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20Nov/13

4th & Long: Final Thoughts on 2013

It has been bizarre to see Crusader Stadium so quiet during this year's playoffs

A year ago, the state semifinal match up involving BC and Bosco was the talk of the entire state, and the had the feeling of a state championship at MetLife Stadium with the enormous crowd, and the emotion flowing throughout the stadium.  This season, a semifinal involving PC and DBP will follow that mold, while the Crusaders were left out of the playoffs completely.  I keep repeating the same one-word answer to everyone who asks me about this recent BC season: bizarre.

BC playing in the playoffs in November has been a constant in life, and something you planned your calendar around as the leaves began to change colors and litter our lawns.  But following a (2-7) regular season that devastated Crusader Country, the postseason was no longer in the cards, and a long and slow offseason awaits all those donning scarlet & gold.  Here are my final thoughts on the 2013 BC season:

-The BC defense played well, but could not turn their opponents over enough during the season, and displayed a bend but don't break style in many of their games.  It is shocking to believe that the Crusaders managed only 1 interception in 9 total games, and never seemed to be able to make that one decisive play late in a contest to seal a win against the likes of Bishop Gorman, St. Peter's Prep or Don Bosco Prep.  The Crusaders need to improve in the secondary, and once again make opponents wary to throw the ball down the field.  The strength of this year's team was with their defensive ends and linebackers, and the Crusaders must find answers at defensive tackle in order to complete a strong defensive line.  BC needs size and speed, and opportunistic play on defense to help guide them back to the upper echelon of the state.  While this year's defense took a step in the right direction, a new defensive coordinator will need to make this a dominant unit, not just a serviceable one.

-It was a tough year to say the least when it came to the BC offense, as the Crusaders averaged half of the point totals from Nunzio Camoanile's first three seasons in Oradell.  BC struggled mightily on third down, could never take the top off a defense with long passing plays, and gave up way too many sacks in big games.  The Crusaders need to find more speed at their skill positions to allow for big plays down the field.  Who will emerge as a big-time wide receiving threat?  Can more running backs emerge to compliment the power style of Corey Russo?  Will BC get steady and consistent play at quarterback next fall?  These are just some of the huge questions facing BC going into this offseason and Nunzio Campanile must find a way to answer them.  It will certainly help that BC's offensive guru will drop his defensive coordinator duties next fall and return to focusing solely on his normally explosive offensive game plans, but coaching x's and o's will not simply better the team next year.  The younger BC players need to step up this offseason and fill this voids on offense, and regain the swagger that this year's team lost due to so many tough results.

-The special teams unit was solid, but not game changers like in the past.  BC needs to have a consistent kicker who can calmly convert extra points while also being a legitimate field goal threat.  Because of inconsistent kicking the last couple of seasons, the Crusaders have had to go for it on 4th down in too many different spots, and have left points of the board.  BC is lucky to have several solid kickers currently on the roster, but they all need to build on their confidence from this season and become true threats next season on field goals, extra points, and on kickoffs.  The onside kick has been a weapon in BC's arsenal outside of this season, and must once again be a tool to use each game.  It would also help matters if BC can consistently produce touch backs on their kickoffs, as several of their opponents have been able to do against the Crusaders.

-BC needs to hire a defensive coordinator who can shape this defense into a dominant unit full of physical, fast, and mentally tough players.  Defense wins championships, and the Crusaders have not be able to field a dominant unit that can put zeroes on the board in quite some time.  With a deep stable of quality athletes and smart football players, BC can produce the same types of defenses that their rivals have been trotting out on the field that last couple of seasons.  With consistent pressure from the front 7, and capable defending in the secondary, BC can change their fortunes immediately, but the hiring of the right DC will be crucial in forming this new identity.

-Overall, BC needs to improve their team speed in order to make a difference in all three phases of the game.  When going up against Division-I talent in the toughest league in the nation, the Crusaders cannot afford to be a step behind on every play.  This is where their weight training workouts come into play this winter.  BC needs speed on offense and on defense, especially if they do not have the same number of high level talent.

-I want to see a chip on the shoulder of every player and coach in the program heading into the new year.  There is nothing wrong with playing with an edge, and if this season doesn't serve as motivation for the current juniors, sophomores, and freshmen, then I don't know what will.  The senior class put their heart and souls into this campaign, but it just did not work out in the end.  The younger Crusaders need to take a page out of the class of 2002's book, and have a rallying cry for their upcoming season after a rough season.  In the fall of 2001, the Crusaders were coming off a losing season in 2000, and made a point of remembering the low points from that lost season.  "Vindica", meaning revenge, became the word on everyone's tongue and on t-shirts.  They remembered every loss from the prior fall, and finished their crusade with an exciting state championship over Delbarton.  What will be the rallying cry next season?  Will BC have a long memory when it comes to the games they lost this year?  It's up to the underclassmen to fuel the fire.

-There are a lot of questions surrounding the BC football program this winter, but I am extremely confident that the answers are out there and will be found.  While it was a tough fall, it was again an honor for me to cover the BC football season and to meet so many great players and families along the way.  Everyone will learn from this season, and will be back with a vengeance next season in Crusader Country.

Thanks everyone and Deus Vult!

ABOUT DAN LONG

Dan Long graduated from Bergen Catholic in 2003 where he coined the immortal phrase "Crusader Crazies" for the raucous BC student section. He is currently the radio voice of Bergen Catholic football, and a weekly contributor to BergenCatholicFootball.com.

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11Nov/13

4th & Long: Week 9 in Review

The Crusaders fought hard, but fell in their final game of the season (Vince Karabatsos photo)

A truly bizarre season came to an end on Saturday afternoon, with a lopsided loss to Paramus Catholic.  The Crusaders played hard, but just could not stop the top overall seed for the upcoming playoffs from rolling to their first-ever win at Crusader Stadium in series history.  Here are my final thoughts from BC's final game of the season:

-The BC defense once again played a solid game, but were exposed on the ground by the massive PC offensive line, and then were victimized later on in the game through the air.  All season long there were times when the BC defense needed just a little relief from the offense in the form of a long drive or simply a score, but instead found themselves on the field way too often and too long.  It's almost the opposite script from the last couple of seasons when the BC offense needed one stop from the Crusader defense in order to win some match ups.  You just hope that by next season there will be a greater balance and confidence shared between both units.

-If the Paladins play the way they did on Saturday during the postseason, I highly doubt that anyone will be able to knock them off the top of the Non-Public Group 4 mountaintop.  PC is blessed with depth at the skill positions, and has tremendous size on the lines.

-Congratulations to Garrett Dickerson on becoming the all-time leader in several different categories involving tight ends in BC history.  Dickerson is now 1st all-time for BC tight ends in receptions (52) and touchdowns (9).  Garrett finished 2nd all-time in receiving yards with (776), only 2 yards behind Jim Dray's career records of 778 yards.  Dickerson led the team in all receiving categories this season, and was a rock for the varsity program the past 4 years.

-Hats off to another BC senior in JP Garcia, on an outstanding final performance in his Crusader career.  JP finished the game with 78 total yards of offense, a career-high 17 tackles on defense, and 55 kickoff return yards in 2 returns.  Garcia, always known as a blood and guts performer in his varsity career, finishes his brilliant time in Oradell with 142 career tackles, 4 interceptions and ranks in the top 10 all-time in Crusader kickoff return history in regards to career return yardage (6th)-(456 yards) and tied for 7th all-time in return average (22.8 yards/return).

-Kurt Holuba finished with 10 sacks for the season, the 2nd highest single season sack total in BC history.  Holuba finished with 18 career sacks, the 3rd highest total in program history, and was unbelievably productive during his two seasons on defense.  Holuba must be regarded as one of the greatest defensive line players in Crusader history, and his potential at the next level is scary.

-Turnovers were a constant problem all season long, and they plagued BC again on Saturday against PC.  The Crusaders turnover the ball over 3 times which led to 17 points for the Paladins.  The Crusaders finished -10 in turnover difference this season, and were only able to force 1 interception all season long in their secondary.  In order to take the necessary steps forward next season, BC must fix the glaring turnover issue which cursed them during the 2013 season.

I will be back later this week to write my final take on this season.  Keep your heads up BC fans, they'll be brighter days ahead.

ABOUT DAN LONG

Dan Long graduated from Bergen Catholic in 2003 where he coined the immortal phrase "Crusader Crazies" for the raucous BC student section. He is currently the radio voice of Bergen Catholic football, and a weekly contributor to BergenCatholicFootball.com.

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7Nov/13

Know Your Foe: Paramus Catholic

The Paladins come into Oradell looking for their second consecutive win against BC

While their playoff hopes are done, the Bergen Catholic Crusaders have one final chance at a marquee victory this Saturday afternoon when they welcome in the Paramus Catholic Paladins into Crusader Stadium.  PC has already garnered the top overall seed for the upcoming Non-Public Group 4 playoffs and will look to defend their state championship from a season ago in the coming weeks.

Paramus Catholic (6-2)-Having defeated Gilman (MD) (28-0), Delbarton (30-18), DePaul (35-21), St. Ignatius (OH) (44-10), St. Mark's (DE) (56-6) and Friendship Collegiate (DC) (41-10).  They have lost to Don Bosco Prep (20-13) and St. Joseph Regional (27-14).

The Paladins were the "it" team this preseason, and ranked as high as #3 in the nation in the USA Today poll after jumping out to a 5-0 start on the season.  But since losing to Don Bosco Prep on national television, the Paladins have not been as dominant in the second half of the season.  Following a loss to St. Joe's, the Paladins were able to bounce back at home against Friendship Collegiate, avoiding a possible 3-game losing streak near the end of the regular season.  Now with the top seed sewn up for the playoffs, and a potential match up with DBP awaiting them in the semifinals, PC comes into Oradell looking for bragging rights against the Crusaders.  Here are some PC players who can make it a long day for BC if they get going early in the game:

PLAYERS TO WATCH

#5 Jabrill Peppers (SR-DB/RB)-One of the most explosive players in the nation, and in the history of NJ football, Peppers has feasted on the BC defense in his career, and is always one play away from a long TD run.  Peppers will look to again run free in the Wildcat formations, and can break the game open with a play on offense, defense, or special teams.  This will be his final chance to shine against the Crusaders in his career, and PC's All-American will try to save something special for Saturday afternoon.

#92 Nick Flores (SR-DT)-Flores has been the best player on the PC team this season, and is a one-man wrecking crew on the Paladin defensive line.  The Crusaders will struggle to contain PC's nose tackle, as he will look to collapse the BC pocket and take away running holes up front for the BC offense.  If BC continues to have its troubles pass protecting, Flores may have a career day on Saturday.

#1 Tyrone Washington (SR-WR)-Harrison has been a dangerous receiving threat on the outside all season long, and will look to exploit a BC secondary which has been prone to giving up big plays this season.  Especially look for Washington in the red zone, where his 6'2 size and tremendous leaping ability make jump ball passes simple to execute, and a constant part of the PC passing game plan.

THREE KEYS FOR BC

  • Stop the Run: The Crusader defense has been successful this year in limiting the running ability of their opponents, and they need to stop PC's amazing running game in order to have a chance to win on Saturday.  PC will alternate between several different backs in several different formations, but BC must stay in their lanes and execute their responsibilities in order to make PC throw the ball on 3rd and long situations.
  • Let it Fly:  The running game may be ineffective on Saturday due to the size and talent of the PC defensive line, and if that's the case, BC needs to find a way to sling the ball all around the field.  The QBs need to be given more time to throw, and when they are set in the pocket, they need to get the ball out quicker to their receivers down the field.  There's no use in worrying about mistakes anymore this season, so BC would be wise to open up the offense completely, and be aggressive with every play on the day.
  • Compete Until the Last Whistle: This has been a brutal season for all BC players, coaches, and fans, but there is still one final chance to make a statement and to show the passion and dedication of the Crusader football program.  BC gets a chance to enact some revenge against the Paladins who beat them in last year's state final, as well as show their own worth against the top seed in the playoffs, all at home on Saturday afternoon.  If BC can play with the same effort and drive that they displayed last week against DBP, then they can stay in the game and be in position late to win potentially their final game of the year.  A long season can end on a positive note if BC plays hard and competes on every play against PC.

Despite having qualified for the playoffs and claiming the top overall seed, I fully expect to see the PC starters in the entire game unless it really gets out of hand late.  This game means a lot to the Paladins, as they have made it known to the public their desire to make their rivalry with the Crusaders greater than even Bergen-Bosco.  The Crusaders need to be emotionally ready for PC's best effort from the opening whistle, and hopefully we'll all be treated to a great game on Saturday afternoon.

*All BC Football alumni are invited to attend the 9th Annual BC Football Alumni Night at Bacari Grill on November 29th at 7 pm.  The cost is $50 per person and includes a full dinner, cocktail hour, and open bar for the night.  All interested Crusaders are asked to RSVP to Marge Millus by calling (201) 634-4142 or by email:  mmillus@bergencatholic.org

All fans can listen live to the game on the BC Sports Network starting at 12:50 pm at www.letsgobergen.com

ABOUT DAN LONG

Dan Long graduated from Bergen Catholic in 2003 where he coined the immortal phrase "Crusader Crazies" for the raucous BC student section. He is currently the radio voice of Bergen Catholic football, and a weekly contributor to BergenCatholicFootball.com.

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4Nov/13

4th & Long: Week 8 in Review

Don Bosco’s Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks spots an opening against Bergen Catholic on Saturday.

BC's defense played a great overall game, but it was not enough in 3 OTs (NorthJersey.com)

Saturday night was another all-time classic game as part of the best rivalry in the state, but once again, the game went the way of Don Bosco Prep.  When it looked like all hope was lost for the Crusaders with just over a minute to play and facing a 4th and 30 situation, Garrett Dickerson's miraculous reception moved the chains and allowed BC to eventually take back the lead with 47 seconds to go in regulation.  The Ironmen would force overtime on a 42-yard field goal as time expired, and the craziness of three overtimes would ensue, ending in a game-winning DBP touchdown run in the third overtime quarter.  Here are my final thoughts from BC's eighth game of the season:

-Hats off to all of the BC players for an incredibly inspired effort on Saturday night, and for displaying a never-say-die attitude late in the game.  I have come to expect this signature effort each season whenever BC plays Bosco, but am hoping that this energy and drive can be bottled up in the future for every game.  It would be a completely different scenario for the Crusaders this Monday if they had played this way during several other games this regular season, and would have been jockeying for a high seed in the playoffs rather than being on the outside looking in this November.  It is what it is, but the collective effort and passion of the Crusaders were evident on Saturday night.  As many people including Coach Toal said following the game, the team deserved a better fate based on how the game was played between both hard-working teams.

-It is shocking to think that there will be no postseason for the Crusaders this season, but I am not one who will be bemoaning how the current playoff system is set up.  With the changes made prior to this season in regards to doing away with the .500 rule for admission to the playoffs and basing selection solely on power point totals, this benefited the Crusaders greatly, and kept them in contention until their 8th game cutoff.  In previous years, the team would have been eliminated following their loss at DePaul Catholic, but this year were kept alive because of the rule change.  Would BC beat 5 of the 8 teams that will be in the playoffs if they played next week? Absolutely they would, but it is not those teams' fault that BC only won 2 of their first 8 games on the season, and put together the 2nd-toughest schedule in the nation.  BC needed to take care of its own business, and could not, and so they miss out on the playoffs for the first time since 1988.  Hopefully the younger players learn from this humbling experience, and it helps fuel them in seasons to come.

-Kurt Holuba and Kyle Cook played like men possessed on Saturday night, and were standout performers for the Crusaders all night long.  Holuba added 2 more sacks in the game to increase his season total to 10 on the season and 18 for his career.  The senior added another tackle for a loss, and 8 tackles total for the game, and willed his defense to stop after stop.  Kyle Cook recorded 10 tackles and delivered the hardest hit by a BC defender in several years when he de-cleated a DBP wide receiver in the third quarter to force a punt.  Cook was also a factor on offense at fullback, where he had 34 receiving yards and moved the chains on a couple of drives. These two players, like all of their teammates, left it all on the field on Saturday night, and produced legendary performances that will be remembered in BC-Bosco history.

-I know that a lot of BC fans were like me and were hoping that karma had fully run its course when DBP nearly missed an extra point in the first overtime period.  Thoughts of BC's 14-13 loss on a blocked extra point in the 2001 regular season game ran through my head as the Ironmen went to attempt their kick in OT, and when there was an brief silence around the stadium waiting to see the officials' call on the kick, I thought we had come full circle in the rivalry. But alas, the kick just sailed inside the left upright, and the game proceeded to the next overtime.

-More so this season than in recent years, sacks have been crippling for the Crusader offense, and were a deciding factor in Saturday's outcome.  The biggest DBP sack came in the second overtime, immediately following an Ironman fumble which put BC in position to win the game with either a touchdown or a field goal.  Starting from the 25-yard line, BC attempted a play-action pass on 1st down in an attempt to win the game in one shot, but instead saw another costly sack move the team back almost 15 yards in the blink of an eye.  This essentially short-circuited the drive and eventually led to a turnover on downs to end the 2nd OT, and left Bosco breathing a collective sigh of relief.  BC would not be as fortunate in the 3rd OT after turning the ball over, as Bosco cashed in for the game-winning TD.  Next season, both the BC offensive line and the quarterbacks must improve on avoiding giving up so many drive-killing sacks, and learn how to react quicker to blitzers and pressure defenses up front.

-The season is not over yet for BC, despite being eliminated from postseason play.  A huge home game against Paramus Catholic is on the horizon this weekend, and it may be the final home game for the senior student-athletes.  The Paladins are the top seed in the playoffs, and would love nothing more than to win back-to-back  games against a Crusader program which they have only beaten three times in 33 career meetings.  BC must tap into that same emotion and passion which they displayed this weekend, and play on Saturday like it's their own version of the state playoffs.  While the game is inconsequential regarding playoff implications, you cannot argue to both fan bases that this game means nothing.  For PC, this means the world to face Bergen Catholic, or as they have grown accustomed to saying, "that school in Oradell" to anyone who will listen.  This can be the last chance for BC to garner a statement victory in Crusader Stadium for this year's team, and they need to play with desire and drive this weekend in order to win the game.

-Following this weekend's home game against PC, the Crusaders will most likely play one final consolation game before wrapping up their 2013 season.  In the past, the two teams from Non-Public Groups 3 & 4 who have not made the playoffs have met in the consolation game, but this season there are only 8 teams in the Group 3, so the Crusaders may end up playing a Non-Public Group 2 school if it holds to form.  Whoever it proves to be, I don't envy that team at all.

-BC fans can listen to all the action from Oradell this weekend as BC and Paramus Catholic meet at Crusader Stadium.  My broadcast coverage will begin at 12:50 pm with the opening kick slated for 1 pm, and you can listen live at www.letsgobergen.com

ABOUT DAN LONG

Dan Long graduated from Bergen Catholic in 2003 where he coined the immortal phrase "Crusader Crazies" for the raucous BC student section. He is currently the radio voice of Bergen Catholic football, and a weekly contributor to BergenCatholicFootball.com.

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31Oct/13

Know Your Foe: Don Bosco Prep Ironmen

The Ironmen can end Bergen Catholic's playoff hopes with a win on Saturday night

Following their second win on the season and a much-needed bye week, the Crusaders return to action against their arch rivals this weekend, knowing that a loss will end any shot at a state championship this season, while a win will push BC ever-so close to their 25th straight playoff appearance.  Don Bosco Prep comes into the game on a season-high 2-game win streak and in position to capture a top 4 seed in the playoffs, while also enacting revenge against the Crusaders for their semifinal loss at home in 2012.

Don Bosco Prep (3-3)-Having defeated St. Joseph's (PA) (42-0), Friendship Collegiate (27-8) and Paramus Catholic (20-13).  Bosco lost to Mission Viejo (CA) (28-25 OT), Miami Central (FL) (50-21) and DePaul Catholic (35-25).

The Ironmen are already in the playoffs, and still have to feel good following their signature victory on the road and on national television against then-undefeated Paramus Catholic back on October 18th.  This Ironmen team have used their signature defense to create better opportunities for their offense, and have an explosive special teams unit that seems to make game-changing plays during each contest.  DBP knows they can drive the nail in the BC coffin with a win on Saturday night, and would love nothing more than to end BC's playoff hopes in early November.  Here are some Don Bosco Prep players who can be difference makers on Saturday night:

PLAYERS TO WATCH

#1 Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks (SR-RB)-A powerful and emotional leader for the Ironmen offense, Ibitokun-Hanks has displayed an ability to perform on the brightest of stages in the past few seasons, and must be contained by the BC defense on Saturday night.  The senior back churns past initial defenders routinely thanks to a strong leg drive, and has burned BC in the past as a receiver out of the backfield in open space.  Ibitokun-Hanks helped will his offense to scores against PC, and he will look to fire up his side against the Crusaders.

#2 Daivon Ellison (JR-WR/DB)-Ellison made an impact in this game last year as a sophomore when he recovered a fumble late in the game which ended BC's comeback attempt, and he is primed for an even larger role this season.  After being out injured for the playoff loss last season, Ellison has cemented his role as the top defensive back for Greg Toal's team this year, and has been moved into the team's offensive game plan as well. Expect Bosco to try to get Ellison involved early in the game on offense and special teams, and for BC to test him at points through the air.

#19 Dan Yankovich (SR-WR/S)-Bosco certainly lost their best player last May when Mike D'Alessandro went down with a knee injury during a lacrosse playoff game against BC, but Yankovich has filled in admirably in the back of DBP defense the last couple of games.  A skilled receiver who has the knack for finding the open seam in a defense, Yankovich can cause problems for the BC secondary if he gets confidence early in the game.  On defense, the senior will be trusted to shut down BC's passing attempts, as the Crusaders will need to make big plays down the field in order to open up the Crusader run game.

THREE KEYS FOR BC

  • Force Bosco to Pass: It's pretty simple, when Bosco can run the ball, they win the game.  The Ironmen must be forced into constant passing downs in order to allow the BC pass rush an opportunity to make plays in the backfield.  While DBP will have options down the field, this year's team does not have the plethora of weapons on the outside, so BC must take away their run game and make them one-dimensional on offense.
  • Make Time to Throw Long:  BC showed glimpses of breaking out of their season-long offensive funk in the first half against Friendship when the Crusaders connected on 27 points.  The problem was, the Crusaders were stuck on that number for the remainder of the game, and could not keep the good times going in the second half on offense, especially through the air.  BC needs the offensive line to pass protect much better, as sacks have been a problem all season long, and have not allowed for big plays down the field.  The Crusaders need to open things up on Saturday night, and this will happen if the O-Line gives the QBs more time.
  • Win the Mental Game: A huge part of this recent rivalry has been the mental edge that Bosco has owned for over a decade.  BC snapped their long losing streak on Bosco's home field last November and got a much-needed win against Friendship in their last game, giving them confidence heading into this weekend's contest.  Can BC once again play loose when lining up against the Ironmen, or will DBP get back into BC's head and make the Crusaders doubt themselves late in the game?  After a great week of practice and with their season on the line, now's the time for BC to make it two-in-a-row against their rivals from Ramsey.

To get into the playoffs BC must first win their game on Saturday night, and then hope for either Notre Dame to lose their final game or for Paul VI to lose one of their final two games on the season.  The only thing BC can control is Saturday's result, and expect this game to be close and a playoff atmosphere between both fan bases.

All fans can listen live to the game on the BC Sports Network starting at 6:50 pm at www.letsgobergen.com

ABOUT DAN LONG

Dan Long graduated from Bergen Catholic in 2003 where he coined the immortal phrase "Crusader Crazies" for the raucous BC student section. He is currently the radio voice of Bergen Catholic football, and a weekly contributor to BergenCatholicFootball.com.

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