Another ‘Miracle in Montvale?’: It’s always special when St. Joseph and Bergen Catholic collide
The games have become legend.
There was the Mark Fossati strip in 2012 in St. Joseph’s 38-37 overtime win.
Then came the magic of Corey Gaarn in 2014 during Bergen Catholic’s 37-34 double overtime victory.
And last season, Crusaders’ second-string tight end Connor Hebbeler caught a 24-yard touchdown reception – his only touchdown of the year – from backup quarterback Johnny Langan in a 16-13 overtime win.
Welcome to the Bergen Catholic-St. Joseph football rivalry, where history can be made in an instant.
The rivalry is as heated as ever between these non-public powers, with three of the past four contests decided in overtime. This longstanding battle for North Jersey supremacy dates back to 1965, but it took until 2012 for these two programs to need extra time to settle the score.
Now it seems to be the norm.
The undefeated Crusaders (4-0) and top-ranked Green Knights (2-1) will add another chapter to their storied history Saturday in Montvale. No. 2 Bergen Catholic leads the all-time series, 30-16, although the programs have won a combined 33 state titles.
“These are championship-type games we’re playing in,” Bergen Catholic coach Nunzio Campanile said. “It’s another big league game, and to win this league is a heck of an accomplishment. We treat this like we would any championship game. It’s just like a state championship playing these guys with so much on the line.”
The competition agrees.
“Listen, next to a state championship, Bergen-Joes or Bergen-Bosco games are the biggest games you will play in a year,” St. Joseph coach Augie Hoffmann said. “It’s big in all phases. It’s big as a player. It’s big as a coach.
“Honestly, it doesn’t get much bigger than Bergen and Joes.”
Hoffmann would know.
The 1999 St. Joseph graduate still can recite exact details of Bergen Catholic-St. Joseph matchups from his high school career nearly two decades ago. From the 16-6 comeback victory over the Crusaders during his junior season in 1997 in the first round of the playoffs en route to a state championship, to the 35-9 beatdown his Green Knights took during his senior season at Giants Stadium in 1998, Hoffmann remembers it all.
“When you have these schools separated by what, seven miles, a lot goes into this rivalry,” Hoffmann said. “You grow up and live in this area and hear about Joes, Bergen and [Don] Bosco for years. Kids choose among those schools of which one to go to. These are the marquee games that mean everything to the kids. These are the games you come here to play in. The stakes are high, and the amount that they care is through the roof. These kids have to see each other outside of football. Some live in the same town. They eat at the same restaurants. They hang out with the same people.
“When you choose to come to Joes, that means you’ve chosen you want to beat Bergen and Bosco for the next four years.”
Hoffmann has had success against his fellow North Jersey powers since taking over the Green Knights in 2014, going 6-3 against the “Big Five.” He is, however, 0-2 against Bergen Catholic, with a pair of gut-wrenching defeats.
Former St. Joseph coach and current athletic director Tony Karcich went 14-13 against the Crusaders from 1985 to 2013 after coaching Bergen Catholic from 1974 to 1982.
Hoffmann understands games like Saturday can define a tenure.
“It hurts, man,” he said. “It really does. To lose in any way is bad, but to lose twice in overtime, twice to Bergen Catholic? It hurts. But I think when you have kids that genuinely care so much about their school and have that pride, the level of intensity picks up that much more. That’s why these games are so good. Going to overtime three of the last four years, it speaks volumes to the kids and the coaching staffs. Bergen has finished and we haven’t the last two years.
“What else can you say?”
And consider that St. Joseph, after falling in the Non-Public Group 4 state final last season to Don Bosco, has dropped down to Group 3. So this will be Hoffmann’s only shot at the Crusaders this year.
“When he played, Bergen-Joes was undoubtedly the top rivalry in the area,” said Campanile, a 1995 Paramus Catholic graduate. “I’m sure it means a lot to him. We have a lot of coaches who played in that era, too. So there’s a little added incentive for everyone.”
St. Joseph set the tone in 2012 with Fossati’s 80-yard strip-and-score. Karcich called it the “greatest game” he had ever been a part of, a contest the Green Knights led, 21-0.
Campanile said the past two wins over St. Joseph have been season-altering for the Crusaders, each helping propel them to the Non-Public Group 4 semifinals.
In 2014, Gaarn replaced an injured Jarrett Guarantano under center and pulled off a victory dubbed, “The Miracle in Montvale.” The wide receiver-turned-quarterback’s unforgettable relief performance was stamped by a 33-yard, game-tying touchdown pass to Gene Coleman on a 4th-and-18 late in the fourth.
Last season, it was Langan leading the charge in just his second career start after another injury to Guarantano, now at Tennessee.
“I mean, they have kind of been games that have made our season the last two years,” said Campanile, whose program was ranked No. 25 in the nation this week in the MaxPreps National Top 25. “Three of the last four years have just been epic games. It’s a great rivalry that goes back a long time. Those wins kind of validated that we were getting better. So, come Saturday, the message is expect to go hard and battle for 48 minutes or more. I think everyone knows what they’re getting into.
“These are special games that most people are lucky if they get to play in once in their lifetime. Our kids get to play in a bunch of them.”