Under normal circumstances, a punt to end a game-opening drive would be a source of disappointment.
But in this hastily arranged game against an unfamiliar opponent and in the midst of a season that is everything but normal, John Skead’s punt to the opponent’s one-yard line became the technically proficient building block upon which Ramapo would shape the rest of its game.
Ramapo’s defense forced a punt on East Orange’s subsequent possession and the offense answered with a drive culminating with a touchdown pass from Charles DePrima to fellow senior Sean Clapp. It was a play that would set the rest of the agenda for Ramapo’s 27-6 victory over East Orange in a cross-divisional Super Football Conference game Saturday at Paul Robeson Stadium in East Orange.
DePrima connected on 19 of 26 passes for 333 yards and four touchdowns, hooking up with Clapp nine times for 240 yards and three TDs, and also finding Skead on a third-quarter scoring play that helped the Raiders (3-1) post their second straight win in only their second game in four weeks. East Orange fell to 4-2.
“That punt is huge,” senior running back Rich Sica said. “Field position is most of the game. When they have to drive it 99 yards, it helps us out on defense and offense.”
That early pinning at the one-yard line was certainly a help for Ramapo’s offense. But moreover, it served as a sign that despite the steep obstacles this (and every) team has faced recently, the Raiders were fully prepared to help themselves by converting big plays on late downs, thwarting East Orange’s key conversion attempts, and just playing clean, smart football in unseasonably warm conditions.
Two-way linemen Daniel Goldberg, who finished with two sacks, said Ramapo’s ability to consistently outmaneuver a talented East Orange team came down to coaching. Sica, who carried for 95 yards on 24 attempts, thought a lot of his team’s mastery came as a result of conditioning and a penchant for adjusting to ever-shifting scenarios.
One such shifting scenario was the game itself, arranged Thursday morning after Ramapo lost its scheduled game against Wayne Hills and East Orange lost its against Paterson Eatside due to coronavirus-related issues.
And then there was DePrima, who was not necessarily speaking only for himself, when he chalked up the Raiders’ heady, methodic play to a refusal to waste precious time this season. Ramapo defeated Paramus, 28-7, last week after missing action the previous two weekends as the team quarantined due to a positive coronavirus test within the program.
“This year we know we have to cherish every opportunity we get. Even on the practice field, we’re soaking up every moment,” he said. “We know we have to prepare, prepare, prepare to execute every opportunity we get. We want to leave everything on the field when it’s a game.”
DePrima launched Ramapo’s second series of the game with a screen pass to Clapp that was designed to take some pressure off running back Sica in between the tackles, and turned into a 53-yard pickup to the East Orange 35. Sica ran up the gut for nine yards off the next snap, and DePrima hit Clapp three plays later on a 15-yard TD play on a third-and-four situation with 3:30 left in the first quarter.
East Orange was able to advance to the Ramapo 35 before punting on the ensuing drive after failing to convert on a third-and-eight play. East Orange got another opportunity when Kymani Maitland intercepted a Ramapo pass on the following drive to give the Jaguars possession at their 40. But Goldberg and linebackers Tyler Cosgrove and Luke Czerepak again rejected a third-down effort and forced a punt.
Ramapo struck again with a nice mix of Sica’s running and DePrima’s ability to soften up that middle a bit with his completions along the perimeter. He capped that 11-play, 90-yard haul with a 38-yard pass to the fingertips of Clapp on a fourth-and-three predicament with 2:43 to go in the half for a 14-0 lead.
“There were a number of throws that he had to make in the game and he did. He was very accurate with those big plays,” Ramapo head coach Drew Gibbs said of DePrima. “That corner ball may be open, but it’s not easy; it’s about as far away from the quarterback as you have to throw.”
DePrima had hit on 9 of 13 passes for 194 yards in that first half, hitting Clapp six of those times for 136 yards and the two touchdowns.
East Orange was limited to 103 combined yards in the half, 87 of which was produced by junior quarterback Raeden Oliver on 8-of-11 passing. For the game, he was 15 of 24 for 143 yards, including five completions to Salaam for 74 yards.
All totaled, East Orange accumulated 152 yards, which was 88 fewer than Clapp’s bounty running patterns for DePrima.
“Sean Clapp had a dominant day,” Gibbs said. “Great hands, runs good routes. I think he’s a Division 1 AA player, but he just hasn’t had an offer yet.”
In the second half, DePrima located a wide-open Skead in the end zone on a fourth-and-goal play from the six to open a 20-0 lead with 2:31 to go in the third quarter. East Orange then received a much-needed spark when Rutgers commit Al-Shadee Salaam picked up the kickoff on a bounce at the 17, broke up the middle and then along the right sideline to cut the deficit to 20-6.
“East Orange is a great team,” DePrima said. “We knew we were gonna get a bunch of great athletes against us. We knew we had to play at a high level. We just had to get a good mindset. We faced adversity, but we just didn’t dwell on anything that went wrong.”
Ramapo completed the scoring with a three-play, 78-yard drive immediately following Salaam’s kick return. On third-and-six from the Raiders’ 26, DePrima threw across the middle to Clapp, who hauled it in at the 50 and coasted into the end zone with 59 seconds left in the third.