By Art Gordon – Shore Sports Network contributor

HAMILTON - The challenge was issued two weeks ago at their first practice as Colts Neck prepared to face a very athletic Neptune team in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV quarterfinals, and it was repeated this week as the Cougars prepared to face defending Central Jersey Group III champion Nottingham in the semifinals.

“We were told that we must ground and pound,” said senior center Adam Saeger.

Seniors Saeger, Ryan McGowan, Ryan Lamantia, Martin Hooper, Ryan Wetzel and tight end Nick Volpe, or as they are commonly referred to, “The Hogs,” accepted the challenge.

“We answered the call,’’ McGowan said.

The third-seeded Cougars used their punishing ground game to grind out a 28-19 victory over the second-seeded Northstars at Jim Wilno Jr. Field on Saturday to advance to their first state championship game in school history. It will be an all-Shore Conference final, as the Cougars will take on top-seeded Brick at a neutral site and time to be announced on the weekend of Dec. 6-8 in search of their first state championship.

Colts Neck senior tailback Anthony Gargiulo continued his brilliant postseason surge with 160 yards rushing and four touchdowns as Colts Neck advanced to its first state final in history with a 28-19 win over Nottingham. (Photo by Bill Normile)

The Cougars (9-1), who tied the single-season school record for wins that they set last year, rushed for 301 yards on 52 carries with record-setting senior tailback Anthony Gargiulo leading the way with 160 yards on 29 carries and four touchdowns, bringing his single-season school record to 25 touchdowns and tying the school career record with 33 touchdowns.

“I don’t reach these records without my hogs and fullback Mike Ververka,’’ Gargiulo said.

“We knew we had to control the ball on the ground and keep their playmakers on the sideline,” Colts Neck coach Greg LaCava said. “We decided to motivate our hogs, and the word ‘challenge’ is the academic way of saying how we motivated them.”

Defensively, the Cougars were opportunistic, coming up with five turnovers to complement the bulldozing effort by the offensive line.

“The coaches have tested us for two weeks, saying we were soft,’’ McGowen said. “We are all best friends and have each other’s backs, so we took it kind of personally.”

“The hogs are getting credit but what also has to be mentioned is the job the scout team did for us,’’ Hooper said.

Colts Neck started fast, taking the opening kickoff and marching to the Northstars’ 40-yard line, only to be stopped on a fourth-and-inches. The Colts Neck defense immediately responded by forcing an interception when senior defensive back Dylan Campbell tipped a Stephen Adams pass and junior Dan Calabro came down with it on the Northstars’ 30-yard line.

Two plays later, Gargiulo took a handoff 29 yards for an early 7-0 lead. Nottingham tried to get right back into the game after the Northstars’ gained possession on the Colts Neck 46-yard line following a very short squib kick. Rutgers recruit Saquan Hampton took a jet sweep handoff and streaked 30 yards down to the 16-yard line. Wroway Williams then brought the ball to the 10-yard line, but a mistake on the center-quarterback exchange on the following play turned the ball over to the Cougars when Lamantia fell on the ball.

Colts Neck then marched 90 yards in 13 plays on a drive that bridged the first and second quarters, taking seven minutes off the clock. Gargiulo scored his second touchdown on a 1-yard run, and after Abby Letson’s second of four successful extra points, the Cougars
led 14-0.

On the first play after the score, Colts Neck senior defensive back John Miller intercepted a tipped pass at the 37-yard line to set up another scoring drive. Gargiulo took it in from a yard out four plays later, giving them a 21-0 lead that stayed that way through halftime. The big play on the short drive was 33-yard run by junior quarterback Christian Sanchez.

The Northstars attempted to close the gap in the second half, taking their first possession of the third quarter and moving to the Colts Neck 33-yard line behind seven straight carries by Williams, only to be turned away on fourth-and-inches. Two plays later, Colt Neck fumbled the ball back to Nottingham, and Adams found Jameel Bailey in the end zone from 39 yards out to narrow the gap to 21-7.

Colts Neck would have no part in any thoughts of a Nottingham comeback, going on a 12-play, 67-yard drive that ate up six minutes and pushed the lead to 28-7 after Gargiulo rumbled in from three yards out.

Nottingham fought back to cut the lead to 28-13 after Adams again found Bailey, this time from 16 yards out. Colts Neck responded by moving the ball to the Northstars’ 31-yard line, but turned the ball over when a snap from center never came up, and Nottingham linebacker Ryan Malagrino returned it 29 yards to the Cougars’ 40-yard line. That set up a drive that culminated with a 4-yard touchdown run by Williams with just under seven minutes to play to make it 28-19, but that would be as close as Nottingham got as the Cougars closed out the biggest win in program history.

Box score

Colts Neck 28, Nottingham 19

 
SCORING

TEAMS 1 2 3 4 FINAL
COLTS NECK 7 14 7 0 28
NOTTINGHAM 0 0 7 12 19

CN: ANTHONY GARGIULO 29 YARD RUN. ABBY LETSON KICK
CN: ANTHONY GARGIULO 1 YARD RUN. ABBY LETSON KICK
CN: ANTHONY GARGIULO 1 YARD RUN. ABBY LETSON KICK
NOT: JAMEEL BAILEY 39 YARD PASS FROM STEPHEN ADAMS. EMERSONANNOUAL KICK
CN: ANTHONY GARGIULO 3 YARD RUN. ABBY LETSON KICK
NOT: JAMEEL BAILEY 16 YARD PASS FROM STEPHEN ADAMS. XTRA POINT FAILED
NOT: WROWAY WILLIAMS 4 YARD RUN. XTRA POINT FAILED

STATISTICS
COLTS NECK NOTTINGHAM
FIRST DOWNS 16 9
RUSHING 52-301 33-165
PASSING 2-7-0-25 5-12-3-81
PENALTIES 3-30 3-35
PUNTS 2-34 0
FUMBLES 2-2 2-2

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING: CN:ANTHONY GARGIULO 29-160,ABDUL QUDDUS 8-55,CHRISTIAN SANCHEZ 10-65, MIKE VERVERKA 5-21. NOT: WROWAY WILLIAMS 19-93, BEN FAIR 7-39, STEPHEN ADAMS 4-6, SAQUAN HAMPTON 2-25, MARKENSON CHERY 1-2
PASSING: CN: CHRISTIAN SANCHEZ 2-7-0-25 NOT: STEPHEN ADAMS 5-12-3 81

RECEIVING: CN: ANTHONY GARGIULO 1-18, MIKE VERVERKA 1-8. NOT: KORAN GREEN 1-(4), TAHIR THOMPSON 1-2, JAMEEL BAILEY 3-83

INTERCEPTIONS: CN: JOHN MILLER, DAN CALABRO, DYLAN CAMPBELL

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