TOMS RIVER — To leave Gernerd Field with a third straight loss to Jackson Memorial was not going to be acceptable to Asante Moorer, and he showed that much with arguably the best game of his high school career.

Toms River North’s senior running back totaled 282 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns on Saturday night to lead the Mariners, ranked No. 8 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, to a critical 33-23 Shore Conference Class A South win over the fifth-ranked Jaguars. Moorer ran for a game-high 201 yards and three touchdowns and caught three passes for 81 yards and a touchdown, giving Toms River North its first win over Jackson Memorial since 2012.

“Honestly, being beaten by Jackson for so many years you build a hunger to beat a team,” Moorer said. “This is my senior year and I wanted to step up, and this was a little more personal for me. There was a lot of talk regarding this and that, and I had to ignore that and work hard for this week to go out and do that I did today.”

“This is the most focused I’ve seen Asante in the six years I’ve known him,” said Toms River North junior quarterback Mike Husni. “Jackson is always personal to him and he takes it to heart, and it showed on the field.”

Husni added 61 yards rushing and a touchdown and completed 8 of 15 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown. In defeating Jackson, Toms River North kept itself in the Class A South division title picture while dealing the Jaguars a significant blow. The Mariners are now one game behind unbeaten Brick and will play the Dragons on Oct. 30. With two losses, the Jaguars are almost certainly out of title contention, and will also have a difficult path to the postseason.

“They really had our number and they’ve been the best team in the division over the past few years, in my opinion,” said Toms River North head coach Dave Oizerowitz. “Physically, they have manhandled us on both sides of the ball, and our kids up front took that as a challenge. We felt it was our game to take, we just had to come in and execute.”

The combination of Husni’s creativity and athleticism at quarterback with talented receivers around him, plus Moorer’s blend of power and speed in the backfield led the thoughts of the  many who believed the Mariners were the team to beat in A South when the season started. A 55-20 loss to Brick Memorial in Week Two dumped a bucket of ice water on the fire, but the Mariners have responded, and on Saturday night showed just how good they can be.

“Most definitely, people started to look down on us after the Brick (Memorial) game,” Moorer said. “We wanted to prove otherwise.”

Moorer scored on runs of 13, 66 and 56 yards in piling up over 200 yards on 17 carries. He also caught a 70-yard touchdown pass from Husni. Three of his scores came in the second half to help Toms River North pull away.

Jackson Memorial junior running back Mike Gawlik led the Jaguars offensive attack with 147 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Junior quarterback Dan Barker threw a two-yard touchdown pass to senior fullback Nick Papandrea and senior Jared Calhoun kicked a 27-yard field goal.

The Jaguars (3-2, 2-2) opened the scoring on Calhoun’s field goal, capping a 10-play, 60-yard drive. Toms River North would answer two drives later when an interception by junior Darrion Carrington halted a Jackson drive at the Mariners’ 24-yard line. Toms River North then marched 76 yards in seven plays to take a 7-3 lead. Husni connected with Bryce Watts on a 43-yard pass play to move the ball to Jackson’s 31-yard line, and four plays later Moorer scored on a 13-yard run to put the Mariners in front.

Jackson responded immediately to re-take the lead, 10-7. Starting at their own 39-yard line, the Jaguars needed just three runs by Gawlik to reach the end zone. After carrying for gains of 11 and 6 yards, Gawlik broke free on a 44-yard touchdown run, and Calhoun’s extra point put the Jags back up by three.

Midway through the second quarter the Jaguars tried a fake punt from their 41-yard line and came up one yard short. The Mariners took advantage of the great field position with a seven-play drive that ended when Husni scored on a four-yard run for a 13-10 lead. Moorer set up the score with a 20-yard run down to the 10-yard line.

Entering the game, the Mariners felt their offensive line of seniors Tim Peterson and Luke Butera, and juniors Will Sagarese, Esiah Santamaria and Matt Melamed could go toe-to-toe with Jackson’s defensive line, and felt the same about its own defensive front. The Mariners ran for 265 yards and put up over 400 yards of total offense against a team that was yielding just three points per game entering Saturday.

Their confidence was best illustrated on the first play of the second half, a 66-yard touchdown run by Moorer that put Toms River North up 20-10.

“For the first play of the second half they came to me and said, ‘coach, this is what we’re running, it’s there’,” Oizerowitz said. “Sure enough, it was.”

“We knew coming in we had a solid offensive line, and they took it as a personal challenge.”

Putting away last season’s NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV champions wouldn’t be easy, however. Jackson pulled to within three points with a short scoring drive late in the third quarter. A 54-yard run by Gawlik moved the ball from the Jackson 34 to Toms River North’s 12-yard line, and three plays later Gawlik powered across the goal line on a five-yard touchdown run with 2:16 left in the third quarter.

While Toms River North showcased its skill and playmaking ability, it also showed its maturity in holding off Jackson. When the Jaguars closed the gap to three the Mariners did not fold, and instead scored twice in a span of two minutes to open up a two-score lead.

On the drive following Gawlik’s second touchdown run, the Mariners scored on a 70-yard touchdown pass from Husni to Moorer for a 26-17 advantage. Husni was chased from the pocket and scrambled before finding a wide-open Moorer, who tipped the pass to himself before racing away from the Jackson defense for his third touchdown of over 50 yards.

“The best thing to do when you see Mike leave the pocket - and a lot of wide outs would start panicking and blocking - but the key thing to do is stay upfield and get open,” Moorer said. “He will find you.”

“He is as competitivecompetitive as any guy I’ve ever been around, but more than that he understands the game,” Oizerowitz said. “He knew exactly where the line of scrimmage was and was running parallel to it. And he knew just how much to put on the pass with those guys bearing down on him.”

A quick three-and-out by Jackson gave the ball back to Toms River North, and the Mariners needed just two plays to blow the game open. Moorer ran for 12 yards on first down from North’s 32, then burst into the open field on a 56-yard touchdown run for a 33-17 lead with 10:27 to play.

Down by 16, Jackson still had a chance to rally with two touchdowns and two successful two-point conversions. The Jaguars scored to cut into the Mariners’ lead with a mammoth 16-play, 64-yard drive. On fourth-and-goal, Barker was able to flip a pass while on the run to Papandrea, who cradled the toss just inside the end zone. The two-point conversion attempt failed, however, and when Toms River North recovered the ensuing onside kick it had effectively sealed a important victory.

The Mariners have set themselves up to potentially play for at least a share of the division title in  three weeks, but more importantly may have realized their potential.

“It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and we say every week let’s get better than the teams we have to play,” Oizerowitz said. “We do that and we think we can go deep into November and December.”

 

Box Score

No. 8 Toms River North 33, No. 4 Jackson Memorial 23

Jackson Memorial Toms River North
First downs 12 15
Rushes-yards 33-175 41-266
Passing 10-20-1 8-15-0
Passing yards 112 156
Fumbles-lost 2-0 3-0
Penalties-yards 1-5 2-10

 

Jackson Memorial (3-2, 2-2) 3 7 7 6 – 23

Toms River North (4-1, 3-1) 7 6 13 7 – 33

 

Scoring summary

JM – Jared Calhoun 27-yard field goal

TRN – Asante Moorer 13-yard run (Kyle Bayha kick)

JM – Mike Gawlik 44-yard run (Jared Calhoun kick)

TRN – Mike Husni 4-yard run (kick blocked)

TRN – Asante Moorer 66-yard run (Kyle Bayha kick)

JM – Mike Gawlik 5-yard run (Jared Calhoun kick)

TRN – Mike Husni 70-yard pass to Asante Moorer (run failed)

TRN – Asante Moorer 56-yard run (Kyle Bayha kick)

JM – Dan Barker 2-yard pass to Nick Papandrea (pass failed)

 

Individual statistics

Rushing – JM: Mike Gawlik 17-147, Vinny Lee 13-27, Jared Calhoun 1-1, Dan Barker 2-0; TRN: Asante Moorer 17-201, Mike Husni 22-61, Bryce Watts 2-4.

Passing – JM: Dan Barker 10-20-1 112; TRN: Mike Husni 8-15-0 156.

Receiving – JM: Kyle Lona 4-62, Jared Calhoun 1-30, Vinny Lee 3-14, Tyler Towns 1-4, Nick Papandrea 1-2; TRN: Asante Moorer 3-81, Bryce Watts 2-41, Darrion Carrington 3-34.

Interceptions – TRN: Darrion Carringon, 1-5.