ORADELL, NJ -
More than halfway through the first quarter, Gary Nova
was still stuck on the Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.)
sideline, watching and impatiently waiting as Bergen Catholic (Oradell, N.J.)
made its second surge into the Ironmen's red zone before the Pittsburgh-bound quarterback even took his first snap.
"We've got to get into the end zone. We've got to get the momentum back," the senior signal-caller thought.
And then, just when Bergen Catholic drove to the Don Bosco 15 and threatened to take a 10-0 lead, senior linebacker Lars Larsen
jumped a pass pattern, his easy interception of a Tanner McEvoy
toss finally putting Nova in position to tame all talk of an uprising by the defending national champions' chief rivals.
From there, Nova and an opportunistic defense enabled No. 17 Don Bosco to celebrate an occasionally uneven, but nonetheless emphatic and inspiring 38-18 victory before a spirited crowd of 8,000 inside of Crusader Stadium.
It proved the latest impressive showing for the Ironmen (4-0), who added a BC (3-1) squad considered second-best in New Jersey entering Saturday to an impressive victory log that already include Gilman and St. Ignatius.
"They're just such a well-coached team that they don't break," Bergen Catholic coach Nunzio Campanile told reporters. "They don't give you anything easy."
"We're a lot better than I thought we'd be," Don Bosco Prep coach Greg Toal said with a smile.
Separated by just eight miles in northern Bergen County, this latest installment of the Garden State's greatest annual rivalry heightened in anticipation and intensity simply because there are now branches from the Campanile family tree on both sidelines.
Once Toal's offensive coordinator and Don Bosco's athletic director, Campanile is in his first season of trying to restore Bergen Catholic
to its previous place of national prominence.
Seven minutes in, the Crusaders appeared primed to snap a six-game skid against Don Bosco. Campanile called a few well-designed runs to highlight a methodical 10-play drive opening drive consummated when Ryan Rose
's 25-yard field goal split the uprights, then resorted to special-teams trickery and recovered the ensuing onside kick.
After Tanner McEvoy (22-for-38, 273 yards, two TDs and three interceptions; 26 rushes, 133 yards) clicked with Ryan Finkel to convert a 4th-and-5, BC found itself 15 yards away from a potential 10-0 lead. Then Larsen saw McEvoy's lock onto his receiver over the middle, took a quick couple of steps and caught the first of three of interceptions the Ironmen would eventually turn into 21 decisive points.
Despite giving up 475 yards, Don Bosco's defense also forced a fumble and three turnovers on downs.
"Our coaches tell us never to back down. That's what we kept doing," said Larsen, one of three returning starters from the 2009 squad. "They were about to go up 10-0. Our team was a little down. ... I just jumped in front of the receiver."
At the 4:15 mark of the first quarter, Nova (6-for-15, 167 yards) finally took his first snap. Two plays later, Anthony Campanile - who became the Ironmen's offensive architect when Nunzio left for BC - called for Nova to find running back Tom Schlett
in the left flat. Fifty-four yards later, Don Bosco clung to a 7-3 lead.
Once again, BC found its way inside the Ironmen's red zone. However, Larsen broke up a 4th-and-13 pass to leave the Crusaders with just three points to show for three marches that saw them get to at least the Don Bosco 15.
"To have them come away with three points," Toal said, "that really set the tone."
Nova added a pair of one-yard scoring runs, the last of which came after Michael Strizak
picked off a screen pass on BC's first second-half drive. A Sal Mastriani interception on the Crusaders' next drive put rising Division I prospect Paul Canevari
(26 carries, 155 yards) in position to plunge across the goalline from a yard out, the first of his two scores that helped Don Bosco distance itself before a crowd that could witness a rematch in the New Jersey Non-Public Group 4 playoffs this winter.
"It's the biggest rivalry in the country and in the state," Nova said. "It's the the two best teams in the state."
While this is often a fact of New Jersey high school football, this much still is certain: Don Bosco remains the Garden State's measuring stick.
DB 7 7 14 10 - 38
BC 3 0 0 15 - 18
BC – Ryan Rose 25 Field Goal
DB – Tom Schlett 54 pass from Gary Nova (Aiden Murray kick)
DB – Nova 1 run (Murray kick)
DB – Nova 1 run (Murray kick)
DB – Paul Canevari 1 run (Murray kick)
BC – Jack Gallagher
r 2 pass from Tanner McEvoy (Cameron Dickerson pass from McEvoy)
DB – Murray 38 Field Goal
DB – Canevari 39 run (Murray kick)
BC – Nick La Testa
11 pass from McEvoy (Rose kick)