Chasing Perfection: No. 1 Wall blasts No. 4 Mater Dei to set up championship showdown with Donovan Catholic
WALL TOWNSHIP – When Wall head coach Tony Grandinetti addressed his team at halftime he explained the two divergent paths the game was likely to take and emphasized the critical nature of the opening series of the third quarter.
This was the Crimson Knights’ chance to take complete control.
Did they ever.
Wall needed just four plays to march down the field and score on the first drive of the second half, taking a three-score lead and opening the floodgates in an eye-opening, statement-making blowout victory over Mater Dei Prep. The Knights, ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, scored 28 points in the second half and turned in another pristine defensive performance to rout the No. 4 Seraphs, 42-0, and advance to the unofficial Shore Conference championship game.
Wall will play No. 2 Donovan Catholic, which defeated No. 3 Red Bank Catholic, 28-14 on Friday night.
“We had them on the ropes and I told them the opening drive of the third quarter is the biggest drive of the year,” Grandinetti said. “If you want to let them back in, we go three and out and now they have energy and momentum. Let’s not keep them in this. We came right down and scored. It sent a message.”
It is hard to be wowed by Wall at this point because the Crimson Knights do this sort of thing every week, but Friday night’s win brought things to a whole new level. Mater Dei is one of the best teams in the Shore with several FBS recruits, great size and playmakers all over. Entering the game, the Seraphs were 43-9 overall and 30-4 against Shore Conference teams since 2016. But against Wall, they were completely overmatched.
Wall’s defense was incredible once gain in holding Mater Dei to 49 yards of offense, which included negative-5 yards rushing and 54 yards through the air on 6 of 18 passing. The Knights’ defense was merciless in posting its fourth shutout in six games and even scored a touchdown when junior defensive end Blake Rezk pounced on a high snap that skipped into the end zone. Junior linebacker Colin Riley recorded two sacks, junior linebacker Charlie Sasso had one sack and one tackle for loss, Rezk had a sack, junior linebacker Lou Pilla made a tackle for loss and sophomore linebacker Cris Mozeika recovered a fumble.
Wall’s offense was challenged with moving the ball against a stout Mater Dei defense, and it was a slog through the first two quarters with just 69 yards gained for the Knights. But in the second half, Wall found its groove and wore down the Seraphs to finish with a flourish. Senior running back Casey Larkin ran for 185 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, senior quarterback Logan Peters ran for 61 yards and a touchdown and threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Rezk and junior quarterback Jake Davis polished off the emphatic victory with a late 3-yard touchdown run.
During this tremendous run by a special group of kids, Wall has won 19 straight games against Shore Conference teams dating back to 2018 and is 18-1 overall across the last two seasons.
“We are just keeping the mentality all week that we’re one unit and we come together and play together and we can pile it on them,” Peters said. “The offense started clicking a little more (in the second half), Casey had a big run, I had a solid run and our defense was playing really well.”
“We’re patient and plus, we’re a second-half team,” Larkin said. “We pride ourselves on conditioning. They’re huge. Up front they’re massive, they have a Michigan commit, a Temple commit. We just kept our foot on the pedal and tried to wear them down.”
Mater Dei’s offense features a dangerous passing game with junior quarterback Alex Brown along with Kent State-bound wide receiver Naran Buntin and the speedy Kyree Drake. With lockdown coverage in the secondary and a relentless pass rush, Wall never allowed Mater Dei to get comfortable and hurt them through the air. As expected, the Crimson Knights also swallowed the Seraph’s ground game. Even if you took away the lost yardage on sacks and bad snaps, Mater Dei rushed for just 43 yards on 15 attempts.
“We had a really good gameplan for them,” Peters said. “They have athletes all over the field. No. 11 (Kyree Drake ) can fly, No. 9 (Naran Buntin) can fly; they have guys who can really move. We switched our alignments a little and played conservative with that (in the secondary) and our linebackers had to drop and get under the dig routes inside, which they like, and then it was just on the safeties to not let up any big shots. And up front, it was just get to the quarterback, get him rattled and make him get rid of the ball quickly.”
Wall’s ability to play to its defense was evident early as they expertly worked the field-position game to set up their first score. Mater Dei went three-and-out on the game’s opening possession but got the ball right back when Elijah Johnston intercepted a deep pass at the Seraphs’ 11-yard line. Mater Dei went nowhere, however, and had to punt from its own 17-yard line. Wall got the ball back at midfield and mounted a nine-play scoring drive to take a 7-0 lead. Jackson Coan had a key 22-yard catch on third-and-eight from the 38 and Rezk hauled in a 15-yard pass on third-and-10 from the 16. On the next play, Larkin plunged in for the 1-yard touchdown.
The lead grew to 14-0 midway through the second quarter when Wall elected to punt from the Mater Dei 39 and Max Oakley dropped it at the 12-yard line. On first down, the snap went high and over Brown’s head and skipped into the end zone. Wall swarmed the ball and it was Rezk who ended up recovering the fumble for a touchdown with 5:37 left in the first half.
“It seemed like they had a few snaps that were real close to going over and that one did, but it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t capitalize on that,” Grandinetti said.
Wall took that 14-0 lead into halftime having yielded just 10 yards of offense and one first down. Mater Dei’s defense was holding up as well, however, keeping Wall under 100 yards of offense.
Then came the aforementioned opening drive of the third quarter that started Wall’s takeover. Peters took a quarterback keeper 45 yards on first down to put the ball at the Mater Dei 20-yard line, and three plays later Larkin powered in from six yards out to give the Crimson Knights a commanding 21-0 advantage.
Mater Dei put together its best drive of the night on the ensuing series, gaining two first downs and moving to midfield. Buntin had a 21-yard catch for the Seraphs’ first completion of the game and Ra’Jahn Cooper converted a fourth-and-one at the Mater Dei 44-yard line. But the drive stalled much in part to a five-yard tackle for loss by Pilla that put the Seraphs behind the sticks. Mater Dei had to punt, and Jake Jacobson got off a great kick that pinned Wall at its own 5-yard line.
But then, Larkin delivered the backbreaker.
On first down from the 5-yard line, Wall’s offensive line opened an alley on a ‘power’ play to the left side and Larkin took it 93 yards down to the Mater Dei 2-yard line. Peters scored on the next play to give Wall a 28-0 lead.
The win went from thorough to dominant when a sack by Riley forced Mater Dei to punt, giving Wall the ball at the Seraphs’ 45-yard line. Larkin ran for 22 yards on first down and for 13 yards two plays later to bring up first-and-goal from the 5-yard line. On third down, Peters connected with Rezk for a 7-yard touchdown and a 35-0 lead.
The finishing touches were fittingly applied by Wall’s defense when Mozeika recovered a fumble at the Mater Dei 10-yard line. The offensive starters were now out of the game, but two runs by Mike Fumarola set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Davis to balloon the score to an eye-popping 42-0.
It would be easy for a team as good as Wall, one coming off a 12-1 season and a sectional championship, to play with a sense of accomplishment and content. The Crimson Knights do not operate that way, not remotely. They play with passion and anger and with a chip-on-their shoulder mentality usually reserved for teams trying to reach an uncharted summit. It’s a major reason why Wall is one game away from legendary status.
“This pod, it shows the top four teams in the Shore Conference and we feel like we have something to prove week after week, just like last year,” Larkin said. “We feed off that.”
Now comes the big one, the game that players, coaches and fans have been hoping would happen since the season began. When Wall and Donovan Catholic clash next Friday it will be No. 1 vs. No. 2, the best in Monmouth County vs. the best in Ocean County, both undefeated, looking to cement a legacy in an unofficial yet first-ever Shore Conference Championship Game.
“We scrimmaged them earlier in the season and we were supposed to play them when the original schedule came out,” Grandinetti said. “We know who they have and they know who we have. We couldn’t ask for anything else. For us, for them, for you guys (media), it’s a great way to end the year.”
“This is probably the most excited I’ve been for a football game in my high school career,” Peters said. “We scrimmaged them earlier in the year so we both know what each other is about. We know they’re a good team and we’re ready to go in and play our butts off.”
No. 1 Wall 42, No. 4 Mater Dei Prep 0
|Mater Dei Prep||Wall|
W – Casey Larkin 1-yard run (Max Oakley kick)
W – Blake Rezk fumble recovery in end zone (Max Oakley kick)
W – Casey Larkin 6-yard run (Max Oakley kick)
W – Logan Peters 2-yard run (Max Oakley kick)
W – Blake Rezk 7-yard pass from Logan Peters (Max Oakley kick)
W – Jake Davis 3-yard run (Max Oakley kick)
RUSHING – MDP: Alex Brown 4-15, Ra’Jahn Cooper 9-12, Kody Gibbs 1-8, Maurice Hinton 1-3, Team 6-(-43); W: Casey Larkin 19-185, Logan Peters 7-61, Mike Fumarola 2-12, Charlie Sasso 4-8, Matt Dollive 1-0.
PASSING – MDP: Alex Brown 6-18-0 54; W: Logan Peters 3-6-1 44.
RECEIVING – MDP: Naran Buntin 3-40, Kody Gibbs 1-11, Kyree Drake 1-6, Tafari Thompson 1-(-3); W: Blake Rezk 2-22, Jackson Coan 1-22.
INTERCEPTIONS – MDP: Elijah Johnston 1-0.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.