Big Night by Matt Gudzak Powers TR East Upset of Brick
By Chris Melvin - Shore Sports Network contributor
TOMS RIVER - Toms River East senior running back Matt Gudzak exploded for nearly 220 yards of total offense and four touchdowns, including the game-winning 49-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, as the Raiders upset No. 10 Brick in a 42-35 shootout on Friday night.
Toms River East (2-4, 1-3) knocked the Green Dragons (4-2, 3-1) out of a share of first place in Class A South thanks to the second huge game in a row for Gudzak. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior ran for 239 yards and three scores in the team's first win of the season last week, a 47-41 overtime victory over Howell. The Raiders have now scored 42 or more points in three of their last four games after being shut out twice to start the season.
"As a team I think we played very well,'' said Gudzak, who ran for 155 yards. "We kept fighting and fighting to the last seconds. We didn't give up. As an individual, I think I played pretty well. I owe it to my line, and my quarterback, Paul Aliseo . They're the ones that help me get the job done."
Both teams started the game running the no-huddle and traded turnovers on an interception by Toms River East defensive back Jerry Caporale and a fumble recovery by Brick's Mike Muratore. Then the "Gudzak Show" began when one of the Shore's top running backs hauled in an 18-yard touchdown pass from Aliseo with 1:11 left in the first quarter. The first of seven successful extra points by Caporale made it 7-0.
Brick answered with a 30-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Carmen Sclafani, who had 170 yards rushing in the loss, to tie it after the first of five extra points by senior kicker Anthony Starego.
Gudzak then scored on a 71-yard run off a toss play for a 14-7 lead. The Raiders pushed the lead to 21-7 when Gudzak took off on a run that would make former Raiders star tailbacks Kevin Davis and current New Hampshire running back Nico Steriti proud. Gudzak took a handoff from Aliseo and sped 59 yards for a score for a 21-7 halftime lead.
With Brick focused on stopping Gudzak to start the third quarter, Toms River East junior fullback Jeff Wood stepped into the spotlight, scoring on a 26-yard run to push the lead to 28-7. The score was set up after Caporale took a reverse and utilized his speed and nifty moves for a 42-yard gain.
It didn't take long for the versatile Green Dragons' offense to get back into the game, as junior running back Ray Fattaruso scored on a 2-yard run after an impressive Sclafani run to close the margin to 28-14 with 3:42 left in the third quarter. After the Brick defense came up with a stop, Sclafani ripped off a 23-yard touchdown run to trim the lead to 28-21.
Again, Toms River East had an answer, pumping the lead up to 35-21 on Wood's second touchdown of the night, a 6-yard touchdown grab on a pass from Aliseo. Brick kept battling, scoring on its next possession when Muratore found the end zone on a 3-yard run to make it a one-score game at 35-28 in the fourth quarter.
With 4:24 left in the game, Gudzak delivered one final blow to the Brick defense when he scored on a 48-yard touchdown pass by Aliseon for a 42-28 lead.
"That play was a huge play for us,'' Gudzak said. "When I got behind the defense, it gave us our momentum back and it led us to a big victory."
Brick didn't quit, scored on a 3-yard run by Fattaruso with 2:03 left in the game to make it 42-35, but Wood recovered the ensuing onside kick. Brick had one final chance after getting a defensive stop, but Toms River East sophomore defensive end Avery Del Valle sacked Sclafani on third down, and a fourth-down pass attempt went out of bounds to wrap up the win for the rejuvenated Raiders.
The Raiders' senior-laden offense line, led by massive DeVante Rodriguez, Ron Waters and John Laird, pounded the Brick defensive front, leading way for a potent running game and an improved passing attack. In the end, Gudzak was too much for a Green Dragons team that surrendered the most points it has given up all season.
"Gudzak is a phenomenal running back who plays with a lot of respect and heart,'' said Fattaruso, who also plays linebabcker. "We helped each other up on every play, and he is one of the biggest threats as a running back for any defense to face."