After the Marauders of St. Peter’s Prep lost to Bergen Catholic in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 football state playoffs, it wasn’t easy to get geared back up again and play one last game.
“We were pretty melancholy after the game,” St. Peter’s Prep head coach Rich Hansen said. “It was the toughest week of coaching of my career. I think the coaching staff felt the same way. We put all our expectations into that game and when you don’t get to that level of expectation, it’s a letdown. It’s always bittersweet. I know the seniors felt that way.”
One of those seniors was quarterback Brandon Napoleon. He didn’t want to end his Prep career with that loss to Bergen Catholic.
“To be honest, it was very difficult to bounce back and play again,” Napoleon said. “But then we started thinking that we had something to play for. We had to win the county championship.”
The Marauders have had a stranglehold on local supremacy, having captured the last 12 straight Hudson County championships and having won an astounding 97 straight games inside the confines of the county, dating back to 2000.
So there was still something to play for last Friday, when the Marauders faced Union City up on the roof of the new high school. If they won, they could finish with a sense of pride and keep the county title win streak intact.
“We wanted to make our last game a special one,” Napoleon said. “We wanted to go out with a bang. We wanted to end it on a winning note. That was the goal all week in practice. It was a great motivation for us.”
“It was the last time I was going to get to coach the seniors,” Hansen said. “I think that was the rallying cry. We wanted them to leave the right way.”
And one of the things that Hansen wanted to do was allow Napoleon to play his final game in a Prep uniform as the team’s signal caller and leader. It wasn’t time to share the duties with junior Mike Rabasca, like Napoleon did for a good portion of the season, especially after Napoleon suffered a concussion in the second game of the season against St. Joseph of Montvale.
“We gave Brandon the chance to play the whole game,” Hansen said. “He kind of earned it. Playing quarterback in our offense is a lot of responsibility and it’s difficult. He was groomed for the position early on and his athleticism created a lot of difficulty for the opponents. But Brandon was a good ambassador for our program and played with a lot of passion and pride. He’s a special kid who deserved one final shot.”
Napoleon was definitely the consummate team player all season, especially after he was injured.
“I tried to lead my team, but it was frustrating that I got hurt,” Napoleon said. “I then had to become a different kind of leader off the field, help Mike Rabasca run the team when I couldn’t play.”
But last Friday, it was all about Napoleon’s last stand and the senior made the most of it. He completed nine-of-17 passes for almost 194 yards and rushed for a 23-yard touchdown, putting the capper on a 28-7 Marauder victory that kept the reign of Hudson County grid champions intact for another season.
For his efforts, Napoleon has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
For the season, Napoleon was still able to put up some impressive numbers, collecting better than 1,800 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns. He had 1,200 yards passing and 11 touchdowns and rushed for 600 yards and scored seven touchdowns.
“It’s not an easy thing to come back from a serious injury and have the kind of season he had with the schedule we played,” said Hansen, who guided the Marauders to a 7-4 campaign. “Football is not an easy sport, but Brandon found a way to deal with the adversity. He became a better player for it and a better person for it. He ended up giving us pretty good production. He was also able to distribute the wealth with other players and keep us solid, which is difficult to do.”
Napoleon was glad to end his Prep career with a victory and another county title.
“There was a lot of emotion playing that last game,” Napoleon said. “I tried not to show it until the end of the game. I had a lot of emotion, knowing I didn’t want to be the one to make mistakes that would cost us the county championship. I wanted to get the win for the team.”
Napoleon will now head to the University of West Virginia next fall and play for the same program that produced his father, Eugene, who was once a standout running back at the now-defunct St. Joseph of the Palisades, then went on to Morgantown where he set records for kickoff returns that still stand 20 years after he graduated.
“He was always a help to me,” Napoleon said of his father, who coaches the freshman football team at Prep. “He always pushed me to strive for better.”
Napoleon aspires to be a quarterback on the next level, although there are some people who believe his lack of size will prohibit that.
“I’m going down there to be a quarterback, until someone tells me differently,” Napoleon said. “If I see there’s a chance to switch, then maybe I might. But I want to be a quarterback.”
Napoleon will be one of three local players to participate in the U.S. Marines Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl in Phoenix Jan. 3, along with Prep teammate D.J. Singleton and Vin Ascolese of North Bergen.
But Napoleon takes a sense of pride knowing that he leaves Grand and Warren with their incredible streak of local success alive and well.
“Not many programs can say they’ve won 97 games in a row in their county,” Napoleon said. “It shows a lot about us character-wise and about our commitment. It’s a good mark and I hope it continues.” – Jim Hague Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.