Match after match and collision after collision, the paint on Ryan Butler’s helmet peeled off until the metallic gold paint turned white.
And while the golden dome didn’t stay perfect for the hatchback helmet, the rest of Bergen Catholic’s season did.
Oradell’s school beat rivals Don Bosco Prep to win the non-public Group 4 championship and ended an unbeaten season with a 12-0 record. In the process, Bergen Catholic became the first team since forming the Super Football Conference in 2016 to lead the table unbeaten against New Jersey football’s who’s who.
In addition to the storybook season, Bergen Catholic finished the year fifth or better in all national polls and went end-to-end as the No.1 team in the NJ.com Top 20.
For all of their success, Bergen Catholic was named NJ.com’s Team of the Year for 2021.
“We were the toughest team to play,” said Steve Angeli, Bergen Catholic senior quarterback, as he paraded the team’s trophy off the field at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford on the 27th. November.
“That’s what will come out of it. No one was harder than us. We have been tougher than any team we have played against.
As the championship celebration continued, players wore jerseys with the word “won” in all caps and a gold outline. It was a fitting message for a team that left nothing to chance or the opinions of others.
Fueled by a bitter loss to Don Bosco in last year’s COVID shortened season, Bergen Catholic entered this season highly motivated to prove he was the best team in New Jersey. They did so against an exhausting schedule and were only led once in the second half – a possible 38-28 victory over Seton Hall Prep at West Orange.
“We have always had this goal behind our backs all season. We were a bit used to it, ”said Butler, who had over 1,200 yards and 25 touchdowns. “This whole team has always stuck together, so it never fazed us. “
Angeli, Butler, junior trailback Saeed St. Fleur and a solid line including seniors Quentin Lane, Joe Matone, PJ Bonistalli and Dom Brogna helped the team’s offense average over 35 points per. match.
Still, it was the team’s much-vaunted defense that really turned heads.
The unit has given up just 24 points in its three playoff victories. A trio of all-state stars and top rookies – defensive end DJ Samuels and side players Jaeden Gould (Nebraska) and Jayden Bellamy (Notre Dame) – led a squad that had so many depth than star power.
The defense also got great contributions from its top three tackles – Malachi Mercer, John Fiore and Christian Ross. The trio combined for almost 250 tackles and 37% of the team’s total saves.
“We’ve always wanted to prove we’re better,” Fiore said when asked about his team’s legacy.
Fiore added that his team’s coaches will always talk about the Catholic Bergen 2021 squad and tell future players “to be tough like them”.
And if they need proof, they’ll still have Butler’s helmet.
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