Needless to say, it’s been a very interesting first half of the high school football season for the mighty Marauders of St. Peter’s Prep.
In just a little over a month, the Marauders have traveled to Annapolis and Rutgers, had some eye-popping, jaw-dropping dominating victories, endured a controversial forfeit victory and reached some impressive team and personal milestones.
But in the eyes of veteran head coach Rich Hansen, the Marauders are maintaining status quo, even with a relatively young and unproven roster.
“We’re where we thought we’d be,” Hansen said of the Marauders’ 5-0 record, which includes the totally insane forfeit win over Kearny. “We set the expectations really high. We had a really great summer that went right into training camp. There were no indications to think we would be anywhere else than where we are right now.”
The Marauders shut out Union City, 41-0, last weekend, shutting down a Soaring Eagles’ offense that had been churning out yardage, both on the ground and in the air.
The win came a week after shutting out Boston College High, 56-0, at Rutgers Stadium, a result that certainly sent shockwaves throughout the state.
The Marauders have only played four games, thanks to the last-minute Kearny cancellation and forfeit win, but they have now outscored their opponents by an unfathomable combined total of 205-13.
“I thought we’d be successful, sure,” Hansen said. “But I never go into a game thinking we’re going to beat a good team 56-0. We were just able to come back from the week off [the forfeit] and roll from there. It’s had somewhat of a snowball effect.”
The Marauders’ defense has been devastatingly dominating.
“We’ve only allowed one touchdown all year,” Hansen said. “We gave up a touchdown in the second quarter of the first game [a 31-6 win over McDonogh School at the U.S. Naval Academy] and that’s been it. They’ve set the tone for the rest of the team. My son [Rich, Jr., the team’s defensive coordinator] has done a great job with their training and conditioning to get them ready.”
Hansen was asked if there has been a surprise among the Marauder defenders.
“The biggest surprise, I guess, has been the play of sophomore Dave Tolentino at nose guard,” Hansen said. “He’s been able to step in and do such a great job at the nose. We’ve had great play from Armond Cox and Brian Rabasca along the line as well. Those three have done an excellent job for us on defense.”
But the most impressive aspect of the Marauders’ early season prowess has been their offense.
The Marauders have been utilizing two quarterbacks, namely senior Mike Rabasca (Brian’s twin brother) and scintillating sophomore Brandon Wimbush, who already has the major college recruiters drooling.
It’s definitely Rabasca’s team, as he completed 7-of-9 passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns, both to standout receiver Charlie Callinan, in the win over Union City last week.
“But we try to get Wimbush quality reps,” Hansen said. “He needs to be comfortable in this environment, to give him some mental comfort. It’s definitely a luxury to have, being able to use two good quarterbacks.”
Callinan, who heads for Boston College next fall, had a great game against Union City, catching three passes for 90 yards and the two touchdowns. He also had a touchdown run of 11 yards.
“Charlie works so hard,” Hansen said. “He creates so many matchup problems for opponents. They can’t afford to leave him alone on one-on-one coverage.”
The Marauders also go four deep in the backfield, with junior Jonathan Hilliman leading the way. The speedy Hilliman is also a top college prospect waiting to happen, with several colleges already throwing offers his way. Hilliman had 172 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns against Union City.
But the Marauders can also call upon senior Trejon Dinkins, another speedster that national recruiting guru Tom Lemming calls “a diamond in the rough.” And then there’s either Corey Caddle or Minkah Fitzpatrick that can carry the load when called upon.
“We have some packages where we have all four on the field at the same time,” Hansen said. “It’s great balance and the bottom line is that they all do something different very well.”
But now, the season becomes more interesting, because the Marauders venture into the rougher waters caused by the Parochial schools of Bergen County.
The Marauders will face St. Joseph of Montvale this weekend in a battle of state-ranked titans.
“It’s obviously the best team we’ve faced so far,” Hansen said. “It’s a great challenge for us. These are the kinds of games that we prepare for and get excited about. I don’t know if it’s a rivalry yet, but they’re a good team and we like playing them.”
The Green Knights of St. Joseph are ranked No. 2 in the state, with the Marauders at No. 4.
“They’re a good team with good players,” Hansen said. “I think we’re better we have been in recent years. I love this team and I’ve said it from Day One, that they’re a good team and a fun team to coach. They’ve worked very hard and played very well to get to this point.”
However, the Marauders have not fared well against their Bergen County foes over the last seven years.
Since winning the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 state championship in 2005, the Marauders have posted a combined 4-12 record against St. Joseph, Bergen Catholic and Don Bosco Prep, the big three of Bergen County, including the last five straight losses over the last two years.
The Marauders were devastated by St. Joseph, 49-18, last year, and lost 27-17 in 2010. The last win over the Green Knights came in 2009.
Maybe the time has come for the Marauders to break the slide. The pieces are certainly in place. It’s one thing to win 100-plus games in your own backyard. As impressive as the Marauders’ streak is against Hudson County teams, going without a loss inside the humble confines of Hudson County since 2000, the Marauders have to find a way to win the big game against the Bergen County triumvirate.
“Respect has to be earned,” Hansen admitted. “It’s time to step it up.”
The respect can begin this weekend and can continue into December and into the state playoffs. Whether the Marauders can win this weekend – or in the playoffs – is another thing.
One milestone took place recently. When the Marauders defeated Boston College High, it marked the 200th victory of Hansen’s coaching career, putting him in the same class with coaching legends like Vince Ascolese, the late Joe Coviello and Ed Stinson. Hansen is the one who has been left to carry the torch.
“When I have a chance to sit back and think about it, it will be a nice thing,” Hansen said. “Right now, I’m in the middle of the grind. It’s tough to exhale and think about that now.”
Not with the Green Knights waiting.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.