Protecting the ball for the Caseys is senior all-star running back Sabino Portella who had 187 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the 50-21 win over Holy Spirit.
By Walter J. O’Neill, Jr.
Sports mirrors life in so many ways. Just because something starts off horrible doesn’t mean it won’t end up being magnificent. That is exactly what happened on Friday night as the Caseys of Red Bank Catholic hosted the Spartans of Holy Spirit in the NJSIAA semifinals of the non-public Group B football bracket.
RBC entered the tournament as the top seed and beat Gloucester Catholic 62-7 in the opening quarterfinals. Fourth seed Holy Spirit crushed St. Thomas Aquinas, fifth seed, 50-21 in their quarterfinal match-up.
The Caseys entered the semifinals with a 9-1 record, their only loss was back on September 30, when Seton Hall Prep beat them 17-0. Red Bank Catholic is the top ranked team in the Shore Conference, while the visitors of Holy Spirit came into Red Bank with an 8-1 record.
The Spartans of Holy Cross won the coin toss and elected to start on offense. Sean Burns, senior quarterback for the Spartans, has one of the fastest releases of any high school quarterback and used that strength to his team’s advantage. His favorite target was Gavin Roman, who had a state-record 100 catches for over 1,000 yards. Within a few plays the Spartans were in the Caseys end zone with a quick 7-0 lead.
On their first possession Red Bank Catholic had sophomore quarterback Frankie Williams drop back looking to pass. Sean Finan, senior linebacker for Holy Spirit, worked his way around Patrick Magee, junior offensive lineman for RBC, and hit the ball out Williams’ hand. It was picked up by Xavier Hernandez of Holy Spirit who ran 47 yards for another Spartan touchdown. With 8:29 to play in the first quarter, top ranked Caseys were down 14-0.
Mike Lange, head coach of RBC, was on the sidelines telling his player to concentrate on their game plan. Lange is in his third year as head coach and last year his team were the Non-Public B state champions finishing with a nearly perfect 11-1 record.
A big part
of the game plan was handing the ball to senior running back Sabino Portella, who appeared unstoppable when he got the ball. He capped off several big runs with a three-yard TD with 3:30 left in the first quarter. And just like that, RBC was down 14-7. “Our team has battled through adversity before and we knew once we got the ball rolling there would be no stopping us,” said Portella.
The Caseys defense made all the right adjustments, stopping Burns from making those big pass completions. In fact, on back-to-back possessions for Holy Spirit had them starting near their own goal line. Holy Spirit was forced to punt from their end zone giving Red Bank Catholic great field position with less than a minute in the quarter.
Portella, with 22 seconds left in the quarter, ran 32 yards for the touchdown and the game was even at 14 going into the second quarter. It was a wild opening to the game.
For most of the second quarter the game was played between the 30-yard lines. But with 34 seconds left in the first half, Burns connected with Tahmir Jones for an eight-yard score. Little did anyone know, that would be the last time Holy Spirit would be in the end zone for an offensive score. They were leading RBC 21-14.
It took only 12 seconds for Red Bank Catholic to pull even with the Spartans. The final score of the first half was a 36-yard pass from Williams to Ross Emmanuel, junior wide receiver for the Caseys. Justin LaMorte was good on his third extra point of the half and the game was even at 21 going into the break. “The number one priority was to establish the run game early, and once we got it going that was no stopping us. The offensive line made me look pretty good. I really didn’t get touched much until the second
ary,” Portella said.
The temperature during the second half dipped below 30 degrees, with a light rain that turned into a brief snow squall. However, Red Bank Catholic was red hot in the second half as they held Holy Spirit scoreless while adding an additional 29 points to their own total for a 50-21 victory.
In the third quarter senior Torin Harmon had an 11-yard touchdown run. LaMorte was good on the extra point. He also kicked a 23-yard field goal. The last score of the quarter was a one-yard run by Portella. Going into the final quarter, RBC was up 38-21.
Fourth quarter had Williams connecting with Emmanuel on a 41-yard touchdown. The extra point kick missed. The last Red Bank Catholic touchdown was a 29-yard run by Torin and again the extra point was no good.
Burns completed 23 of 48 passes for Holy Spirit for 204 yards. They had a total of four running backs getting only 100 rushing yards on 25 carries.
Red Bank Catholic had Williams throwing 122 yards on 6 of 10 passes. On the ground, they ran for 290 yards on 46 carries. Portella had 187 of those yards, just two short of his season high. This year, Portella, has 151 carries for 1,051 yards and 17 touchdowns. His three years on varsity he has run for 2,201 yards on 332 touches with a total of 32 touchdowns.
Friday, November 25, Red Bank Catholic will face the second seed DePaul at MetLife Stadium for the Non-Public, Group B state title. DePaul had a 42-12 win over Immaculate in the quarterfinals, and a 35-14 win over third seed St. Joseph.