Ramapo stands alone as the class of Group 3, North 1.
The Raiders came into Giants Stadium Saturday as underdogs in the minds of many fans, and that was before losing their best player to injury on the game's first series. No matter. The boys showed their resolve on both sides of the ball and put together a team effort to win a state championship over archrival Wayne Hills.
The 16-8 win in a blinding snowstorm denied the Patriots their sixth straight state crown under head coach Chris Olsen.
Wayne Hills and Ramapo have a long history of regular season play as well as state title match-ups, although the two schools didn't play each other this season after conferences were realigned. However, Saturday's game wasn't the first time they saw each other this year; the squads scrimmaged in the pre-season.
"We couldn't bear the thought of going a year without playing them," Ramapo coach Drew Gibbs said.
"The rivalry between our schools is tremendous. We have great respect for them. They have a tremendous commitment to winning," Gibbs said.
Ramapo's chances of winning appeared to take a big hit at the start of the game when standout running back and captain Jesse Devonshuk was carted off the field after carrying the ball on first and 10. Devonshuk would return to the sidelines but was ruled out of the game with what Gibbs later said was a knee injury.
The captain's absence allowed other Raiders to step up on offense. Junior Scott Kuenzle filled Devonshuk's role and paced the Raiders ground game with help from fullback Sean Munier, who often dragged defenders on his 230-pound frame. Munier also keyed a stout defensive effort that completely took away Wayne Hills passing game.
Gibbs said the boys didn't flinch when Devonshuk went down.
"I'm so proud of the way they reacted. A lot of teams, if you lose your best player on the second play of the game, they might have folded up, but there's no quit in these guys. They were tremendous."
The Raiders struck first after the two teams started the day off with punts. Kuenzle, who hadn't played much in the backfield this season, gave the crowd a glimpse of what they'll likely see next year, as he converted a fourth down and got the ball again for a 22-yard score. Ross Krautman's point-after gave the Raiders a 7-0 lead.
The ensuing kickoff left Wayne Hills pinned back against their end zone, and Ramapo kept them there on a strong defensive stand. The Patriots were forced to punt, but the snowy ball went through kicker Tim Divers' hands and out of the end zone for a safety, putting Ramapo ahead 9-0.
A Divers miscue led to more points for Ramapo later in the second quarter. He inadvertently took a knee when attempting to kick, which gave Ramapo the ball on the Patriots 45. Quarterback Tyler Ward and Munier capitalized on the mistake, connecting on a pass play that saw Munier streak up the right sideline for a touchdown. State record-holder Krautman made it 16-0, which Ramapo took to halftime.
Gibbs said he warned the team in the locker room against getting complacent.
"Whoever quits first is going to lose," he said he told the boys. "We kept playing for four quarters."
Wayne Hills got on the board in the third quarter after a Ramapo fumble. Star tailback Brian Dowling ran the ball in and then scored a two-point conversion to make it 16-8.
The score would hold due to Ramapo's aggressive defensive pressure, especially on Mike Quinn, the quarterback.
"That is what you have to do against a good high school quarterback like that, you have to blitz. We couldn't sit back there and let him throw the football."
Quinn often attempted to throw, especially as the pressure to score began to mount in the fourth. However, his receivers were blanketed by Raider defenders, and he often overthrew his targets. Wayne Hills' last series was mostly a succession of pass incompletions, and Ramapo was able to kneel down to preserve the victory.
"It doesn't get old at all," Gibbs said.