MONTVALE, N.J. –
Following an impressive first half where Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.)
imposed its depth and will while ringing up a 28-0 lead, the Ironmen coaching staff grew increasingly irritated. A couple of incomplete passes, a couple of missed assignments, and the nation's No. 1 team was going three-and-out for the second time in three third-quarter series against traditional Thanksgiving rival St. Joseph Regional.
"We definitely came out lackadaisical in the second half. We were up 28-0 and kind of like, 'yeah, yeah,'" sophomore tailback/cornerback Jabrill Peppers
said. "But you can't be like that."
Consider it a lesson learned: Eventually the Ironmen flashed enough of finest form to close out a 41-0 victory, extending the nation's third-longest win streak to 45 games eight days before their anticipated rematch with Bergen Catholic in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 title game next Friday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
"Bergen in the Meadowlands," Peppers said, "it won't be like that."
For two full quarters, the Ironmen serviced notice as to why we ranked them atop our Xcellent 25 this summer. Peppers rushed for three 1-yard touchdowns, seniors Elijah Shumate
and Mike Yankovich
each crossed the goal line on the ground and the defense sacked St. Joseph (9-2) quarterbacks four times as Don Bosco seized a 28-0 halftime lead.
"I thought we came out on fire," head coach Greg Toal said. "I thought we played as well as we could in the first half. That's a good football team that we played against; they'll win the (Non-Public) Group 3 championship."
With a No. 1 ranking comes an expectation for four quarters of dominance, though, and the Ironmen looked uninspired coming out of the locker room after intermission. Shumate admitted "we felt like we already had the win," although head coach Toal, ever the perfectionist, saw his players loafing while running pass patterns and missing blocks – mistakes uncharacteristic for one of his teams.
Hearing the wrath of Toal and his coaching staff helped inspire the Ironmen again. After their second three-and-out of the third quarter, Peppers plunged in for his third 1-yard touchdown to cap a powerful, albeit methodical, 7-play, 22-yard drive.
And following a Peppers interception on the ensuring drive, the Ironmen overpowered the Green Knights on a 14-play, 84-yard drive Shumate – who told MaxPreps afterward he will take official visits planned to Rutgers (Dec. 9) and Notre Dame (Dec. 16) – ended with an 11-yard scoring burst that made it 41-0 with 3:29 remaining.
"In the second half we expected them to come out and give us more effort," Toal said. "They settled down, they did a good job. Hey, 41-0 is not bad."
Not bad – although the Ironmen realize they will need more than mere spurts of dominance to turn back a Bergen Catholic team they trailed after three quarters before rallying for a 33-22 triumph on Oct. 30. This is why Peppers expects Don Bosco's notoriously intense practices to be especially "grinding" next week before the Ironmen travel down Route 17 to face their biggest rival.
"They better come and play," Toal said. "Bergen's a good team. If they don't come and play, they get beat. If they come and play, I think we'll be all right."
After the game, Toal put things in perspective by saying, "They're kids." The coach is mindful that although the Ironmen lost their focus for a little while Thanksgiving afternoon, they eventually find their way.
Case in point: Don Bosco trailed Bergen Catholic, 22-21, through three uncharacteristic quarters before a relentless fourth-quarter rally yielded their hardest-won victory this season. Since then, the Ironmen routed their next seven opponents, including St. Joseph, by an average of 43.4 points.
Next Friday night at Met Life Stadium, four quarters of focus and Bergen Catholic are all that stand between Don Bosco capturing a sixth straight state title – and perhaps its second mythical national championship in three seasons.
"We're gonna win," said junior Alquadin Muhammad
, who recorded two of his team's five sacks. "We know it's not going to be an easy challenge, it's going to be a tough one. But we're going to get this Dub."
Don Bosco Prep 14 14 6 7 41
St. Joseph Regional 0 0 0 0 0
Peppers 1 run (Murray kick)
Shumate 9 run (Murray kick)
Peppers 1 run (Murray kick)
Yankovich 5 run (Murray kick)
Peppers 1 run (PAT failed)
Shumate 11 run (Murray kick)