Vincent Carpini is the Mount Olive football team’s No. 2 receiver.
But now he is No. 1 in the hearts of Marauder Nation – now and forever.
And so is the entire team.
The junior made the catch of his life Friday night – and maybe, just maybe, hauled in the biggest pass in the history of the school.
Carpini caught a clutch, 9-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jake Asbury on fourth down with just 23 seconds left to tie the game and Izzy Kolbusz booted the decisive extra point to give the Marauders a wild 27-26 victory over Roxbury to win the North 2, Group IV championship in front of a jam-packed house at Roxbury High and set up a state semifinal game at Ramapo Friday night.
“It was a comeback route,” said Carpini, and that was only fitting because the catch sealed an incredible comeback by Mount Olive, which took over the ball at its own 20 with 6:54 left.
Asbury was brilliant under the microscope, engineering a 14-play drive that had some missteps but the team was able to gut it out when it mattered most.
The Marauders, after a so-so first half that saw them trailing at intermission, 20-7, put it all together in the final six-plus minutes for the program’s finest hour since winning it all for the only other time in school history in 2002.
Carpini’s catch will go down as arguably the most important catch in school history. For that matter, Asbury’s throw will go down as an all-timer as well. And the drive was the most important and certainly the most clutch – and definitely the most thrilling.
Roxbury had taken a 26-20 lead with just under 7:00 left when quarterback Anthony Skawinski threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Colin Richter, who caught the ball at the Marauder 21, broke a tackle, and then sped up the right sideline for the stunning score.
But Mount Olive’s Dan McGarry blocked kicker Gunner Hilsinger’s extra point. It was the Marauders’ second blocked extra point of the night. Anthony Collier blocked the first one in the first half.
Still, the Marauders had their work cut out – especially the way the drive got off on the wrong foot and the way they stumbled a little throughout the march.
On the first play, Skawinski flew into the backfield and nailed workhorse Tyler Cumming (28 for 204, 1 TD) for a 1-yard loss. If that wasn’t enough, Mount Olive was then whistled for an illegal motion and Asbury completed a pass to Lincoln Youtz for zero yards.
Then on third-and-16, Mount Olive began wielding its magic. Asbury (12 for 19, 135 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) found Rondell Derrick for a 22-yard completion for a first down.
The pass breathed new life into the Marauders, who got two first downs and then ran into another snag that they’d need to escape from.
On first-and-10 at the Roxbury 24, the Marauders were whistled for a holding penalty to make it first and 20 – only to have Asbury hit Carpini with a 20-yard completion for a first down at the Roxbury 13.
Skawinski hit Cumming in the backfield again for a 3-yard loss, but Asbury responded once again with a 9-yard completion to Youtz.
On third-and-4, Skawinski – there’s that man again – brought down Asbury in the backfield for a 2-yard loss, setting up the Asbury-to-Carpini connection.
In a brilliant coaching move, Mount Olive brought in No. 1 receiver Jekori Zepata and lined him up on the right side as a decoy. That served as a distraction that played in Carpini’s favor.
So Asbury took the snap and rolled left, saw Carpini open and threw the pass. History was made and the team was in position to win its second state championship and first since beating Jefferson in 2002.
“I trust my quarterback,” Carpini said. “He put it in just the right spot.”
“I saw Vincent one-on-one and I put the ball in the right spot,” Asbury said simply.
All that was left was for Kolbusz to make the PAT and she did. It was her second straight clutch kick of Mount Olive’s state playoff run. Last week, she drilled a 20-yard field goal in the waning seconds to beat Sayreville.
This game had a dramatically different feel than the divisional matchup back in September, when Roxbury used a Hilsinger fourth-quarter field goal to beat Mount Olive in a defensive slugfest, 10-7.
Roxbury took the opening kick and rode the legs of Jahmani Miller (18 for 100), who took a pitch from Skawinski and sprinted into the end zone along the right side untouched. Hunsinger’s PAT made it 7-0 with 5:59 left in the first quarter.
Mount Olive came right back and scored when Asbury connected with Youtz for a 22-yard touchdown that saw him make a leaping grab in the end zone to tie the game.
Then, the game looked like it was getting away from Mount Olive. On the ensuing kickoff, the electric Richter brought the ball 80 yards to the Marauder 1 before Miller went in from the 1 along the left side – untouched, never a good look for the defense.
Then things got worse for Mount Olive.
Midway in the second quarter, the Marauders shanked a punt that landed on the Mount Olive 35. The ball stopped dead inbounds – and so did the Marauder players.
But the quick-thinking Richter sprinted over, scooped up the ball and raced into the end zone to the delight of the jam-packed Roxbury stands.
The play left Mount Olive completely stunned – and not exactly looking like the sectional champion it turned out to be.
“I never saw that in all my life,” Olive coach Brian O’Connor said with a shrug.
But Collier blocked the extra point – something Mount Olive’s players have seen over and over in practice, but never in games. Until Roxbury.
“Thursday was special teams day,” O’Connor said. “He blocked three of our seven attempts. We asked, ‘Can you do this in a game?’ He does that all the time.”
Still, Mount Olive had to clean up the mess it had made in the first half. O’Connor told the Marauders where they stood at the half. It wasn’t pretty.
Even with the blocked extra point, O’Connor’s team was severely outplayed in the first half and he was quick to bring that up during the intermission.
“I told the guys at halftime, ‘Congratulations, you just played the worst half you played all year,” O’Connor said. “The good news is you have 24 minutes to play your best half.”
They did just that, topped off with their biggest drive, biggest throw and biggest catch all rolled into one.
What a great night to be a Marauder.