UNION – Playing Red Bank, Rumson-Fair Haven and St. John Vianney in a span of four weeks had the Raritan Rockets sitting below .500 at 3-4 in the middle of the regular season.
But in fact, every Shore Conference Class A Central game helped transform Raritan to a team that would orchestrate a state-championship final drive in the NJSIAA Central Group II title game against Lincoln at Kean University.
Marc Carnivale dropped back and found Nick Pasquin on fourth down with 10 seconds left for the game-winning touchdown.
The final drive and final play was as clutch as it gets, and playing week in and week out against some of the other top teams in the Shore Conference helped prepare them for that big moment.
“It’s the best division in the state,” Raritan head coach Anthony Petruzzi said after the state title win. “We constantly had to get up for games and battle through four quarters, and this is the product of having to do that all season.”
Running back Derek Ernst couldn’t describe the feeling of being able to win a first state championship for Raritan since 2004, but he knew the competition all season was what prepared the Rockets late.
“It helped tremendously,” Ernst said. “It prepared us for the situations we were in for that last drive.”
Ernst rushed for over 100 yards and two touchdowns, but it was quarterback Marc Carnivale and his wideouts who stepped up late in the second half with the Lincoln defense loading the box.
“They did a great job. I tried to do my best on the ground, but sometimes when I’m getting hit in the backfield they need to step up, and they did just that today.”
Carnivale might have put it the best when asked if he thought they had a chance against previously undefeated Lincoln on Saturday night.
“Oh we knew coming into tonight,” Carnivale said. “We played teams like SJV, Red Bank and Rumson-FH; we knew we could hang with this team.”
Staff Writer Chris Parker: email@example.com