There hasn’t been a Hudson County football team that has made more trips to the Meadowlands and the NJSIAA state football championships than the Marauders of St. Peter’s Prep.
In fact, three of the four NJSIAA state titles that the Prep football team procured came at either Giants Stadium (1994 and 2005) or MetLife Stadium (2014).
And six other times since the Marauders’ third state title in 2005 had the Marauders advanced to the state title game at the Meadowlands, only to fall there.
It means that eight times in the last 14 years, the Marauders marched to the Meadowlands to play a state title game in the Mecca of all high school football facilities in New Jersey.
“That’s the goal every year,” said Rich Hansen, Prep’s long-standing head football coach and athletic director and architect of all four prior state championships, one in each decade, 1989, 1994, 2005 and 2014. “The goal is to get to MetLife and play for a state championship. It has become a measuring stick for our program. We’ve been there many times. We haven’t won as much as we would have liked to, but we’ve played there many years.”
Sure enough, the Marauders were headed back to MetLife once again to end their season, to face arch nemesis Don Bosco Prep in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 championship game, slated for Saturday, Nov. 30, at 7 p.m.
The Marauders have faced the Ironmen five times in the state title game at either the old Giants Stadium or the newer MetLife and won only once, defeating the Ironmen, 22-15, to win the state title in 2005.
“I’m happy for our seniors,” said Hansen, the granddaddy of all active Hudson County grid coaches with 268 victories dating back over the last 32 seasons. “It was their desire to have their careers end there and they are getting the chance to make it right.”
The Marauders (10-1) punched their ticket to MetLife with a thrilling 35-28 come-from-behind victory over St. Augustine Prep last Friday night at Caven Point Cochrane Stadium on a 1-yard quarterback keeper from Tahjamell Bullock with less than 20 seconds to play in regulation.
The Marauders trailed, 28-21, with less than five minutes left.
“We were very concerned,” Hansen said. “There was definitely some sadness on the sidelines, but I said that their chins didn’t extend to their chests. There was no reason to be down. We had come back before.”
The Marauders had come from behind to defeat Bergen Catholic and Don Bosco Prep in the regular season and Notre Dame of Trenton in the state playoffs earlier in the season.
“We had three unbelievable moments and came back to win,” Hansen said. “At that point, the kids were all saying the right things.”
The Marauders scored two touchdowns in the closing minutes to come away with the victory. They tied the game at 28-28 on a 60-yard TD bomb from Bullock to Byron Shipman (last week’s Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week) with 3:59 remaining and calmly won it on the next-to-last snap of the game, right after Bullock hit Zyeiar Miller for 40 yards down to the 1-yard line.
And this was all done with the scoreboard clock at Caven Point not operating. It was an absolutely crazy finish.
“We all knew how much time was left,” Hansen said. “We knew all along that we were going to ride or die with the ball in No. 12’s [Bullock’s] hands. We called our last time out and I went into the huddle and the kids all had tears in their eyes. They wanted to win the game that badly. Those were tears of passion. It said a lot to me about their willingness to come back. It showed me just how much it meant to them to be successful. I just knew we would find a way.”
Bullock really didn’t have a great game, but he did manage to throw for four touchdowns and scored the game-winner in the last 10 seconds.
“There aren’t many players you can say who threw for four and ran for one and had a bad game,” Hansen said. “We won. We’re where we want to be. It wasn’t pretty, but no one cares. If we win against Bosco and it’s not pretty, trust me, no one will care.”
The Marauders did manage to defeat the Ironmen, 26-22, on Oct. 12, so there might be an advantage there for the Marauders.
“It wasn’t that long ago,” Hansen said. “There is some relevance there. They haven’t lost since that game [winning five straight]. They’re in a great rhythm now. We know their kids and they know ours. It’s going to be a tough match-up. Bosco has some gifted players. They know how to get after it. They hustle every play.”
Here’s proof that the North Jersey Super Football Conference works. It didn’t matter that these two teams faced each other earlier. It’s going to be the game of the season at the Mecca, the one that everyone has waited for.
And Hansen is grateful to have the talented junior wearing No. 12 on his team.
“I just feel that the matchup gives us a great advantage every week,” Hansen said of Bullock. “He makes everyone around him better. Sure, he has a lot of weaponry at his disposal and he knows how to use them. But when push comes to shove, I’m so happy that No. 12 is on our sidelines. When he plays with an attitude, when he gets pissed off, he becomes incensed.”
Hansen feels Bullock is ready for his next challenge.
“We put so much on him,” Hansen said. “He gets us in the right place. Everything we do is on reads and is placated on him making the right decision. He just refuses to make excuses. He’s one of the most coachable kids I’ve ever had. I hope that he has the best game of his life Saturday night.”
And yes, Bullock is only a junior. He will return next year.
“I know he’ll have one hell of a senior year,” Hansen said.
First things first.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com (this week on the Rutgers football situation with Greg Schiano), follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar and listen to Jim on the Hudson County Sports podcast on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The next podcast will feature former MLB pitcher Mark Lukasiewicz of Secaucus and will be up on Wednesday, Dec. 4.