“Greatest five minutes in Prep Football history!”
When Mark Wyville, ’76, P’11,’17, sent a handful of images from the NJSIAA Group 4 Non-Public final to members of Prep’s administration Saturday night, that was the complete text of the email. Mark has witnessed his share of memorable moments up close and through the lens, whether his subject is Prep football, the Kentucky Derby, or Bruce Springsteen. So when the normally soft-spoken photographer, ubiquitous on Prep sidelines for decades, turns to superlatives, you know it was something truly special. And this Hollywood ending to a season full of plot twists? Well, it was truly special.
Cody Simon, ’20 had drawn first blood at the midpoint of the first quarter. The All-American and Ohio State commit evaded a tackle at the Prep 35, hugged the sideline at the Prep 42, turned the corner at the 50-yard line, and then he was gone, not to be seen again until he ended his 70-yard punt return in the end zone. But by the end of the quarter, Bosco had answered and then taken a 14-7 lead. That’s where it stayed until those magical closing minutes.
As the clock wound down to five minutes remaining, quarterback Tahj Bullock, ’21 was smashing his way over the goal line for a rushing touchdown. It capped a 12-play, 73-yard drive, cutting the deficit to one point, 14-13. Coach Rich Hansen had a decision to make: play it safe and look to tie the game with the extra point, or take the risk of a 2-point conversion attempt in hopes of grabbing the lead.
There could really never have been any question, though. Not for this team, not after three prior fourth-quarter comebacks this year (including one vs. Don Bosco in October, and another in the semifinal vs. Saint Augustine to make it this far). Bullock and the Prep offense returned to the field and took care of business yet again. The handoff to Jelani Mason, ’20 was flawless, and #1 in maroon eluded the grasp of several Ironmen as he put Prep on top 15-14.
But the Marauders had one more hill to climb, as Bosco pulled within field goal range with a minute to go. The kick by Bosco’s Justin Frey went up, but so did Quentin Lemon, ’20, delivering a lead-saving block and enabling Avery Powell, ’22 to gather up the ball and scramble to a 65-yard return for a touchdown.
Any hopes for a response from the Ironmen in the closing seconds were quashed with an interception by G.J. Mazzella, ’20. The final score: Prep 21, Bosco 14.
The 2019 crown marks Prep Football’s seventeenth state title overall and fifth in the NJSIAA tournament era. It’s also the fifth under Coach Rich Hansen’s leadership. Hansen’s fourth title (2014) came 25 years after his first (1989), and now this team that refused to give up has continued the pattern, winning another state championship 25 years after Hansen’s second (1994).
Prep closed out the season 11-1, and secured the #1 ranking in at least five statewide post-season polls. USA Today ranked Prep #22 in the nation this week.