In a New Jersey vs. Florida doubleheader where defense reigned supreme, the Garden State earned one victory and let another slip away.
Behind two late touchdowns by Leonte Carroo and Jabrill Peppers, No. 1 Don Bosco Prep overcame a fourth-quarter deficit to down No. 19 Manatee (Fla.) by the count of 22-16. Bergen Catholic wasn't so fortunate in the second contest, as the No. 48 Crusaders watched an early lead morph into a 12-7 loss to Plant (Fla.).
Don Bosco's offense gave Manatee (1-2) several opportunities to win the contest, muffing a punt, missing an extra point and stalling on a number of drives. A 27-yard field goal by Nic Tankersley put Manatee up 10-9 midway through the final quarter.
But just as the upset alert spread throughout Manatee's Hawkins Stadium, where the Hurricanes hadn't lost since October 30, 2009, Don Bosco (2-0) stormed back.
First-year starting quarterback Mike Yankovich found Carroo deep for a 64-yard touchdown strike to put the Ironmen up 15-10 after a failed two-point try. Then Manatee, which had struggled with long snaps throughout the game, hiked one high over the punter's head deep in its territory. Don Bosco recovered at the 6 and Peppers ran it in from there for his second score on the night, sealing the Ironmen's 37th straight victory.
Carroo racked up 113 receiving yards and Peppers finished with 70 rushing yards for the Ironmen, who showed that they can be resilient as well as dominant, witnessed by last week's 35-7 win against Mission Viejo (Calif.).
As Bergen Catholic ran onto the field for its shot at another Florida powerhouse, the Crusaders' rivalry with Don Bosco gave way to state solidarity, as the Ironmen hyped up their fellow Garden State players.
Bergen Catholic turned this adrenaline into a 47-yard touchdown run by Michael Gerst, giving the visiting squad a 7-3 lead in the first quarter. The Crusaders' defense took it from there, holding the explosive Panthers to just one touchdown.
But that one TD — a second-quarter scoring run by Plant's Wesley Bullock — as well as a Crusader offense that turned it over twice and mustered just 158 total yards sealed Bergen Catholic's fate.
For more discussion on the games and what they say about New Jersey's national status, click here to check out the podcast from High School GameNight, which airs Fridays from 11 p.m. to midnight on 1050 ESPN Radio New York. Yours truly appeared last night around the 14-minute mark.
Brandon Parker covers New Jersey for ESPNHS magazine and ESPNHIGHSCHOOL.com. Follow him on Twitter @brandoncparker or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.