Challenge Accepted: Ocean County defense ready to rise to the occasion
They’ve seen the roster and they know the names, and they’ve heard the talk about a seemingly unstoppable group of Monmouth County skill players heading into Thursday’s All-Shore Gridiron Classic. The Ocean County defensive players fully understand what they’re up against, but that doesn’t mean they’re conceding anything.
“Obviously in this game you know everybody’s name and they have big-name skill guys,” said Point Beach’s Luke Frauenheim, who will play middle linebacker for Ocean County. “Everyone knows who you’re playing against but when it comes to Thursday it’s just going to be football again. The bottom line is we’ll have everyone rallying to the ball no matter who it is, wrapping up and trying to limit the yardage and points the best we can.”
The 41st Shore Sports Network All-Shore Gridiron Classic takes place at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Brick Memorial High School. Last season Monmouth County prevented Ocean County from becoming the first team to win four straight games in the series, and now, armed with a tremendous group of quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers, will look to make it two in a row and do so in enemy territory.
The precedent has been set many times regarding a defense shutting down an explosive-on-paper offense in the Gridiron Classic, so Ocean County isn’t tasked with doing anything that hasn’t been done before. But to deny the firepower on the other side of the ball would be silly. Monmouth County boasts Freehold’s Ashante Worthy, Howell’s Eddie Morales and Long Branch’s Juwan Wilkins at quarterback, Rumson-Fair Haven’s Peter Lucas and Red Bank Catholic’s Zack Bair at running back and Howell’s Naseim Brantley, Long Branch’s T.J. Fosque, Red Bank Catholic’s Brandon Lombana and Marlboro’s Justin Marcus at wide receiver. And those are just the biggest names.
“I’d like to say we could focus on one player but the whole team is phenomenal,” said Toms River North’s Daryn Blackwell, who will play along the defensive line. “Between the receiving corps and the quarterbacks and the O-line and everything, the whole team is absolutely phenomenal, so what we’re trying to do is keep our heads on straight and know they’re just players like us. Yes, they’re big names but they’re just like us. We just have to keep balling and keep playing.”
“I think the biggest thing for everyone is to do their job and not try to do too much,” said Brick Memorial safety Blaine Netterman. “Obviously Ashante is going to do a bunch of crazy things but the safeties and corners have to stay on our guys because god forbid he’s scrambling around and we try to go after him there’s going to be an open guy. If we stay on our assignment and do our job I think we’ll be good.”
The rules of the game limit what defenses can do – no blitzing, no line stunts, etc. – so any kind of exotic strategy on defense is out the window. The recipe for the success of any defense hinges on winning individual battles, which again, on paper, will be a challenge for Ocean County. The one area that can change everything, however, is along the defensive line. The battle in the trenches dictates most games whether the Gridiron Classic, a playoff game or a preseason game. Two years ago it was an utterly dominant defensive line that beat a very good Monmouth County offensive into submission, actually allowing negative rushing yards. Ocean County will hope for a similar effort out of Jackson Liberty’s Nick Johnson, Central’s Ryan Emmets, Brick Memorial’s Willie Garner, Point Boro’s Anthony Bonavito and Blackwell up front.
“I think once we get our motors going we’ll be hard to stop,” Blackwell said. “What we need to do is stop them at the line of scrimmage and let them know Ocean County is here. We do that it’s going to make it harder for Ashante and Lucas and the receivers to get going.”
A player that has impressed the Ocean County coaches during the week has been Frauenheim, and he will lead the linebacking unit in the middle. Frauenheim had a very good game to help the South all-stars win the Phil Simms North-South Classic two weeks ago. Barnegat’s Juan Abraham also played well in the all-state game and will line up at outside linebacker. The Point Boro duo of Nate Chiarello and Tanner Gordon will man the other outside linebacker spot.
That group will be tasked with stopping running backs Bair, Lucas and Matawan’s Devonte Spann, plus Worthy. All Worthy did last season was break almost every record in the book, setting a modern state record with 2,815 yards rushing, scoring a state-record 61 combined touchdowns (41 rushing) and becoming the first player in state history to rush and pass for 2,000 yards. Lucas ran for 2,196 yards and 31 touchdowns and Bair ran for 1,087 yards and 15 touchdowns in just seven games.
Ocean County’s secondary will feature Netterman and Central’s Jonathan Gonzalez at safety with Lakewood’s Myles Jackson and Central’s Jonathan Banks-Rey at cornerback and Lacey’s Anthony Tobia rotating in. That group will have to contest with a unit headlined by Brantley (6-foot-3), Fosque (6-foot-4), Marcus (6-foot-5), Lombana, Long Branch’s Pasa Fields Jr., Mater Dei Prep’s Kyle Devaney and Manalapan’s Scott Scherzer.
“They definitely have a lot of big, tall receivers and quick guys, but we have a great group of DBs and we’ve really been working well together,” Netterman said. “It’s going to be a great test and I’m excited to go against these good guys before I go off to camp.”
The Ocean County defense will receive a major boost if its counterparts on the offensive end can produce a classic Ocean County effort and keep Monmouth County's offense on the sideline. The group is built in that mold with big, physical running backs in Brick Memorial’s Tony Thorpe and Lacey’s Jason Giresi along with quick backs like Manchester’s Jalen Glenn and Point Boro’s Brandon Cipriano, plus a great running quarterback in Point Boro’s James Fara.
“I’m not going to give away too many secrets but we have a game plan,” Netterman said. “We’re going to play Ocean County football and that’s hard-nosed – pound the ball and play great defense.”
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.