OCEAN Red Bank is enjoying a magical season that has now seen the Buccaneers advance to a sectional final for the first time since 2003, giving the program a chance to win its first sectional championship since 1975.
But Friday night, when the undefeated Bucs rode a three-touchdown performance by Sadiq Palmer to beat Ocean 21-14 in a Central Jersey Group 3 semifinal game, will stand out in the list of accomplishments.
Twice Ocean wiped away Red Bank leads. Finally, an interception by Jalen Willis set up Palmer’s decisive touchdown run to break a 14-14 tie with 9:24 left in the third quarter.
The result sends Red Bank into the final against Rumson-Fair Haven in two weeks.
Red Bank quarterback Jake Navitsky, who tossed a 33-yard touchdown pass to Palmer in the first quarter, said it was simply a battle of wills against Ocean.
“It didn’t really set us back when they tied us twice because with our focus and mentality that we have, we know that if we play our game, it’s going to go our way,’’ Navitsky said.
Palmer, a Syracuse University commit, caught 3 passes for 59 yards, rushed for 53 yards, and as a safety made a red zone interception in the second quarter.
Palmer called Ocean “very hard competition. I’m glad we got the win.’’
The Navtisky-Palmer touchdown pass came with 4:40 left in the first quarter. Ocean struck back quickly, with Kenny Pickett’s 56-yard pass to Joey Aldarelli setting up Tyler Thompson’s game-tying touchdown on an 11-yard run.
The back and forth continued. Navitsky’s 39-yard pass to Matt Reardon was followed by Palmer’s short scoring run to put Red Bank back ahead 14-7 with 30 seconds left in the first quarter.
Ocean pulled back into a tie on the first possession of the second half as Pickett hit an in-stride Aldarelli for 30 yards in the back of the end zone.
It looked like Ocean’s offense wasn’t finished but Red Bank cut the Spartans off right there. Besides the Willis interception, a fourth-and-one stop by Palmer and senior linebacker Brian Fagan in the third quarter on Thompson, one of the top tailbacks in the Shore Conference, was also a key play.
Red Bank defeated Ocean 16-6 on Sept. 25. Bucs’ coach Nick Giglio said facing a quality opponent twice in a season presented an extra challenge.
Giglio said the coaching staff wrestled with decisions on how much change should be made to offensive and defensive schemes.
“That’s the part that keeps you up at night – how much new stuff you want to put in, and how much new you shouldn’t put in because you don’t want to screw up your guys with too much,’’ Giglio said. “We try not to go overboard on what we’re doing. You don’t want to cut out fundamentals like tackling from practice time to put new stuff in.’’
Key play: Willis jumped the route when Pickett threw a quick toss to his left targeted for Aldarelli. His 20-yard interception return put the ball on the Ocean 16 and Palmer scored the game-winning touchdown on a five-yard run shortly after.
Offensive game ball: No contest here thanks to three touchdowns by Palmer.
Defensive game ball: Willis. Did we mention he had a key interception?
Up next: Red Bank faces Rumson-Fair Haven in the section final in two weeks.
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