Some could argue that the NJSIAA state tournament run from Raritan football has been a bit of a surprise, as the 2015 season comes to a close this championship Saturday.
The team was 3-5 after an early November 30-21 loss to Monmouth, a game that Raritan head coach Anthony Petruzzi highlighted as a wake-up call for his team in a phone interview on Tuesday night.
Since then, the Rockets have won three straight games, including two NJSIAA Central Group II games over Point Boro and Delaware Valley. More important, this group from Raritan has a chance to make history, with its sights set on a state sectional title for the first time since 2004.
“As a team we always talk about what we are going to be remembered for, what legacy they will leave behind,” Petruzzi said.
The sixth-seeded Rockets will have their hands full with hopes of leaving that lasting legacy on Saturday night at Kean University as they take on top-seeded and undefeated Lincoln for the Central Group II title.
Sure, Lincoln hasn’t lost a game all season (11-0), along with averaging 40 points a game on the offensive side of the ball. But the same thing that had Raritan’s record two games under 500 this season could be their saving grace on Saturday night.
“Playing in the Shore Conference Class A Central will be huge for us on Saturday,” Petruzzi said. “We have played a playoff-like schedule since week one, and that will definitely help us.”
Petruzzi doesn’t believe Lincoln is exactly like one of the teams the Rockets have already played, but it’s a team that will no doubt feature parts of St. John Vianney, Red Bank and Rumson-Fair Haven.
As far as game plans go, they won’t get away from what has worked for them all season, plans that will fall on the very capable shoulders of running back Derek Ernst.
A senior back who has rushed for 1,633 yards along with 20 touchdowns will pace the Rocket offense, hopefully while keeping the ball out of the hands of an explosive Lincoln team.
“There is no other back in the Shore Conference I would rather have than Derek. He has done everything we have needed him to do this year for us,” Petruzzi said. “He has progressed both mentally and physically as a football player over the years.”
Along with Ernst, Raritan has had several other players who have stepped up on both sides of the ball this season, according to Petruzzi. Quarterback Marc Carnivale has thrown for over 1500 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.
“We have had a lot of guys step up around Ernst,” Petruzzi said. “Credit the offensive line, our quarterback and receivers; each week we have had different guys step up, and they will be ready to do the same on Saturday.”
Being the underdog is something the Rockets welcome, but Petruzzi was clear that it won’t be something that they will rely on in the state championship game.
“We are comfortable with it, it’s exciting, but it won’t be what wins or loses the football game for us,” Petruzzi said. “To win this game will be something these kids will be able to bond over as young men for all their lives. I know one thing, they are going to leave it all on the field Saturday.”