Rockets football team on a roll after turning season around


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By Matthew Rocco

Between the injuries and the challenging schedule, the first three weeks of the season weren’t kind to the Raritan High School football team. But that’s all changed, as the Rockets have kept their playoff hopes alive with four wins in a row.

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Raritan began the 2016 campaign being shut out by Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School and followed with a disappointing 41-14 loss to St. John Vianney High School. Quarterback Marc Carnivale exited the game against the Lancers with an injury in the second half, and his absence left the offense a bit out of sync. The Rockets proceeded to lose to Wall High School, 29-21, falling to 0-3 on the year.

The Rockets finally turned the corner against Donovan Catholic High School. A 34-6 victory seemingly put Raritan back on track toward mounting a defense of its NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group II title.

“We didn’t have any more wiggle room after three losses. Even after winning four in a row, we’re still on the outside looking in,” said head coach Anthony Petruzzi, who believes the Rockets would be much more competitive against Rumson-Fair Haven, St. John Vianney and Wall if they could play those games over.

“We’re trying now to earn the right to play in the playoffs. We’re winning games and beating competitors that really aren’t tops in their conference, but we are playing much better.”

After defeating Donovan Catholic, Raritan toppled Monmouth Regional High School in a 42-7 blowout and then Matawan Regional High School in a 35-14 rout.

The Rockets clinched their fourth consecutive victory Oct. 28 against Spotswood High School. The home game marked another feat for Raritan’s defense, which held Spotswood to a mere 177 yards of total offense in the decisive 42-6 win.

Linebacker Ryan Dickens made his presence known. With less than two minutes to go in the second quarter, Dickens picked off a pass to give Carnivale and the offense a chance to extend Raritan’s lead going into halftime. The ensuing drive lasted one play — a 22-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Rory Sullivan.

Then, in the third quarter, Dickens swiped another pass and took it to the end zone.

The offense was a well-oiled machine. Carnivale and running back Aleo Vito led the Rockets on a first-half surge, earning a break for the remainder of the game. The senior quarterback completed seven of his nine passes for 139 yards and three touchdowns in only two quarters. Vito, who had just 11 touches, ran for 103 yards and a touchdown.

“Since Carnivale has been back against Matawan and Spotswood, we have been able to show what kind of threats we have on offense,” Petruzzi said, adding that Raritan’s offense was more one-dimensional with Carnivale on the sidelines.

Even special teams made a big impact on the scoreboard. Daniel Vanmeerbeke received a punt around midfield and scooted through would-be tacklers for a touchdown — the icing on the cake that put Raritan ahead, 42-6.

Yes, the Rockets (4-3) are rolling as they enter Week 8, yet the team is taking nothing for granted. Next up is Red Bank Regional High School, and the Rockets need one more win to at least have a shot at a postseason berth.

“We need to win,” Petruzzi said. “We don’t control our own destiny, but we can focus on the things that we can do. We’ll identify some of the weaknesses that we have going into our next game. We’ll address those things and do everything we can to beat Red Bank Regional. Then we’ll let the chips fall where they may.”

Red Bank Regional (3-4) will host RaritanNov. 4. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. The Rockets will return home to face Holmdel High School (1-6) in a Thanksgiving Day showdown at 10 a.m.

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