With 24 straight wins against Shore Conference competition, Red Bank Catholic has arguably solidified itself as the preeminent high school football power in the area. That may be all well and good, but to get respect outside the Shore Conference, the Caseys are going to need to at least get to a state final.
Trips to the NJSIAA Non-Public Group III semifinals last year at Delbarton and Saturday afternoon at perennial state title contender and No. 1 seed St. Joseph (Montvale) signal progress, but there is clearly still work to be done.
Proof that the gap between RBC and the North Jersey parochial heavyweights remains wide was evident on Saturday as the Caseys jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead, but gave up a few too many big plays over the final three and a half quarters in falling to the Green Knights, 42-7.
St. Joe's (9-2) winner of three of the last four Non-Public Group III crowns, is back to the state final for the fifth straight year. It will oppose No. 2 seed Delbarton in a matchup of last season's Non-Public Group III final, a 45-22 Green Knights win.
"I think we've learned how good we needed to be, but if we think we got there, we're not there yet," Caseys head coach Jim Portela said. "We need to keep working and I know we will. Nothing is gonna stop us, we got a good group of young guys. It's not just about winning and losing. It stinks to lose, but you learn lessons from it.
Early in the first quarter, it looked like it might be RBC's day when senior Chris Whitlock intercepted junior quarterback Spencer Aukamp to set the Caseys up at the Green Knights 17-yard line.
On the ensuing drive, runs of minus-2, no gain and an illegal motion penalty pushed RBC to third-and-17 on the 24. A pass interference penalty on St. Joe's kept the drive alive on the next play before junior running back Larry Redaelli found a hole and went 12 yards up the middle for the touchdown as Pat Toomey's extra point gave RBC an early 7-0 lead.
A fluke play on the next drive helped kick start the Green Knights and even the score.
On the sixth play of the drive, senior running back Brion Wynn fumbled at the RBC 40 after a 5-yard loss. His teammate, Mark Fossati, scooped up along the left sideline, broke a few tackles, reversed field all the way to the other sideline, caught a block and tied the game on what went down as 60-yard fumble recovery.
From there, it was all Green Knights.
In the second quarter, St. Joe's got a 2-yard touchdown from Wynn, a 17-yard run from Fossati and a 23-yard touchdown pass from Aukamp from Fossati to take a 28-7 halftime lead.
In that first half, the Caseys went three-and-out on three of their final four possessions and could only muster 24 yards of total offense.
It was a tough day for Redaelli, who could only gain 28 yards on 16 carries. Toomey finished 2-for-13 for two yards and was also intercepted once.
"The defense was having a hard time, but they were making plays, we didn't tackle, we didn't wrap," Redaelli said. "I feel like we kind of held ourselves back."