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Ramapo extends undefeated streak to 25, wins second straight North 1, Group 3 title

Ramapo extended their unbeaten streak after defeating Pascack Valley to win their second straight North 1, Group 3 title.

Ramapo High School (12-0) head coach Drew Gibbs’ message to his Raiders squad at halftime of the North 1, Group 3 sectional title game against Pascack Valley High School (8-3) on Friday night was to play with poise, play great football for four quarters and the team would win the game.

“The message is you don’t have to go yelling and screaming and act crazy at halftime,” said Gibbs. “Just regain your focus, confidence and poise. Our kids came back and played a good second half.”

On a cold and blustery night, Indians senior running back Jake Williams had a monstrous first half. He scored three rushing touchdowns while running for 113 yards. He scored on a five-yard touchdown that put Pascack Valley up 21-14 with a minute and a half remaining. Entering the contest, Williams had rushed for 1200 yards and 20 touchdowns. Playing his final home game, Ramapo senior running back Jake Tirone countered tallying two scores while gaining 106 yards.

The Raiders had an opportunity to tie up the game late in the first half with first and goal at the Indians’ four-yard line. A ferocious goal-line defense stuffed Tirone twice and junior quarterback Charles DePrima as the clock ran out.

In the third quarter, the Ramapo defense forced the Pascack Valley offense into two quick three and outs. Starting at the 14-yard line, DePrima engineered an eight-play, 86-yard drive that ate up 2:19 of the clock. The drive was finished off with a 37-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the seam to junior wide receiver Sean Clapp that tied the game up at 21-21 with 4:39 remaining.

“We knew that Pascack Valley was going to be tough because we already played them,” said DePrima. “We have one motto Coach (Gibbs) says before each game that is you have to make big plays on offense and guys know when to step up.”

On the Indians ensuing offensive series, head coach Len Cusumano gambled on fourth three at the 41-yard line, but the Raiders defense closed down the running lanes stopping Williams short of the first down marker.

Unable to cash in on the short field, Ramapo had to punt the ball away. That seemed to re-energize the Pascack Valley offense with senior quarterback Stephen Bergen ( 7-of-12, 72 yards). He orchestrated a 13-play drive that included completing a 23-yard pass to wide receiver Craig Moorehead that advanced the ball to the Raiders 37-yard line. Facing a fourth and one at the 20, the Ramapo defense rose to the occasion again, stuffing Williams at the line scrimmage. In the second half, Williams was limited to 14 rushes for 31 yards.

“We came up and tightened our defense and the offense got rolling,” said Gibbs. “Our defense all year has made big fourth-down stops in big games and really stepped up and tackled on fourth down. That’s a credit to the defense and fourth down is great, but you have to play great team defense. You just can’t try to make a play. You have to do what your responsibility is and our kids did a great job of that.”

Starting at the 24-yard line with less than eight minutes remaining, DePrima completed two critical third-down passes to senior wide receiver Justin Garland and Clapp, allowing the Raiders offense to move deep into Pascack Valley territory. Jake Tirone kept pounding the rock carrying the ball seven times for 35 yards. An eight-yard keeper from DePrima advanced the ball down to the six-yard line. On second and goal, Tirone capped off the impressive 12 play, 76-yard drive that chewed up over four minutes on the clock blasting through the line for the score.

“All the glory goes to the offensive line. They do a great job opening up holes and setting the tone,” said Jake Tirone. “A great group of guys and I’m glad to have them. A great finishing drive, Charles (DePrima) is an amazing player and I expect nothing less from him. He had a clutch game. He is the man.”

Drew Gibbs on Jake Tirone and Charles DePrima: “He (Jake Tirone) is the heart and soul of this team and his leadership was outstanding. Our offensive line did a great job. We have a lot of seniors on that line. They are really the glue that holds the team together. JT made the runs, but the O-line gave him the holes to run through. Charles made some big throws on that final drive. That scramble he made going out on the perimeter was huge. For a junior quarterback in his first state championship game, he certainly played very well.”

An unsportsmanlike penalty assessed against the Raiders on the touchdown enabled the Indians’ special teams to return the ensuing kickoff to the 38-yard line. Facing a fourth-and-four at the 44, Begen managed to complete a 13-yard pass to Moorehead keeping the drive alive. After a timeout, Pascack Valley had a third-and-nine at the Ramapo 41. It was Tirone that would be the difference-maker on defense swooping in for the interception.

“We were in a cover two and I was just reading his eyes,” Tirone said. “They were good defensively. We knew that we had to step it up. We have been here before, battle-tested and we said let’s come out on fire and hit these kids. A great team and we were expecting it. This is what the state sectional final is about and nothing less. Our defense really got the momentum for the offense and made big plays when we needed it on third and fourth downs when it counts.”

Instead of punting it on fourth and two from the 36 with five seconds left, DePrima decided to run the clock out by sprinting back toward the end zone and ending the game. The Raiders won 28-23, setting off a jubilant celebration with an undefeated streak at 25 games and back-to-back North 1, Group 3 state sectional titles. Tirone finished with 178 rushing yards on 26 carried. DePrima completed 12-of-18 passes for 181 yards and ran for 41 yards.

“What a great senior class, they have left their mark as a class with back-to-back state championships, the third year in a row in the finals and a classy bunch of kids who work hard. They love each other and is just a great team,” Gibbs said.

“For me personally, this just re-enforces the things we do, the way we treat our players, what we ask out of our players is the right thing. You have every kid in the program has a great experience. Not everyone can be Jake Tirone, but we value every kid’s contribution and that is one lesson. Every kid on the football team has a hand in whether it’s the scout team, special teams, third or fourth string guys. They come to work just like the stars do.”

Jake Tirone on the win: “This has been our ultimate goal since the summer, I’m so glad we have the chance to win it all. I love my teammates, hanging out with them and having their back. Coach Gibbs has done an incredible job all year and has us always prepared and ready. No better crowd than Ramapo. When they show up, it’s awesome with the students, alumni, and all of our teammates back from last year and supporting us.”

Charles DePrima on the victory: “To be undefeated and win a sectional championship is a big deal. The guys in the locker room knew it was possible. We came in every week and stepped it up and knew that we had a chance to win every game and answered the bell. Coach Gibbs is one of the greatest ever. He puts together an amazing scheme every week and love to have him as my coach.”

“I think that we have the best running back in the state in JT. He brings all the intensity and is a great player. I would not want anyone else in the backfield with me. The O-line is just amazing week in and out. They do a great job and it was no different tonight. The key for us on the (final) drive was knowing the time on the clock, staying calm, cool and collective and big plays will come. Everyone on the field knew what they were doing and made the plays when we had to.”

Next up for Ramapo is a North Regional Championship match-up against Parsippany Hills (10-2) on Friday, November 29th. Kickoff is slated for 7:00 p.m. at a site that is to be determined.

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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