It was the opportunity the Mater Dei Prep football team had been waiting for since the end of last season.
A chance to avenge last year’s loss in the state playoff final with a matchup against Red Bank Catholic High School in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Non-Public, Group 3 playoffs.
Through an outstanding defensive performance and senior running back Malik Ingram racking up his 19th rushing touchdown of the season, Mater Dei achieved that opportunity on the evening of Nov. 22 at Count Basie Field in Red Bank.
The third-seeded Seraphs knocked off second-seeded Red Bank Catholic by a score of 10-3, holding the Caseys to their lowest points total of the season to advance to their fourth straight state group playoff championship game.
Mater Dei will now play top-seeded DePaul Catholic High School of Wayne in the Non-Public, Group 3 state championship game at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium on Dec 7.
Mater Dei punched a ticket to the state final and earned revenge, too. In last year’s Group 3 state title game, Red Bank Catholic defeated Mater Dei, 14-10, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.
The game last Friday evening in Red Bank was not decided until the final seconds deep in Mater Dei territory when RBC sustained one last drive. But once again the Mater Dei defense rose to the occasion and the Caseys fell short of the end zone.
“This was a great defensive effort by our team,” said Mater Dei Prep coach Dino Mangiero. “Red Bank Catholic has a lot of really good athletes on their team. Our defense just shut them down. Our seniors came through for us and played well.”
Mater Dei’s defense led to them getting on the board first midway through the second quarter.
Finding himself at the right place at the right time, senior Clarence Lewis scooped up the loose ball up the sideline to give Mater Dei the ball back at its own 36-yard line.
Lewis has tallied three turnovers on defense in the past two games for Mater Dei.
“I just ran to the football,” Lewis said. “You never want to give up on a play. I got there and the ball came right to me.”
On the first play of the pursuing drive, Ingram shot the Seraphs deep into Red Bank Catholic territory with a 50-yard run to the Caseys’ 14-yard line.
Ingram scored the only touchdown of the game two plays later, taking the inside handoff and sprinting off the ride side to the end zone for an eight-yard score to put Mater Dei up 7-0 with 7:36 to play in the first half.
“We just stuck together as a team,” Ingram said. “No man was above anybody else. We just all fought hard together. I’m so happy for us.”
Ingram rushed for a game-high 137 yards in the victory.
Red Bank Catholic got on the board on the final play of the first half. A 29-yard field goal by Michael O’Connor cut the Seraph lead to 7-3 going into halftime.
Mater Dei extended its lead on the opening drive of the second half. Two first down completions by quarterback Alex Brown to Lewis led a 15-play scoring drive that ended with Richie Pekmezian drilling a 36-yard field goal to give Mater Dei a seven-point lead once again.
Elijah Jules helped Red Bank Catholic responded by running back the pursuing kickoff to the Mater Dei Prep 28-yard line, but the Seraphs defense didn’t allow the Caseys to take advantage of the good field position.
Back-to-back sacks by defensive lineman Dom Guidice killed the Red Bank Catholic drive and forced the Caseys to punt.
Red Bank Catholic started the fourth quarter with good field position again at the Mater Dei 36, however, the Caseys couldn’t capitalize again. A big sack on 4th and 8 by the Mater Dei defense forced Red Bank Catholic to turn the ball over on downs.
After getting a sack on second down, Mater Dei defensive lineman Tajay Passmore made a great read on Red Bank Catholic’s designed screen play with a tackle in the backfield to force the Caseys to punt the ball away with 1:57 to play.
The Mater Dei defense racked up six sacks in the second half.
“We have two pretty good defensive ends, so we gave them two-way goes and a couple of times we blitzed them,” Mangiero said. “We ran a couple of base rushes. We tried to mix it up and keep them off-balanced.”
Red Bank Catholic had one last chance to tie or win the game by getting the ball back at its own 27-yard line with 1:27 to play.
The Caseys drove all the way down to the Mater Dei 39-yard line and clocked the ball with 19 seconds to play.
As they have had all game, the Mater Dei defense stepped up again with a sack on the following the play.
With no timeouts, Red Bank Catholic ran up to the line to get one last play off before time expired.
Quarterback Ryan Edgerly scrambled to his left and threw a pray up the sideline that was caught by Lenny Loria inside the 15-yard line, but the junior wide receiver couldn’t advance the ball further as Mater Dei held on for its long-sought redemption.
“Not only did we play for one another, but we also played for the seniors last year that couldn’t come back and get revenge,” Ingram said. “Last year we were crying and this year the tables are turned. It’s unbelievable. We’re so excited. We got one more win to go.”
The Seraphs are now 8-3 on the season and have won four straight games. Red Bank Catholic finished the season with a 5-4 record.
Mater Dei will play No. 1 DePaul Catholic High School in the state championship game at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium on Dec 7.
Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports