By Matthew Rocco
The top seniors on the Raritan High School football team will soon be reunited with their head coach for one more game after winning a state championship in their final season.
Rockets coach Anthony Petruzzi will lead the Monmouth County all-star squad against Ocean County in the 39th annual U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic. The Rockets are well-represented on the Monmouth County roster, a reminder of Raritan’s improbable run to the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group II title over undefeated Lincoln High School.
Nick Pasquin, who made the last-second, game-winning catch that clinched the state crown, was selected to play cornerback and wide receiver for Monmouth County. Joining the Susquehanna University-bound senior are running back Derek Ernst and wide receiver Jordan Smith. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Ernst rushed for 144 yards on 35 carries in Raritan’s final game.
Petruzzi was excited for the opportunity to get back on the field with his seniors before they officially close the book on their high school careers.
“It’s nice to have them back one more time. For us coaches, we can really enjoy our time with them,” he said. “For my guys, it’s another chance to represent your school one more time.”
The other local all-stars for Monmouth County are Calvin Beaty (St. John Vianney), Isaiah Phillip (Matawan), Aliem Shaw (Matawan), Makaya Caesar (Matawan), Desmond Underwood (Keyport), Joe Rice (St. John Vianney), Matt Mosquera (Middletown South), Cole Hardy (Mater Dei), Matt Dombrowski (Middletown North), Evan Smutz (Keyport), Joe Rutkowski (Middletown South) and Pat McGowan (Middletown North).
Monmouth County’s coaching staff is comprised of John Bird, Mark Ciccotelli, Chris Damian, Jerome Dean, Matthew Dempsey, David Ernst, Bob Generelli, George Gibson, David Monro, John Paczkowski, John Principe and Jeff Struble.
First and foremost, Petruzzi wants the team to enjoy playing in one last big game as high school athletes.
“Obviously, we want to try to win the game, but we want to keep it fun. We can go from a loose to a professional atmosphere. They love it, and they want to be here. That allows you to play loose and have fun,” he said.
Petruzzi also said working with the most talented football players in the Shore Conference makes it easier to prepare for the showcase in a short amount of time. Plus, the players are already familiar with one another.
“It’s different from years back. With social media, they already know each other. Most of the guys know each other from playing against each other or communicating online,” Petruzzi said.
Ocean County won last year’s Gridiron Classic, 27-7. Monmouth County leads the series with a record of 20-17-1.
The All-Shore Gridiron Classic at Central Regional High School’s Joseph J. Boyd Memorial Field will kick off at 7 p.m. June 30. Gates will open at 5 p.m., and tickets will cost $10. The rain date is July 1.