Mate Dei Prep’s football team fought to the end.
But it was not meant to be.
Another accomplishment—a fourth straight trip to the state playoff championship game–was then over ridden by another defeat.
Mater Dei gave it all it had left in its tank they to climb back from a 14-point halftime deficit in the NJSIAA Non-Public, Group 3 championship playoff game against DePaul Catholic High School that was played on Dec. 7 at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium in Piscataway.
Mater Dei eventually cut its deficit to just two points but fell short of points and time when the Seraphs were defeated by DePaul Catholic, 27-25, in the state playoff championship game.
“We have a bunch of great kids on our team,” said Mater Dei head coach Dino Mangiero. “We knew that they were going to try to comeback in the second half. They’re very resilient.”
Mater Dei has lost in a state playoff final for the past three seasons. The Middletown school last won a state crown when it captured the Non-Public, Group 2 playoff championship in 2016.
Mater Dei did earn redemption when it defeated rival Red Bank Catholic High School, 10-3, in the playoff semifinals on Nov. 22 in Red Bank. It was Red Bank Catholic that defeated Mater Dei in the 2018 Non-Public, Group 3 state playoff final, 14-10.
Mater Dei was in a hole, trailing 27-12 with 2:26 to play in the third quarter.
But true to Mangiero’s words, Mater Dei rallied with two unanswered touchdowns. However, Mater Dei couldn’t connect on a two-point conversion after Naran Buntin’s 50-yard touchdown run off the jet sweep with 7:10 left to play. That left the score at 27-25, a figure that remained until the clock ran out.
Mater Dei found themselves down from the start, seeing the school from Wayne go on a nine-play 69-yard touchdown drive during the game’s opening possession to take an early 7-0 lead.
The Seraphs battled back to get on the board in the second quarter on its second offensive possession of the contest.
After coming out of the game due to a shoulder injury on the DePaul Catholic’s second offensive drive of the contest, Mater Dei senior running back Malik Ingram came back to the field to spur a performance that sparked his teammates.
Ingram accounted for 65 of Mater Dei’s 14-play, 78-yard scoring drive that the senior finished off with a two-yard burst into the end zone for the team’s first touchdown of the game. DePaul Catholic blocked the extra point to remain in front, 7-6, with 10:05 to go in the first half.
The Spartans answered right back on their next drive. Junior quarterback Andrew Butler threw his second touchdown pass of the half, connecting with wide receiver Teddy Afful for a 50-yard score.
Mater Dei was inches away from answering DePaul Catholic on the following drive, but Ingram was ruled not to have crossed the goal line on his plunge into the end zone on fourth and goal from the two. The call on the field stood upon further review.
Forcing DePaul Catholic to go three and out on its next possession, the Seraphs had another chance to cut into the Spartans.
Electing to go for a 41-yard field goal attempt with 1:05 to play in the first half, Richie Pekmezian’s kick came up short and the Searphs came away with nothing on its second straight possession.
The missed field goal proved to be costly for Mater Dei Prep with DePaul Catholic putting together a perfect two-minute drill drive to add to its lead before the half.
Back-to-back completions from Butler to Afull, and then a 13-yard pass to wide receiver Edward Conoran, drove DePaul Catholic all the way down to the Mater Dei one-yard line.
After being denied his first quarterback sneak try into the end zone, Butler rushed the Spartans up to the line and was successful on his second attempt to cross the goal line as time in the first half expired to give DePaul Catholic a 20-6 halftime lead.
“Special teams killed us,” Mangiero said. “You can’t miss extra points and we knew that going in.”
Mater Dei quarterback Alex Brown bounced back after throwing an interception on the team’s first possession of the second half to help the Seraphs cut their deficit to 20-12 with 8:39 to go in the third quarter.
Hooking up for Isaiah Noguera for a 32-yard completion just passed midfield, Brown connected with wide receiver Clarence Lewis two plays later for a 48-yard touchdown.
Brown completed six of his 12 passes in the contest for 108 yards, before leaving the game after throwing his only touchdown pass of the night due to injury.
Butler responded for DePaul Catholic by throwing his third touchdown of the contest to put the Spartans up 27-12 with 2:26 to play in the third quarter.
The junior finished with a game-high 363 passing yards and four total touchdowns in the contest.
Down 15 points with just over 14 minutes left to play in regulation, Mater Dei put together one last comeback effort to take home the Non-Public, Group 3 title.
Noguera lit a spark into the Seraphs by coming in to replace Brown under center, tallying off 60 yards on the ground to get Mater Dei down to the DePaul Catholic four-yard line.
Ingram finished off the drive with a four-yard rumble into the end zone for his second touchdown of the contest to cut the Mater Dei deficit to 27-19 with a minute to go in the third quarter.
The senior rushed for a game-high 111 yards on 24 carries, giving him 1,487 yards on the ground for the season. Ingram finished the season with 21 rushing touchdowns and a total of 24 scores for the fall.
Mater Dei got the touchdown is needed on its next possession. Having success with the jet sweep motion throughout the drive, Buntin took the jet sweep handoff in the backfield and turned the corner up the right sideline for a 50-yard score to make it a two-point game with 7:10 left to play.
Needing a two-point conversion to tie things up, Mater Dei came up empty with DePaul Catholic swallowing up Noguera in the backfield to keep the Spartans in the lead.
Mater Dei got the stop it needed on defense to get the ball back with 5:25 left to play, but DePaul Catholic forced the Seraphs into a fourth and two situation at midfield.
The Seraphs decided to punt the ball away and pin DePaul Catholic deep into its own territory in hopes their defense would get another stop with 3:11 left to play.
That was not the case with DePaul Catholic racking up three first downs to run out the clock and win the championship.
Noguera rushed for 103 yards in the contest.
Junior defensive linemen Dom Guidice had a solid game in the trenches, racking up a game-high three sacks for the Seraphs.
Mater Dei finished the season with a record of 8-4.
Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports