This had been the day that all the Crusader players had been waiting for, the first time they got to line up against another opponent and crack their pads, signaling the true beginning to a new season. For this upcoming season it is not just about a fresh start in turns of turning the page on the calendar, but a fresh start to a new era of Crusader football. A season that many around the program believe can end in a state championship. But that just amounts to talk, words and nothing more, and Bergen Catholic will be judged based on their play on the field. BC certainly debuted this swagger on a drizzly morning in Montvale against one of their arch rivals in St. Joe's. When both the starting varsity offenses and defenses were in the scrimmage, BC "won" 4-1 and was impressive on both sides of the ball.
Once both sides finished practicing with their special team units, the scrimmage got under way with the white-clad Crusaders on offense, starting from their own 30-yard line. Tanner McEvoy did not waste any time as the BC quarterback dazzled on a terrific run up the near sideline for over 45 yards before being tackled in SJR territory. McEvoy would add another 10-yard run before he began to sit back in the pocket and work on his passing form. A 10-yard pass to Spencer Kulcsar quickly moved the Crusaders inside the Green Knights' red zone, and the efficient drive was capped off with a simple 2-yard run into the endzone by McEvoy. It was a brutal, take-no-prisoners attitude that the BC offense operated with during that initial drive, pushing the pace and looking to make a statement to their green clad rivals. A belief that this is a new Bergen Catholic, and this is our year.
While the BC sideline was buzzing after their opening drive, the sound of laughter quickly was silenced by a mental miscue in the rain that led to a BC fumbled handoff and a turnover. But what would crushed this team's spirit in the past, was quickly forgotten by the first team offense, as the players looked to make amends for a mistake that might prove costly during the regular season. McEvoy again engineered a scoring drive behind his 50 yard pass to Chucky Wingate, a key 3rd down conversion again to Kulcsar across the middle, and finally a perfectly thrown touch pass to Cam Dickerson in the back of the endzone. Their new-found mental toughness propelled them to get past the fumble. They had to get past it, because Coach Campanile demands that from them.
So as the BC offense scored twice on their first three possessions with the ball, the Crusader defense marched on to the field with something to prove, not only to the fans in attendance but also to themselves. Are they going to be the team's Achilles heel or will they be a unit that rises to the challenge of competing against some of the best offenses on the East Coast? Well, in starting off against St. Joe's, the defense looked tentative and sloppy in giving up a couple 10+ yard runs because of poor tackling or over-pursuit on some Green Knight running plays. SJR's running backs were able to reverse fields and bounce what should have been some runs for losses into sizable gains in front of the SJR sideline. Despite stopping SJR on their first offensive possession, the Green Knights finally found the endzone on a beautifully orchestrated crossing pattern where the wide receiver hauled in the pass, and broke away from several BC defenders and raced down the sideline before diving into the endzone.
The Crusader defense finally began to hunker down after that score, like a boxer who seemingly wakes up only after they receive their first punch to the face in a fight. The defense began to win the battle at the line of scrimmage as Zach Sparber blew into the backfield and made a couple tackles for losses. TC Piccariello also began to assert himself inside while the BC linebacking group of Kulcsar, Karl Bostick, and Cam Dickerson began to harass the SJR quarterback while also delivering powerful hits on his receivers and backs. The Green Knights stalled out on their next two offensive drives, as BC's defensive line continually collapsed the pocket, shut down the inside running game, and limited further crossing patterns through the air.
BC's first team offense eventually connected on the longest play from scrimmage for either team as McEvoy bombed a pass over 50 yards in the air to a waiting Cam Dickerson, who jogged into the endzone. McEvoy would later make his only real mistake on the day by throwing an ill-advised pass off his back foot to the far side of the field which was intercepted by a Green Knight linebacker. The BC defense would make up for their signal caller's mistake by immediately intercepting the first SJR pass on a terrific diving interception by Shutang Mungwa. That enabled BC to again have the ball on offense, and allowed the biggest Green Knight killer around in Spencer Kulcsar to make his usual amount of big-time plays against the Montvale hosts.
Kulcsar rumbled up the middle of the field for a 15-yard gain, before making a highlight reel run against St. Joe's, just as he did last preseason and in the regular season meeting last November. Kulcsar broke free down the SJR sideline and rumbled 50 yards for a touchdown. That signaled the end of the day for the first-team Crusader offense, a unit that found the endzone on 4 of its 7 possessions on the day. The three failed BC drives were results of 2 turnovers and one series that lasted past the 10-play limit. The BC defense only allowed one score in 6 SJR first-team possessions, and really began to assert their dominance in the trenches as the scrimmage wore on. While the Green Knights dominated the scrimmage when the younger reserve units began to play, it was encouraging to say the least to see the much-ballyhooed BC varsity side perfom well against a defending state champion team in St. Joe's.
As Coach Campanile made sure to point out all the mistakes his team made on the day, he had to have been pleased at how his team performed in their first real action against another program. The offensive line gave their quaterback all the time in the world to pass the ball, and made the SJR defensive line completely invisible during the scrimmage. McEvoy's quarterbacking play proved to be outstanding, and the defense played with a mean streak, a perfect winning combination for this upcoming season. It was a solid start for BC in this preseason, and they have plenty of room to improve for their next scrimmage this upcoming Saturday down the shore as BC will scrimmage Toms River South and Red Bank Catholic this weekend.
- Unofficially Tanner McEvoy finished his day 10/14 passing for 200 yards 2 TDs and 1 INT. He also had 5 carries for 65 yards and 1 TD. He continues to have an excellent preseason, and is starting to improve his decision-making when rolling outside of the pocket. McEvoy also saw time as BC's punter during the special teams portion of the scrimmage.
-Spencer Kulcsar loves to play against the Green Knights. Kulcsar was electric in his BC debut in the 2009 preseason matchup against SJR, scoring a 36-yard TD run in Montvale in the 2009 regular season, and had an identical TD run down the SJR sideline during Tuesday's scrimmage.
-Cam Dickerson continues to show why he's the top receiving threat on BC with his 3 receptions for 70 yards and 2 TDs. But for me, it is interesting to watch him play linebacker, a position I never thought he would play, but seems to excel at. Expect Dickerson to rotate with Kulcsar, Karl Bostick, Jack Gallagher and Shane Drummond at the linebacking position this season so no one player is burnt out playing full-time on both sides of the ball.
-The Bergen Catholic defense needs to improve in their pass defense across the middle of the field, as there were plenty of openings for SJR's wide receivers and tight ends. BC was fortunate as there were several drops by SJR during the scrimmage, but you have to factor in the wet conditions for some of those drops as well.
-St. Joe's will have another strong team this year, but they wll struggle not having Kai Dominguez as their playmaker. Other areas of concern for the Green Knights involve their line play, as their offensive line was out-muscled later on in the scrimmage with the first team units and their defensive line was seemingly non-existent throughout the scrimmage in terms of a pass rush against McEvoy and company.
ABOUT DAN LONG
Dan Long graduated from Bergen Catholic in 2003 where he was the Sports Director of BCTV and coined the immortal phrase Crusader Crazies for the raucous BC student section. He is currently the radio voice of the Bergen Catholic football and soccer teams, the founder of DL Sports Media, and a weekly contributor to BergenCatholicFootball.com.