De La Salle's cross-country journey brought everything but victory
RAMSEY, N.J. -- At 5:51 p.m. last Saturday,
Eidson looked surprised. "Do you think we'll need one?"
"No," Murphy said, "but I just figured I'd ask."
The Californian, turning toward his players, said, "Alright, let's go."
Three Spartans seniors --
When the team reached Granatell Stadium's chain-linked fence, they funneled into single file and squeezed through an opening between metal poles. Metallica's
The Spartans were safe during warm-ups. Bosco waited to blitz them between the lines. From the opening possession (Ward was stripped of the ball on his first carry), to the second (quarterback
De La Salle originally agreed to travel east in 2003. Then the owners of a winning streak that eventually ended on the road in '04 with a national record 151 consecutive victories, they had flown down to Hawaii for one game, welcomed Evangel Christian of Shreveport, La., to its turf, and trekked to Seattle. In Don Bosco, Ladouceur identified a mirror program on the opposite coast. The Catholic schools -- enrolling all boys of similar student population size (Bosco 880; De La Salle 1,030) and charging tuition (De La Salle $13,900; Bosco $10,225) -- found further common ground in the national rankings. "We're De La Salle East and they're Don Bosco West," said Bosco coach
Local politics restricted Bosco's attempt to go national at first. Its league -- the Northern New Jersey Interscholastic League -- would not allow for an out-of-state game to be played due to a scheduling conflict. Even when Bosco administrators found a team to fill its slot, the league denied its request. "They didn't want to set a precedent of teams pulling out once the schedule is made," said Bosco athletic director
Talks resumed in 2006 when both schools played in the
Lopoz and De La Salle's staff put a face -- and voice -- to the Bosco mystique from video via
The grit translated on the field as well. De La Salle jumped out to a 21-7 halftime lead last October on their home FieldTurf, but Bosco took over from there, out-passing the West Coast power with its spread attack and stymieing its vaunted veer offense to rally for a 23
Revenge was plotted over the winter. After a team meeting in February, De La Salle coaches called the rising seniors into the weight room and read off the schedule. They circled the Sept. 12 matchup as a chance at redemption, but there would be a level of concern heading in. Three quarterbacks competed for the starting position over the summer, and all three played in the opening win over Juniperro Serra. Coaches -- who had exchanged scrimmage video tapes with Bosco -- did not name a starter in the days leading up to the "Rematch in Ramsey", read one T-shirt.
"There are no secrets," said De La Salle assistant
Familiarity was one thing, but there was also an atypical friendliness to the affair. De La Salle's flight landed at Newark Airport around 11 Wednesday night, and the team bused north through the New York City suburbs. When they walked into the lobby of their hotel, they saw a banner that read "Welcome De La Salle". Bosco's cheerleaders had sent it over. The girls from Bosco's sister school also sent a bouquet of balloons for their parents at a nearby hotel. De La Salle transported to practice in two yellow buses that read "Don Bosco High School" on the sides. The enemy was even allowed in Bosco players' homes. Senior linebacker
Ladouceuer, a laid-back theology teacher accustomed to leading religious retreats and giving team-building speeches to Kiwanis clubs, added educational elements as well. On Thursday night, less than 12 hours before the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, players walked the downtown streets where the twin towers fell. There, amongst the construction cranes and barb-wired fence, Eidson led them in a prayer for peace,
The next two days were dedicated to football. Like a Division I college program, the team took over their hotel's second-floor conference room for preparation, reading off assignments and reciting the team's traditional "Mother's Prayer". They departed the hotel in two white chartered buses at 4:58 p.m. wearing steely looks.
All courtesies extended beforehand were checked at the field. Toal, whose disciplined approach has turned Bosco from a doormat program to a dynastic power in his 10 years at the school, told his Ironmen that they would outlast the Spartans. "This game was won in June when our guys made the commitment to work hard," said Toal, who will take his team, ranked No. 8 nationally, on the road to Prattville (Ala.) next weekend.
Herting never looked comfortable under center. Bosco's attack-dog defenders hurried his throws and fed off his inexperience. No Spartan was safe, even on kickoff returns. Though tailback
After the clock struck zero, the scoreboard still burned brightly with its 30-6 reminder as the Spartans hurried back through the one-person-at-at-a-time entrance, down the hill to their locker room and onto their chartered buses. "It's a different kind of football when you go out of state," Anderson said, carrying his travel bags with him.
Meanwhile, Bosco's players circled around Toal on their side of the field. Moved by the moment, the graying coach started to spike his right arm toward the ground, and yelled,