By Art Gordon - Shore Sports Network contributor

MIDDLETOWN - All week, Colts Neck head coach Greg LaCava preached to his players that they would need to put four good quarters together to walk off the field with a win on the road against Middletown South on Friday night.

Little did he know that they would need a little more than that - seven plays more.

Senior tailback Anthony Gargiulo (left) ran for a pair of scores, including the game-winning touchdown in overtime, and junior quarterback Christian Sanchez (right) threw a touchdown pass and led the team in rushing in a 27-21 win over Middletown South. (Photo by Cliff Lavelle)

A two-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Anthony Gargiulo and then a defensive stop in overtime put the Cougars over the top in a 27-21 win over the host Eagles to unofficially clinch at least the No. 3 seed and possibly the No. 2 spot in the upcoming Central Jersey Group IV playoffs. Colts Neck is gunning for its first trip to a state final in program history after reaching the semifinals last season.

Meanwhile, the Eagles (4-4, 3-2) could still be seeded as high as No. 4 and get a home game in the same bracket after reaching last year's Central Jersey Group IV final and falling to three-time champion Sayreville.

The win on Friday night was a hard-fought fight between two teams that know each other well, so there were no real surprises.

“We knew they would come in and stack the box,'' LaCava said. "Their front seven are as good as they come.  We knew we would have to open it up a little bit and be more multiple."

It was a strange game from the start with the kickoff being put back 30 minutes due to a problem with the lights at "The Swamp." The eighth-ranked Eagles overwhelmingly won the statistical battle, running 87 offensive plays to 51 for the game, yet the No. 6 Cougars (7-1, 4-1) made the plays in the most crucial spots.

Colts Neck wasted no time in getting on the board to start the game, going 64 yards in 8 plays, with Gargiulo taking it in from 2 yards out after being hit twice behind the line of scrimmage to give the Cougars an early 7-0 lead. Gargiulo was not the usual workhorse on offense, with only 9 carries for 35 yards, but had two touchdown runs in the win. Junior quarterback Christian Sanchez led the rushing attack with 78 yards on 20 carries.

Colts Neck would only have the ball for six more plays in the first half yet still scored 14 more points to take a 21-14 lead into the break.

The Eagles took the next possession and went on an 11-play drive, but Colts Neck cornerback Danny Calabro jumped an out route and returned it 71 yards for the first of his two touchdowns on the night to make it 14-0.

Middletown South fought back, going on a 16-play, 67-yard drive, with senior running back Jeremy Concepcion taking it in from 2 yards out to cut the lead to 14-7 in the second quarter.

The Cougars extended the lead back to 14 points three plays later when Sanchez found a wide-open Calabro streaking down the middle of the field for a 75-yard touchdown reception.  Abby Letson’s third extra point of the night made it 21-7 with nine minutes still remaining in the first half.

After turnovers on both sides, Middletown South went on another 11-play drive only to be turned away by the Cougars at the Colts Neck 23-yard line. However, the Eagles' defense forced a three-and-out that set up the offense after a 17-yard punt to Colts Neck's 33-yard line. Concepcion carried six times and topped it off with a 1-yard touchdown run with 46 seconds left in the first half to make it 21-14 at the break.

The Eagles then tied it up with 1:36 left in the third quarter when they sniffed out a screen pass that forced the pass to be thrown high. Gargiulo tipped it, and Middletown South senior defensive lineman Connor Spreen caught it and returned the interception 16 yards for a touchdown. After sophomore Matt Mosquera's third extra point, the game was tied at 21.

Both teams threatened in the fourth quarter, but both defenses rose up and turned them away. After Spreen's touchdown, Colts Neck’s John Miller returned the ensuing kickoff 55 yards to the 25-yard line, only to have Middletown South turn the threat away with a stop on fourth down at its own 5-yard line. The Eagles then marched 70 yards in 15 plays, but were stopped on fourth-and-inches at Colts Neck's 19-yard line.

“We knew that they were going to run it at us, so the coaches decided to put my hand down on the ground at defensive end to try to match up with their great tight end (Tayler Hendrickson),'' Gargiulo said.

Gargiulo and his younger brother, sophomore linebacker Nick Gargiulo, were dominant on the defensive side of the ball in the win.

Middletown South won the overtime toss and elected to play defense first. Colts Neck took three plays to score, with the big play coming on a 20-yard waggle pass to senior running back Mike Ververka. He took the ball down to the 2-yard line, where Gargiulo took it in on the next play. After a missed extra point, the score stood at 27-21.

Colts Neck then sealed the win by stopping the Eagles on fourth-and-2 from the 17-yard line.

"We have two days to enjoy this,'' LaCava said. "Then our minds are set for the state playoffs and (making it to the state final at) Rutgers.  I don’t care who we play or where."

Box score

Colts Neck 27, Middletown South 21 (OT) 

 

SCORING

TEAMS                                  1          2          3          4          OT       FINAL

COLTS NECK                                    14       7         0          0          6             27

MIDDLETOWN SOUTH       0        14       7          0          0             21

CN:  ANTHONY GARGIULO 2 YARD RUN.  ABBY LETSON KICK.

CN:  DANIEL CALABRO 71 YARD INTERCEPTION RETURN.  LETSON KICK .

MS:  JEREMY CONCEPION 2 YARD RUN.  MATT MOSQUERA KICK

CN:  DANIEL CALABRO 75 YARD PASS FROM CHRISTIAN SANCHEZ.  LETSON KICK.

MS:  JEREMY CONCEPCION 1 YARD RUN.  MOSQUERA KICK.

MS:  CONNER SPREEN 16 YARD INTERCEPTION RETURN.  MOSQUERA KICK.

CN:  ANTHONY GARGIULO 2 YARD RUN.  KICK FAILED

STATISTICS

                                                            COLTS                                    SOUTH         

FIRST DOWNS                                    8                                                22

RUSHING                                          34-111                                  62-270

PASSING                                      5-12-1-134                         12-20-1-87

PENALTIES                                         5-35                                         6-35

PUNTS                                                  2-19                                                    2-31

FUMBLES                                             2-1                                          2-1

 

INDIVIDUAL STATS:

RUSHING:  CN:  ANTHONY GARGIULO 9-35, CHRISTIAN SANCHEZ 19-68, ABDUL QUDDUS 3-3, JOHN MILLER 3-5.  MS:  JEREMY CONCEPCION 41-185, DREW O’CONNELL 10-56, KYLE BREY 7-18, COLE ROGERS 3-11, SPENCER PERELESS 1-0

PASSING:  CN:  CHRISTIAN SANCHEZ 5-11-1-111  JOHN MILLER 0-1-1-0 MS:  KYLE BREY 12-19-1 87

RECEIVING:  CN:  CRAIG RUSSO 1-11, DANIEL CALABRO 2-98 ALEX TWYNAM 1-5, MIKE VERVERKA 1-20 MS:  ANDREW WISIALKO 4-44   SPENCER PERELESS 4-36 TAYLER HENDRICKSON 1-8, NOLAN PERELESS 1-2, COLE ROGERS 1-(-3)

INTERCEPTIONS:  CN:  DANIEL CALABRO MS:  COLE ROGERS