Brick Wins a Last-Minute Thriller over Freehold to Reach Central Jersey Group IV Final
BRICK - Just when Brick thought it had finally held off record-setting Freehold Boro junior Ashante Worthy and the Colonials on Friday night, the Green Dragons had to hold their breath on one last play to punch their ticket to their first sectional final in three years and the 12th in their proud history.
The Colonials scored on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Worthy to senior Jelan Crooms with 1:32 left in the game, trimming a 10-point Brick lead to a single point in the course of five minutes. However, on the ensuing extra point attempt, the Green Dragons got a good surge up front and the kick was low and blocked to allow top-seeded Brick to exhale on its way to a 24-23 victory in Central Jersey Group IV over the fifth-seeded Colonials (6-5) at Keller Memorial Field.
"We do a good job of blocking kicks,'' Brick head coach Len Zdanowicz said. "The kick was low, but we were coming in hard. The kids overcame a lot of adversity out there to get it done."
"Honestly, we just played our hearts out until the clock hit zeroes,'' said Brick senior Ja'Sir Taylor. "That's what we've been preaching all year. We earned this victory."
Brick (8-3) will now face second-seeded Allentown on Dec. 3 at Rutgers in search of its first title since 2013 and its eighth overall state championship.
It took everything Brick had to hold off Worthy and Co. as the Green Dragons nearly gave it away in the end. They had the ball up by a touchdown with 2:56 left in the game, but the clock stopped when Taylor was shaken up after a run on first down. It was then stopped again on third down when Taylor went out of bounds after being hit for a 5-yard loss to essentially give Freehold two free timeouts.
On the ensuing punt, a low snap caused sophomore punter Joey Carchio to accidentally put his knee down while catching the ball, giving Freehold possession at Brick's 16-yard line with 2:12 remaining. Two plays later, Worthy hit Crooms for the score to bring the Colonials within a point. Head coach Dave Ellis had no thoughts of going for two considering his kicking group had been solid on special teams all year and sophomore Jake Hurler had just made a field goal only minutes earlier.
"At the end of the day, we made too many mistakes for a big game like this,'' said Ellis, whose young Colonials return enough talent to be right back in this spot next year.
"It's very frustrating, but you can't put it all on one play."
Freehold still had two timeouts left after Taylor, a Temple recruit, recovered the ensuing onside kick. Taylor ended up breaking free for an 11-yard gain on third-and-7 to allow Brick to ice the win.
"I just had to go out and put the team on my back in the second half,'' Taylor said. "I'm not a vocal leader. I lead more by example, so I had to make some plays."
"We you have a stud, you've got to ride him,'' Zdanowicz said. "Those are the type of plays he's been making for us all year."
One week after Worthy set Shore Conference single-game records for rushing (465 yards) and total touchdowns (10) in a 69-56 win over Pennsauken in the first round, he finished with 175 yards rushing, 104 passing and three total touchdowns in the loss. However, he only averaged 5 yards per carry on 35 attempts, which was a small victory for Brick given that Worthy has the ability to completely take over games.
"We had our two best players, John Prato and Ja'Sir, with their eyes on him all game, and then some sophomores stepped up when John got hurt,'' Zdanowicz said. "We just tried to give (Worthy) different looks and do our best to confuse him."
Worthy became the first 2,000-yard rusher in Freehold history and the first quarterback to ever achieve the feat in Shore Conference history with 2,056 yards and 41 total touchdowns. Virginia and Georgia Tech have contacted Ellis about Worthy within the past week.
He helped open the scoring in the game by engineering a six-play, 68-yard drive on Freehold's first possession after an interception by senior Ahlonte Hair killed Brick's opening drive. Sophomore wideout Matt Krauss made a leaping, 19-yard catch that set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Worthy for a 7-0 lead.
Brick responded immediately when Taylor returned the kickoff 47 yards to Freehold's 35-yard line. One play later, running back Rashon McCall ripped off a 35-yard touchdown run to tie it at 7 with 7:32 left in the first quarter.
A fumble on the ensuing kickoff put Brick right back in business, but the Green Dragons could not cash in. They drove to the one-yard line in six plays, helped by a pass interference penalty on fourth down, but a tackle for an 8-yard loss by sophomore Knox Stokes and an illegal procedure penalty that wiped out a 27-yard field goal eventually resulted in a missed 32-yard field goal.
However, after Freehold took over at its own 20, a pair of penalties backed the Colonials up to the 7-yard line. A high snap then sailed over Worthy's head and out of the end zone for a safety that proved to be crucial in the end for the Green Dragons.
The Colonials recovered to mount a seven-play, 41-yard drive to end the half. Worthy scored on a 7-yard run with just 13 seconds remaining for a 14-9 lead at the break.
The second half started ominously for Brick after the defense got a stop. A blocked punt ricocheted off Taylor and was recovered by Freehold senior Nick Eccleston at Freehold's 34-yard line. Sophomore cornerback Jimmy Leblo then reversed the momentum by intercepting a pass by Worthy on third down to set the Green Dragons up at Freehold's 39-yard line.
An offense that only generated 88 total yards in the first half came to life with a six-play drive that culminated with Taylor streaking around the end for a 10-yard touchdown run. Zdanowicz then elected to go for two, and it proved to be huge when Taylor ran in the conversion for a 17-14 lead with 4:28 left in the third quarter.
Freehold appeared poised to answer when it drove down to Brick's 21-yard line, but senior defensive tackle Jack Finelli stopped Worthy short of the sticks on fourth down. The Green Dragons then ended up punting, but the defense came up with its fourth turnover on Freehold's ensuing possession.
Carchio came out of the pile with the ball at Freehold's 29-yard line after a fumbled snap. Taylor, who finished with 62 yards on 15 carries, broke off a 19-yard run to help set up sophomore Cole Groschel's 10-yard run on a jet sweep for a 24-14 advantage with 6:36 left in the game.
"We've been a second-half team all year,'' Groschel said. "Nothing frustrates us. We just keep trying to make plays."
Freehold didn't go down without a fight, driving down for a 22-yard field goal by Hurler to cut the lead to 24-17 with three minutes remaining and set up the wild finish.
Following the win, Zdanowicz was serenaded by the players with "Happy Birthday" in honor of his 45th birthday on Friday. The last time he had a playoff game on his birthday was in 1989 when he was a player for the Green Dragons, and they beat Toms River East 34-7 to reach the South Jersey Group IV final. They went on to win the championship with a 13-12 victory over Washington Township.
This is his first final appearance in his second season as the head coach at his alma mater.
"Getting to this final is great,'' he said. "Allentown is a tough team, but all you can ask for is getting there and getting a shot at a title."
Brick 24, Freehold 23
. B F
First downs 10 16
Rushes-yards 33-197 37-182
Passing 6-10-1 10-16-1
Passing yards 27 104
Fumbles-lost 1-1 5-3
Penalties 8-68 11-84
Freehold (6-5) 7 7 0 9 - 23
Brick (8-3) 9 0 8 7 - 24
F: Worthy 2-yard (Hurler kick).
B: McCall 35-yard run (Bruno kick).
B: Safety. Ball snapped out of end zone.
F: Worthy 7-yard run (Hurler kick).
B: Taylor 10-yard run (Taylor run).
B: Groschel 10-yard run (Bruno kick).
F: Hurler 22-yard field goal.
F: Crooms 15-yard pass from Worthy (kick failed).
Rushing - B: Taylor 15-62, Prato 1-31, McCall 6-55, Groschel 4-24, Costanza 6-39, Carchio 1-(-14). F: Worthy 35-175, A. Hair 2-7.
Passing - B: Prato 0-1-1 0, Costanza 6-9-0 27. F: Worthy 10-16-1 104.
Receiving - B: Groschel 3-16, Taylor 3-11. F: A. Hair 5-41, Krauss 4-48, Crooms 1-15.
Interceptions - F: A. Hair 1-5. B: Leblo 1-0.