BRICK – Last season, Saint John Vianney finished ranked No. 1 in the Shore after going 10-1, won its fourth straight Class A Central division title, extended its Shore Conference winning streak to 38 games and reached the NJSIAA Non-Public Group III semifinals where they fell to eventual champion  DePaul.

However, the Lancers graduated the bulk of their starters from that team including its starting quarterback, both starting running backs and three of their four top wide receivers – and that’s just including their skill players.

On top of that, the Lancers brought in a new head coach and coaching staff along with a new playbook filled with terminology that takes time for even the sharpest of minds to digest.

But apparently it didn’t take long for these new Lancers to get on the same page. And even though they’re still a couple of weeks away from strapping on pads and helmets and competing in a true football setting, it appears this new group of players has done their homework.

Prior to the 41st All-Shore Gridiron Classic on the evening of July 12 at Brick Memorial High School, Saint John Vianney captured the Shore Conference 7-on-7 championship, defeating Donovan Catholic, 20-6.

Incoming junior quarterback C.J. Duell – a 6-foot-2, 180-pound gunslinger – stole the show tossing three touchdown passes and connecting for a 2-point conversion completing 10-of-13 passes for 130 yards.

Duell – a transfer from St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia – is a pro-style quarterback with a strong and accurate arm and appears to already have a firm grasp of new head coach Joe Martucci’s system.

“It’s about getting better with everybody and forming those connections,” Duell said. “Everyone is new to this so we’re just trying to get on the same page, and once we do I think we’ll be set to go.”

In his first year at SJV after a stretch as an assistant coach at Kean University, Martucci was Matawan’s head coach from 1984-2011, where he won five NJSIAA sectional championships. He brings along much of his old staff, including long-time assistant Sam Turner, as well as Jay Bellamy and Charlie Rogers.

Bellamy’s son, Jayden, is an incoming freshman who hauled in two touchdown passes from Duell in the Lancers’ 7-on-7 semifinal win against defending champ Long Branch.

“Our biggest concerns this whole summer and preseason are just to get everybody on the same page, terminology-wise, to be able to just call a play and let the kids run it,” Martucci said. “It took us a couple of weeks to do that, but the last two games – at Kean 7-on-7 and then here in the Shore Conference – we were able to do that.”

On the Lancers’ first play from scrimmage, Duell found junior Warren Griffth wide open around the 15-yard line and Griffth ran untouched into the end zone for the game’s first score. Teams start at the 40-yard line in 7-on-7 competition so Duell was credited with a 40-yard scoring strike.

Saint John Vianney held Donovan Catholic and Duell went 3-for-4 on the Lancers’ next possession, tossing a nine-yard touchdown pass to junior Kavon Chambers in the left corner of the end zone. Duell’s two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete leaving the score at 12-0.

Chambers – a transfer from Central Regional – was a third-team All-Shore selection at running back after ranking fifth in the Shore in rushing with 1,438 yards a year ago and will slide into the starting role in the backfield for the Lancers this year.

Donovan Catholic then advanced to the seven-yard line and had a first-and-goal but the Lancers forced three straight incompletions and took over at the 40-yard line before going three-and-out and turning the ball back over to the Griffins.

The Griffins then went 40 yards in four plays for the score with junior quarterback Ryan Clark connecting with sophomore Jahdir Loftland for a four-yard touchdown making it a 12-6 game after a failed two-point conversion attempt

Duell sealed the win for the Saint John Vianney, going 4-for-4 on their final drive of the game hitting 6-foot-2 junior Zarrin Stephens on a crossing pattern over the middle for the game-clincher. On the drive, Duell found 6-foot-6 senior tight end Andrew McGimpsey twice to keep the drive alive before connecting with McGimpsey again on the two-point conversion to push the Lancers’ lead to 20-6.

Griffth, Stephens and McGimpsey were all on the team last season and will step into significant roles this year for the Lancers. 

The game clock ran out on the Griffins on their final possession handing Saint John Vianney a 20-6 win and the championship.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Martucci said. “The guys have been working hard and that’s what’s important. They bought into what we’ve been asking of them and it’s worked out so far.”

“It means a lot for me to come in here and start at quarterback,” Duell said. “There have been a lot of guys before me and it’s up to me to play as well as those guys.”  

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