JERSEY CITY- St. Peter’s Prep’s Sammy Slade vividly remembers his team’s last meeting with Seton Hall Prep which was a stunning 26-25 Pirates overtime triumph on Thanksgiving Day of 2020 to conclude a COVID truncated campaign in high style for SHP.
So, when his team went up 14-0 on SHP in Saturday’s much-anticipated 2021 regular season Super Football Conference-United Red Division clash on Cochrane Field at Caven Point on a very warm and humid September afternoon, the Marauders’ standout senior running back wasn’t about to take anything lightly about the visitors from West Orange who have been rising on the Non-Public scene the past couple of seasons while making noise in an on-going quest join the big boys who reside among the best Catholic school football teams in New Jersey.
The fact that the resilient Pirates battled back, eventually tying matters, 14-14, on Jaden Craig’s 1-yard touchdown run and 2-point conversion pass to Danny Easter with 8:56 left in the third quarter did not phase Slade and his teammates who knew that SHP was likely to make things extremely interesting the rest of the way.
In the end, undefeated St. Peter’s Prep (4-0) rode a well-conceived 2-point conversion pass to its quarterback Champ Long, who just made it over the right pylon, to provide the Marauders a dramatic 22-21 double-overtime win over the Pirates as a crowd of more than 2,000 sun-drenched fans could finally head back into the traffic outside the busy stadium on their way home following an emotional afternoon of some of the best that high school football has to offer..
“We came out every day at practice this week preparing for running hard, passing the ball and flying around the field against a very good team,” said Slade, the Marauders’ 5-foot-10, 180-pound feature back who finished with 27 carries for 209 yards and a 1-yard TD run in the second overtime to pull his team to within one before the decisive 2-point conversion play.
"We felt we were the better team, but they have great players like (QB) Jaden Craig (WR) Nick Dunneman and (LB) Jackson Dowd.
“We spent a lot of time in the film room and came out here knowing full well what was on the line. We definitely did not underestimate them like we did last year and you saw the result.
“We came out and gave them the respect they deserve and they gave us respect, and it was one heck of a football game, that’s for sure!”
The play that ended the instant classic originally called ‘the Philly Special’ but also known as the ‘Ryan O’Flaherty Special’ for the St. Peter’s Prep offensive coordinator who made the final call to go with the 2-point conversion attempt, was done with precision as Slade took the direct snap, pitched the ball back to sophomore Hassan Moore, who went right and then fired a short pass to Long who went in near the right pylon for the decisive points.
“We practiced that play all week and were prepared to use it no matter if Seton Hall scored seven points like they did there in the second overtime,” said Long (6-of-14 for 39 yards and a TD). “Then, right after we scored, we knew we had the numbers we wanted and coach (O’Flaherty) believed in our ability to go for it and get it done.”
In a game that could perhaps have become a one-sided affair if SHP wasn’t as persistent and determined as it was from late in the second quarter on, those who were patient and able to withstand the sunny and warm temperatures with at least an occasional sip of water were treated to as pulsating a second half and then 2-stage overtime as one is likely to see in any given scholastic football contest.
The Pirates (3-1) rode a superb second half effort from its senior running back Myles Thomason, who finished with 22 carries for 82 yards and five receptions for 60 yards and a TD. And, that was after a tough first half when SHP’s ground game had negative yardage including six carries for -2 yards for Thomason, who would epitomize the comeback ability of SHP.
St. Peter’s Prep had taken a 14-0 lead on a 12-yard Long to Zion Fowler first quarter TD pass and a Paul Lefkowitiz 7-yard second quarter burst.
Then, with just 29 seconds left before halftime, Thomason capped a 12-play, 71- yard drive with a 19-yard TD reception on a well-run bubble screen pass from Craig to pull the Pirates to within 14-6 at the intermission.
Then, to jet-start a third quarter drive to begin the second half Thomason bolted 34 yards to the St. Peter’s Prep 29. After a 16-yard burst to set up a 1st-and-goal at the 2, the Pirates tied the contest on a 4th-and-goal 1-yard run by Craig (12-of-24 for 115 yards 1 TD, 9 rushes for 12 yards, a TD) which was followed by a 2-point conversion pass from Craig to Easter, the impressive sophomore wide out, and it was 14-all.
“We started to settle in there late in the first half and early in the third quarter and I think they wore out a little bit,” said SHP coach Bill Fitzgerald. “Myles was unbelievable and was really a 1-man show at times.
“Jaden showed real guts and just kept leading us out there while helping us to make plays when we needed to.”
Craig was also banged up on one fourth quarter run, but quickly returned to action only to be made to leave the field for a play in the second overtime after losing his helmet as he was hit on a run out of bounds on the far sideline.
However, his understudy, senior Tyler Marion, came up big in his absence for one huge play, completing a 13-yard TD pass to Easter on a 3rd-and-9 play. Then, Pirates’ fine placekicker Nick Conforti booted the extra point for a 21-14 Pirates lead prior to the Marauders’ big answer with 8-points of their own to win it.
Conforti, who missed a 39-yard field goal attempt wide right in the first quarter in addition to being wide on his first extra point try and having a 31-yard field goal attempt blocked in the first overtime, was superb in his punting and booming kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
He had a well-placed 42-yard coffin corner punt late in the fourth quarter which pinned the Marauders back to their 3-yard line.
In addition, the Pirates’ Kevin Agnew and Ryan Bodnar each had fumble recoveries while James Palaia and Dowd registered sacks to help lead the SHP unit of resistance which played much better as the game wore on.
“Our defense was awesome and our entire team stayed focused right throughout no matter how tough the first half started out for us,” said Fitzgerald. “Being down 14-0 didn’t matter to our guys, and I know they’ll always fight until there is no time left.
“Our guys simply love playing together, and I couldn’t be more proud of their effort, even in defeat, or if the score had wound up the other way.
“They did everything a coach could ever ask their football team to do and I know they’ll get back to work because we know we have another one coming up at some point and we’ll use this to get better.”
NOTES- Among those on the St. Peter’s Prep sideline were former NFL lineman Roman Oben, who is a Marauders assistant coach and has a son Andrew on the team who is a 6-4, 300-pound senior lineman…Retired St. Peter’s Prep line coach and legendary, former Cedar Grove head man Ed Sadloch was also there to take in the action…Among the Pirate greats watching the game were former Sideline Chatter Essex County Defensive Players of the Year, brothers Alex and Connor Wujciak. Connor, who played collegiately at Boston College, is now competing around the East Coast in the MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) ultimate fighting circuit. Alex (University of Maryland) is a N.J. state police officer…Also watching the game were Mount St. Dominic Athletic Director Lorenzo Sozio and NJ Pride softball president Rob Stern...St. Peter's Prep's Slade said he is hearing from a number of colleges including Fordham, Wake Forest and Louisville...The Marauders nowlead the 14-game series with the Pirates, 11-3. Last year's Pirates' Turkey Day win snapped an 8-game losing streak vs. the Jersey City school...SHP hosts Bayonne next Saturday at 1 while the Marauders entertain DePaul next Friday night at Caven Point.
SETON HALL PREP (3-1) 0 6 8 0 0 7 - 21
ST. PETER’S PREP (4-0) 7 7 0 0 0 8- 22
SP- Zion Fowler 12 pass from Champ Long (Nico Duarte kick)
SP- Paul Lefkowitz 7 run (Duarte kick)
SHP- Myles Thomason 19 pass from Jaden Craig (kick failed)
SHP- Craig 1 run (Danny Easter pass from Craig)
SHP- Easter 13 pass from Tyler Marion (Nick Conforti kick)
SP- Sammy Slade 1 run (Long pass from Hassan Moore)
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