter Isaiah Hopkinson left early on with an injury. Johnson ran twice for 22 yards in the opening half and then carried 11 times for 42 yards after the break.
Don Bosco Prep grabbed a 2-0 lead when St. Joseph 's snap sailed out of the end zone on a punt attempt from its 23-yard line on its opening possession of the game. It was a flubbed punt snap that had given the Green Knights a 2-0 lead just 1:58 into their game last week against Bergen Catholic. Don Bosco opened a 9-0 lead Saturday with a 59-yard screen pass from Batts to Berger 49 seconds into the second quarter.
A tough spot for St. Joseph, no doubt, but…
"We just tried to stay calm," Alaimo said. "Nine points, we knew we could definitely overcome that. The game is far from over,"
Don Bosco Prep (2-4) 2--7--0--6--15
St. Joseph Reg. (3-2) 0--7--3--6--16
D: Safety, punt snapped out of end zone
D: Jalen Berger 59 pass from Jaquill Batts (Brandon Marrero kick)
S: Isaiah Hopkinson 2 run (Angelo Guglielmello kick)
S: FG Guglielmello 32
D: Berger 20 run (pass failed)
S: Matt Alaimo 15 pass from Nick Patti (pass failed)
Also from Saturday, Oct. 7
NJ POWER RANKINGS
No. 3 St. Joseph Regional 16, No. 8 Don Bosco Prep 15.
No. 5 Pope John 43, No. 6 Paramus Catholic 7: Senior RB Berrell Neal rushed for 91 yards and three touchdowns on just six carries and senior LB Ryan Greenhagen led a stingy and opportunistic defense that pushed the undefeated Lions to their fifth victory, in Pope John. A grueling road stretch lies ahead for Pope John with St. Joseph Regional, Bergen Catholic and DePaul in succession.
Neal scored on runs of 1 and 24 yards in the first half to steer Pope John to a 21-0 halftime lead and he tacked on a 59-yard scoring run in the second half. Greenhagen had one of he Lions' four turnovers on the day, an third-quarter interception that he returned five yards for a TD. Niko Hronich was a tidy 10 of 13 passing for 116 yards and one touchdown, a 65-yard pass to Samuel Darrell in the third quarter. Xavier DeVore scored with a 1-yard run in that quarter for Paramus Catholic 2-4).
No. 10 Montclair 44, East Orange Campus 16: Senior QB Tarri Earle passed for 211 yards and four touchdowns, two of them to Tysean Williams, to pace the Mounties (4-0) in East Orange. D.J. Williams and Charles Murphy each caught a scoring pass and junior RB Willie Matthews ran for a score and also anchored the defense with 18 tackles and two forced fumbles. Quadir Scott threw two fourth-quarter TD passes to Fayeson Carney for East Orange.
No. 12 Old Tappan (4-0) 42, Fair Lawn 7: Nick McNerney was a perfect 6 of 6 in the air for 170 yards and three touchdowns to power the Golden Knights (5-0) in Fir Lawn. He connected with Aidan Bilali on scoring passes of 8 and 42 yards and also found Chris D'Amico on a 29-yard play. Bilali, a senior WR/DB, also scored on an 88-yard kick return for Old Tappan. Ryan Rue scored on a 4-yard run in the fourth quarter for Fair Lawn.
Ramapo 21, Dwight Morrow 8: Junior fullback Luke Ragone rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns on 19 attempts and junior QB A.J. Wingfield was 13 of 21 for 211 yards and a TD to pace the Raiders (4-1) in Englewood. Ragone scored twice in the opening half as Ramapo built a 21-8 lead. Anthony Valvano and Michael Connor anchored the Raiders' defense .
St. Mary (Ruth.) 20, Cresskill 7
Rutherford 20, Waldwick 6
Newark Academy 20, Dwight-Englewood 0
Teaneck 33, Paterson Eastside 0
Glen Ridge 49, Verona 14: Joe Marchesano carried for 195 yards and two touchdowns and Tyler Strong also ran twice for scores to help Glen Ridge (4-1) rebound from a loss last week to Cedar Grove, in Glen Ridge. Tyler Liddy was 6 of 6 passing for 83 yards and a touchdown, a 2-yard pass to David Weissenberger in the second quarter as the Ridgers built a 35-14 halftime lead. C.J. Lavery threw two scoring passes for Verona. Jose McCallen-Villafene and Kieran Moran led the defense for Glen Ridge.
Orange 19, Barringer 0: Senior RB Jair McClary carried for 185 yards and two touchdowns and junior Nyquee Hawkins ran for 130 yards and a TD and also recorded eight tackles to spark Orange's effort in Orange. Nasier Givens helped direct the shutout with five tackles and three sacks.
West Side 29, Newark Collegiate 14: Demetrius Lassiter rushed for two of his three touchdowns in the second half when the Roughriders (5-1) pulled away from a 7-6 lead at Untermann Field in Newark. The senior RB rolled up 393 yards on 28 carries, scoring on runs of 7, 45 and 60 yards. Chrishod Walker passed for 141 yards and a TD and Zaire Thompson made 11 tackles and had a hand in three sacks to lift West Side to a fourth straight win. Anthony Cantey and Nasir Moody scored for Collegiate.
Whippany Park 42, Montclair Immaculate 28
Hackley (NY) 37, Montclair Kimberley 0
Hudson Catholic 44, Marist 0
Lincoln 42, Parsippany 0
Lawrence 26, Ewing 13
Nottingham 49, WWPS 0
Steinert 49, Princeton 6
Spotswood 35, Highland Park 0: Senior QB Chance Fee passed for two touchdowns to guide the Chargers (2-3) to their second straight victory, in Highland Park.
South River 49, Metuchen 7: Junior QB Michael DeSantis passed for 262 yards and two touchdowns and Billy Drum ran for 112 yards and scored three times as the Rams improved to 5-0, in South River. They already have exceeded their victory total in any of the previous three seasons. Travis Thomas hauled in four of DeSantis' throws for 167 yards and a TD and also contributed to the defense.
St. Joseph (Met.) 49, South Plainfield 0
Freehold Boro 56, Monroe 14
Mountain Lakes 21, Madison 14: Read Sean Reilly's account
Seton Hall Prep 37, Delbarton 31: Cameron Carti connected with Dominic Busby on a 10-yard scoring pass early in the fourth quarter to help the Pirates (1-4) thwart a second-half rally effort by Delbarton (0-5) in Morris Township. That play gave Seton Hall a 35-31 lead, and it later added to the scoring with a safety.
Carti passed for 261 yards and four touchdowns, three of them to fellow senior Andrew Perez, but QB counterpart Miles Leniw was equally impressive for Delbarton. He passed for 335 yards and three touchdowns, one a 61-yard pass to Lukas Unger late in the third quarter to give Delbarton a 31-28 lead. The Green Wave had trailed, 21-10, at the half.
Perez caught 11 of Carti's throws for 193 yards and had scoring receptions of 7, 35 and 56 yards. Leniw also threw a 14-yard scoring pass to Anthony Siragusa and a 6-yarder to Michael Jarmolowich.
Morristown-Beard 41, Riverdale (NY) 40
Fieldston Academy (NY) 49, Pingry 48
Cranford 43, Scotch Plains-Fanwood 42
Wallkill Valley 14, Sussex Tech 7
South Hunterdon 42, George (Pa.) 21