Attacking Defense, Ground Game Lead No. 10 Brick Memorial over TR East
BRICK TOWNSHIP — With Brick Memorial’s offense not only sputtering, but setting Toms River East up with great field position during the second and third quarters of Friday’s Shore Conference Class A South game, its defense knew it had to rise to the occasion if the Mustangs were to run their winning streak to three games.
“Every time we went out there, in our heads it was only ‘three and out,’” said junior defensive end Chris Hayes.
Brick Memorial’s defense picked up an offense that started fast and finished strong, but had four consecutive three-and-outs after opening up an early lead. The defense made sure it stood up by limiting the Raiders to just 123 total yards in a 27-7 victory that gave the Mustangs, ranked No. 10 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, their third consecutive win.
Brick Memorial (3-1, 3-1) didn’t force any turnovers on the night, but was constantly in the Raiders’ (0-4, 0-4) backfield. The team combined to make 20 stops for a loss or no gain - nearly half of Toms River East’s 45 plays. Hayes, along with fellow junior defensive end Mike Nobile, led a Brick Memorial defensive front that limited the Raiders to 67 rushing yards on just two yards per cary. Hayes finished with a game-high three tackles for a loss and added a sack. Nobile had a pair of tackles for a loss and one for no gain. Both had several quarterback pressures.
“We made some adjustments, especially at halftime, and we really executed well,” Hayes said. “Mike gets a lot of double-teams, and when he does it leaves us open and able to get penetration and get to the quarterback.”
The Mustangs’ ground game did all the offensive lifting in running for 271 yards on 45 attempts. The dive was Brick Memorial’s bread-and-butter play all game, and senior fullback Connor Owen plowed his way to a game-high 138 yards on 23 carries while scoring on touchdown runs of three and 11 yards. Junior quarterback Tim Santiago finished with 123 yards on 16 carries. He scored on a 47-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and on a 25-yard keeper in the fourth quarter.
“We really just looked to get every player the ball,” Owen said. “Anybody on the team can run for 100 yards, it’s just a matter of what the defense gives you.”
Brick Memorial’s offensive line won the battle in the middle of the line with a constant surge to the second level that allowed Owen to average six yards per carry strictly on dive handoffs.
“The weight room is really where we put that into effect in being able to grind it out and then let Timmy get outside,” Owen said.
Toms River East, which played without starting running back Jeff Wood, got a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Dylan Savulich to Dan Gilligan to avoid being shut out. Gilligan made a game-high four receptions for 53 yards.
Brick Memorial started strong enough that it appeared to be on its way to an easy and convincing victory. After forcing a punt on Toms River East’s opening possession, the Mustangs drove 70 yards in five plays to take a 7-0 lead. Owen carried four straight times for 23 yards before Santiago pulled a handoff and kept it himself, going basically untouched off left tackle for a 47-yard score just 4:26 into the game.
Matt Cuppari’s kickoff was short, but stopped at the eight-yard line just before going out of bounds. The tough field position for the Raiders had them punting from their 10-yard line four plays later, and a shanked kick gave Brick Memorial the ball at the East 17-yard line. Owen carried three times for 22 yards to negate a false start penalty and give the Mustangs a 14-0 lead with a three-yard touchdown run.
Toms River East responded with its best drive of the game, but a great defensive play kept it off the scoreboard. Starting from their own 38-yard line, the Raiders drove all the way to Brick Memorial’s two-yard line in nine plays. Senior quarterback Jason Venezia got free for a 23-yard run to move the ball to the Mustangs’ 25, and an offsides call against Brick Memorial on fourth down gave East a first down at the 12. But on fourth-and-inches from the Brick Memorial two-yard line on the first play of the second quarter, Hayes knifed into the backfield and dropped freshman running back Tommy Ferrante for a two-yard loss to end the threat.
“Our defense is set up to where we have to pinch, and I swam right over the guard and the backers were there to help me make the tackle,” Hayes said.
Both defenses dominated the next 11 drives. The Mustangs would muster just two first downs on their next six drives, and the Raiders wouldn’t gain another first down until less than eight minutes remained in the fourth quarter.
When the third quarter ended it also signaled the end to the Mustangs' woes on offense. Five plays and 2:03 into the fourth quarter, Brick Memorial pushed its lead to 20-0 on a 25-yard touchdown run by Santiago that capped a seven-play, 65-yard drive. Owen was again the workhorse on the drive with five carries for 28 yards. Brick Memorial could not convert the extra point, but led 20-0 with 9:57 left in the game.
Toms River East would get on the board on the ensuing drive. Gilligan made a juggling catch on third down to keep the drive rolling at the Brick Memorial 45-yard line, then junior running back Nick Grande scampered for 14 yards to the Brick Memorial 31. Two plays later, Savulich had his pass deflected - but right into the hands of Gilligan - who raced into the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown.
After recovering an onside kick, Brick Memorial would close the door on win No. 3 with a seven-play, 50-yard scoring drive. Owen ran for 16 yards on third-and-three to set up his own 11-yard touchdown with 3:39 left.
The Mustangs have rebounded from a season-opening 42-0 loss to No. 2 Brick with three straight divisional victories, but the road gets tougher in their next four games leading into the cutoff for the state playoffs. Brick Memorial goes on the road to face an Old Bridge (3-1) team that has only lost to undefeated South Brunswick before squaring off against No. 7 Jackson Memorial, No. 6 Middletown South and a strong Toms River South team.
“The Brick game, that’s not the kind of football team we are and we’re going to prove that,” Owen said. “We’re getting better every week and we’re ready to go into the gauntlet. We’re going to have to bring it these next few weeks.”
No. 10 Brick Memorial 27, Toms River East 7
|Toms River East||Brick Memorial|
Toms River East (0-4, 0-4) 0 0 0 7 – 7
Brick Memorial (3-1, 3-1) 14 0 0 13 – 27
BM – Tim Santiago 47-yard run (Matt Cuppari kick)
BM – Connor Owen 3-yard run (Matt Cuppari kick)
BM – Tim Santiago 25-yard run (run failed)
TRE – Dylan Savulich 33-yard pass to Dan Gilligan (Hunter Gibbons kick)
BM – Connor Owen 11-yard run
Rushing – TRE: Dan Gilligan 6-18, Nick Grande 11-16, Tommy Ferrante 8-16, Jake Gilligan 3-8, Jason Venezia 4-9; BM: Connor Owen 23-138, Tim Santiago 16-123, Elie Lavarin 4-17, Matt Cathey 1-3, Karl Kumm 1-(-10).
Passing – TRE: Dylan Savulich 3-7-0 42, Jason Venezia 4-6-0 14; BM: Tim Santiago 0-2-0 0.
Receiving – TRE: Dan Gilligan 4-53, Nick Grande 2-3, Pat Saunders 1-0.