Ramapo undefeated streak reaches 23 with first-round playoff win against Bergenfield
Ramapo Raiders (10-0) head coach Drew Gibbs summed it best after the North 1, Group 3 Quarterfinal Playoff game against Bergenfield (5-4) on a blustery and frigid night at Ramapo High School. “Survive and advance, that is all that matters, this is the playoffs and win by one or 100 it doesn’t matter, the idea is to get to the next round,” the coach said.
Having already faced off against the Bears in the first game of the regular season where Ramapo came out on top 35-14, there was a lot more riding on the line for the Raiders who were ranked fourth in the state and 236th nationally by MaxPreps. Ramapo was looking to extend their winning streak to 23 games and advance to the semifinals of the state playoffs.
Bergenfield displayed no jitters at all in their opening possession, with quarterback Jake Kradenski engineering an eight-play 65-yard drive that chewed almost four and half minutes of the clock resulting in a Kradenski 12-yard touchdown run. Seemingly unfazed the Ramapo offense swiftly moved down the field on their first offensive series of the game. Inside the 10-yard line, the Raiders drive stalled as the Bears defense stuffed the run and on a fourth and goal at the two stopped senior quarterback Charles DePrima short of the goal line.
With Bergenfield pinned deep inside their territory, the Ramapo defense forced a quick three and out and caught a major break on special teams on the punt where the ball sailed over the punter and out of the end zone for a safety. On the ensuing kickoff return Shane Campbell returned the ball to midfield. Working with a short field it took the Raiders offense just six plays before senior running back Jake Tirone plowed ahead for an eight-yard touchdown run 21 seconds into the second quarter. However, placekicker Aiden Labell’s extra point attempt went wide right leaving the score at 8-7 Ramapo.
Starting out at the 39-yard line with less than eight minutes remaining, Labrenski went to work via the air completing a 27-yard pass to wide receiver Brian Ortiz. Three plays later Kradenski found the end zone for a second time on the night breaking through the pack in the middle and easily striding into the end zone. Special teams continued to be an Achilles heel for the Bears as the extra point was blocked.
Back on offense with under six minutes left, the Ramapo offense utilized their running game with DePrima and Tirone carrying the ball. Facing a third and four at the 33, DePrima completed an 11-yard drive to wide receiver Max Kucharski that would come at a cost with Kurcharski exiting the game with an injury.
Marching down to the Bergenfield 36-yard line, DePrima took matters into his own hands by taking the snap, following the offensive line and sprinting 36 yards to the end zone with than three minutes left. Going for the two-point conversion, DePrima rolled out of the pocket to his right and heaved a perfect pass to junior wide receiver Sean Clapp in the left corner of the end zone making it 16-13 Raiders.
“They did a great job, hats off to Bergenfield, had a great game plan, their kids played hard and executed well,” said Gibbs. “Our kids took a punch in the face. We lost one of our starting wide receivers, team captains, inside linebacker and offensive guard in the first half. Guys stepped up and made plays, we kept our poise and took care of business. It’s not an excuse, on Wednesday it was 65 degrees and here today it was 25 degrees and we have to get used to playing in the cold weather and affected us a little bit.”
Instead of sitting on the ball, the Bears offense roared back with Kradenski gaining 20 yards on a quarterback keeper. Moving the ball deep inside Ramapo territory Raiders senior defensive lineman Adam Ayoub registered a sack that forced a timeout. On third and four at the 30, Kradenski decided to take shot at the end zone and Jake Tirone swooped in for the interception as Ramapo led 16-13 at halftime.
Jake Tirone on the message in the locker room at intermission, “We talked about it at halftime, our season is on the line and it doesn’t matter who we are playing, what we’re doing, it’s 16-13 and we better finish the game if we want to play next week.”
On the second offensive series of the third quarter, the Ramapo offense employed the pound and ground game, picking up huge chunks of yardage on the ground with DePrima gaining 38 yards and Tirone 27 yards. With first and 10 at the Bergenfield 11-yard Tirone barreled ahead stretching out the ball across the goal line with three minutes remaining extending the Raiders lead to 23-13. After video review of the play the score was confirmed by the referee.
Just when Ramapo had seemed to pull away Kradenski changed that outlook in a flash on the Bears ensuing series exploding the line on a run and galloping 60 yards to the end zone with less than two minutes left. Needing a game changing drive, DePrima found success through the passing game completing a pair of passes including a 21-yarder to Tirone. Once inside Bergenfield territory, Tirone carried the ball six consecutive times that advanced the ball down to the 24-yard line.
After DePrima completed a nine yard pass to Shane Campbell, it was a different running back that would give the Raiders some much needed breathing room in junior Rich Sica shaking off a bunch off tacklers and motoring his way into the end zone for the score with eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter expanding the margin to 30-20. Senior Chris Valvano sealed the Ramapo victory with intercepting a Kradenski pass with seven minutes remaining.
Tirone finished the game with 32 carries for 169 yards while DePrima completed nine of 14 passes for 130 yards and carried the ball 16 times for 99 yards. For Bergenfield Jake Kradenski was six of seven for 86 yards and ran the ball 14 times for 171 yards.
“JT (Jake Tirone) had a tremendous game running the football and thought in the second half our offensive line controlled the ball,” Gibbs said. “JT was very special in the second half, he has great speed and toughness and so evident he ran downhill and all 160 pounds of him and knocking the pile back on about every run.”
“A big run by Richie (Sica), he’s done a great job for us and nice to have that 1-2 punch when you put one back in the backfield all game and that guy is going to get tired. Richie stepped up, he has had 100-yard games when JT was out and made some big runs for us.”
“Chris (Valvano) has been clutch for us all year and played great at the cornerback position and that really solidified the game. When he intercepted that ball gave us a chance to keep moving on offense. A good test for us, we got kids banged up but we got the next man up philosophy. We’re going to have some guys ready, Luke Robinson who has been out six weeks or more with a broken collarbone and one of our leading receivers before he got hurt will step back into the mix. Hey, I’m excited we get to do this for another week.”
Jake Tirone on the victory, “The offensive line did an amazing job, they had have a very good defensive line and great push and line opened up holes for me, Rich and Charles. We got punched in the mouth and punched back. We have great team chemistry, we love each other and do anything to win.”
Charles DePrima on advancing to the semifinals, “Their offense came out firing and we were not ready for what they were going to do but we ended up adjusting. Our offense had a good plan and everything just worked out. The offensive line week in and out do an amazing job and Jake ran the ball very well today. Me and him are a great duo. We’re going to treat next week’s game as any other, obviously a big stage and see what we’re going to do to beat the team we play next week.”
Now Ramapo awaits the winner of Saturday’s match-up between Summit and Newark West Side. Next Friday’s semifinal game is a 6:30 p.m. kickoff at Ramapo High School.
Sunil Sunder Raj
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