New Jersey's Big North United, nation's toughest league, continues to show its strength

New Jersey's Big North United, nation's toughest league, continues to show its strength

Gridiron New Jersey

New Jersey's Big North United, nation's toughest league, continues to show its strength is a partner of USA TODAY High School Sports

Bergen Catholic and St. Joseph of Montvale, Nos. 1 and 2 in the Vita Athletics-Gridiron New Jersey Top 20, have played some of the best teams from Florida, Ohio, Maryland and Pennsylvania this year. But at the end of the day, playing the best from their very own state (and county, and league) is what means the most. That was evident Saturday afternoon in Oradell, as the Crusaders and Green Knights bit and clawed in a hard-fought Big North United game won by Bergen, 16-13, in overtime.

“It is everything [to play these games],” said BC head coach Nunzio Campanile. “These are big boy teams in this league. Look at teams like DePaul and [Paramus Catholic], those are great teams, I don’t care what their records are. The football in this league is as good as anywhere.”

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Bergen and Joe’s showed that while they may not be their normal, overpowering selves on a national level, they are certainly loaded with playmakers. Even unheralded ones like junior tight end Connor Hebbeler, who snagged the game-winning 24-yard touchdown pass from Johnny Langan in overtime. The touchdown pass was Langan’s second of the day, the first coming at the 9:30 mark in the first on a connection with wide out Gene Coleman.

“He’s got a cannon, and he is an incredible winner,” Campanile said of Langan, who is now 2-0 in relief of the injured Tennessee-bound Jarrett Guarantano. “He kind of threw it off his back foot but he ripped it in there and it’s a pretty big time play.  And Connor, he kind of does everything, and that is what our team is about, guys like Connor Hebbler.”

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Throughout much of the afternoon, BC had had trouble stringing together big plays, largely due to some good defense on the part of the Green Knights. But the Crusaders’ defense followed suit, repeatedly holding Joe’s from extending their 10-7 lead (which was the score for most of the contest). A Langan pick gave Joe’s the ball at the BC 24 in the third, but the Crusaders forced key a turnover-on-downs.

The Green Knights got on the board themselves early in the first on a 39-yard field goal by freshman kicker Angelo Guglielmello, and took the lead on one-yard run by running back Brian Kearns, but couldn’t manage to build on that lead. Joe’s led through the remainder of regulation, but BC kicker Michael Kearney tied the game as time expired on a 21-yard attempt.

With the win, the Crusaders have a chance to become undefeated champions in the nation’s toughest division. They’ll have to beat Don Bosco Prep to do so, and running the table is something that has never been done. But don’t tell Campanile that.

“We’re going to test that out Saturday night I guess, in the biggest game there is.”

Tom Szieber can be reached by emailing

Follow on Twitter: @GridironNJ


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