On Friday night, April 23, Crusaders hosted the Middletown High School Bears for the Section 9 AA Championship game.
Monroe-Woodbury entered the game with a 5-1 record on the season while the Middies entered with a 4-2 mark. The Crusaders beat Middletown 27-24 in an exciting overtime game when the two teams met earlier in the season.
The Crusaders got a big break on the opening kickoff when the Middies fumbled and the Crusaders recovered on the 24-yard line. But the Middletown defense stiffened and four plays latter the Crusaders were forced to punt.
A defensive battle
The rest of the first half was a defensive struggle with the Middletown defense shutting down the Crusaders run game and the Crusaders defense bending but keeping the Middies off the board.
The Middies finally broke the ice when they connected on a 25-yarf field goal to go up 3-0 with seven minutes left in the first half.
The two teams exchanged possessions and with time running out in the first half, Crusader kicker Edward Fennessy hit a 25-yard field goal that was good but was ruled to be after time had expired.
So the Middies held a 3-0 lead at the half.
The second half
The Crusaders got their offense rolling on their first possession of the second half and moved the ball right down the field. They took a 7-3 lead when Michael Zrelak busted into the Middies end zone from six yards out with seven minutes left in the third quarter.
The Middies offense retook the lead when Joshua Soter scored on a short four-yard scamper around right end. With the extra point, the Middies were back on top 10-7 as the third quarter ended.
It looked like the Middies had put the game out of reach when quarterback Dalton Howell connected with Jaden Farrell for a 31-yard touchdown with 7:50 left in the game to give them a 17-7 lead.
But the Crusaders took their next possession and drove down the field they capped it off with Zrelak bulling his way into the end zone.
The finals minutes of the fourth quarter
With 4:58 left in the game the score was 17-14.
The Middies ate up the clock as they moved the ball down to the Crusaders’ nine-yard line where the defense held on a forth down.
With the game on the line the Crusader took over on their own nine with 1:30 and no time outs left.
First they popped Zrelak up the middle for some nice gains and then quarterback Anthony Campione hit Camron Adams with a nice pass for a 33-yard gain down the far sideline.
From there, with the time running out, runs by Campione and Zrelak moved the ball down to the four-yard line where they clocked the ball with four seconds left on the clock.
The Crusaders hurriedly rushed out the field goal unit but the field goal attempt from the right hash mark by Fennessy sailed wide.
As the Middies stormed on to the field to celebrate their championship many of the Crusaders sat down in disbelief. The Crusaders and the Middies had met twice this season and they seemed to bring out the best in each other with both games being decided on the last play.
The Crusaders 17-14 loss brings their season record to 5-2 on the season.
Head Coach James Sciarra will have his work cut out for his staff this off season as they look to replace the 30 seniors that the will loose to graduation this year.