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Junior quarterback Conor Davies entered in relief for injured starter Tommy Kelly and threw two touchdowns to lead Lacey to a win over Toms River South.

TOMS RIVER -- Labeling Conor Davis as a backup quarterback is merely paperwork.

With Lacey senior quarterback Tommy Kelly out with a concussion and the Lions, ranked No. 3 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, trailing No. 10 Toms River South by eight, Davies stepped in and ensured his team didn’t miss a beat. The junior completed 15 of 20 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns in three quarters of action, leading the Lions to a 32-24 come-from-behind victory over the Indians in a Shore Conference Class A South game Friday night at Detwiler Stadium.

“We’re very fortunate,” said Lacey head coach Lou Vircillo. “It’s unusual to have two guys that can start, and maybe start anywhere in the Shore. We’re stronger with Conor at receiver, but we’re not afraid to use either one of them.”

“Every week in practice I get reps, and I played four games last year,” Davies said. “It’s still hard coming in cold, but I’ve had to do it before.”

Junior George Sayre caught a touchdown pass, ran for a touchdown and intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble on defense. Senior Chris Jensen also had a receiving touchdown, and scored a defensive touchdown when he forced and recovered a fumble in the end zone. Senior Christian Tutela, the Shore’s leading receiver, caught six passes for 78 yards.

Lacey’s defense, which allowed 42 points to Toms River East last week and had to hold off a late charge by Toms River North in Week Two, put the clamps on Toms River South’s offense in the second half to give Davies and company a chance to come back and take the lead. After giving up 21 points in the first half, the Lions allowed only a Russell Messler 36-yard field goal over the final two quarters, and that came with 40 seconds remaining in the game.

“It was unbelievable,” Sayre said. “East scored 42 points on us and South is supposed to have a big offense. We basically shut them out in the second half. It was great how we really bounced back.”

“We made a couple of tweaks against where they like to go and it worked out,” Vircillo said.

With senior fullback Otis Kearney limited with an ankle injury, the Lions were able to shift their focus to Indians quarterback Tymere Berry. Berry threw for 108 yards and ran for 58, but was mostly contained by Lacey’s defense in the second half.

After a bizarre ending to the first half that saw both teams score in a span of 3:07 and Toms River South holding a 21-13 lead, Lacey began its comeback. The Lions received to begin the third quarter and Davies immediately led a 12-play, 60-yard scoring drive that took nearly seven minutes. Lacey was incredibly clutch on third down in the game, and on this drive converted a third-and-22 on a 22-yard catch by Tutela. Davies finished the drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Jensen. The two-point conversion pass did not connect, but the Lions were down just two at 21-19.

The Lions (4-0, 3-0) then stopped Toms River South (2-2, 1-2) on three straight downs to get the ball back at their own 16-yard line. On the first play Davies rolled to his right and fired a strike to Isaiah Brown for a 36-yard gain across midfield. Later in the drive the Lions were faced with a third-and-26, and they went deep into offensive coordinator Cory Davies’ bag of tricks to convert. Davies connected with Mike Bocchini over the middle for 10 yards, and the junior flipped it to Tutela on a hook-and-lateral for 32 more yards down to the Toms River South 23-yard line.

“That was a huge momentum boost,” Davies said. “It was third-and-20 or something like that. We’ve run it a bunch of times, and we practice it all the time, so we’re very comfortable doing it.”

Three plays later, the Lions were faced with a third-and-20 from the 33, and Davies was able to get most of it on a 14-yard pass to Jensen to bring up a doable fourth-and-six. On fourth down Davies rolled to his right where the play was designed to go. He was looking for Tutela, but saw the play starting to break down and immediately changed course. He cut back to his left and saw Sayre running across the middle, and found him for a 19-yard touchdown and a 25-21 lead early in the fourth quarter.

“It was a sprint-out to the right and Tutela was faking a comeback and then going to the end zone,” Davies said. “But I saw the (defensive) linemen and whipped around the other way, and happened to see George coming across the middle.”

Lacey closed out the win when Sayre intercepted Berry with 1:45 to play and scored on a 14-yard run on the next offensive play for a 32-21 lead. Russell Messler, who returned to kicking-only duties this week after injuring his knee in the season-opener, nailed a 36-yard field goal to pull the Indians within one score with 40 seconds left, but Lacey recovered the onside kick.

Lacey had opened the scoring on a 12-yard touchdown run by Kelly after recovering a Toms River South fumble at the Indians’ 27-yard line. Toms River South responded on the ensuing drive, a four-play, 80-yard march that culminated with Berry scrambling and hitting Jared Egan for a 39-yard touchdown to tie the score at seven in the first quarter.

Lacey then drove from its own 20 to the Indians’ 16, but could not come away with points. Kelly ran for a 26-yard gain up the middle but took a helmet-to-helmet hit that resulted in a penalty that moved the ball to the Toms River South 13. Kelly then converted a fourth-and-one to give Lacey first-and-goal form the three, but was sacked on the next three plays before Toms River South blocked Pat Davis’s 33-yard field goal attempt. Kelly did not return after that series and was ruled out with a concussion.

The Indians drove 80 yard again on their next possession to take a 14-7 lead. Berry had runs of 25 and 19 yards to set up Khaleel Greene’s one-yard touchdown run with 10:07 left in the second quarter.

Lacey then drove to the Indians’ 17 on its next possession only to have another field goal attempt blocked. Toms River South next went three-and-out, but things got interesting on fourth down. The snap was low and rolled to Messler, who now did not have time to get a punt off. He ran to his right and was chased into the end zone by Jensen and junior Ethan Blackwell. As Blackwell was tackling Messler for a safety Jensen knocked the ball free and recovered it for a touchdown. The extra point was no good, keeping Toms River South in front, 14-13.

But the Indians’ offense didn’t slow down yet. A 60-yard run by senior Billy Kosh on an option pitch moved the ball from the South 28 to the Lacey 12, and three plays later Greene scored on his second one-yard run to give the Indians an eight-point halftime lead.

Without their starting quarterback and with a defense that was struggling to get a key stop, most teams would not have been able to right the ship over the final two quarters. But that’s why Lacey is a consistent title contender and one of the most respected programs in the Shore. The Lions came together and found a way to win under less-than-ideal circumstances, and remained undefeated because of it.

“It’s the biggest game we’ve had so far,” Sayre said. “Playing South, it was like a playoff game.”

Box Score

No. 3 Lacey 32, No. 10 Toms River South 24

Lacey Toms River South
First downs 20 15
Rushes-yards 37-87 29-190
Passing 20-26-0 8-14-1
Passing yards 272 108
Fumbles-lost 3-2 3-3
Penalties-yards 10-74 5-40

Lacey (4-0, 3-0) 7 6 6 13 – 32

TR South (2-2, 1-2) 7 14 0 3 – 24

Scoring summary

L – Tommy Kelly 8-yard run (Pat Davis kick)

T – Tymere Berry 39-yard pass to Jared Egan (Russell Messler kick)

T – Khaleel Greene 1-yard run (Russell Messler kick)

L – Chris Jensen 0-yard fumble return (kick failed)

T – Khaleel Greene 1-yard run (Russell Messler kick)

L – Conor Davies 12-yard pass to Chris Jensen (pass failed)

L – Conor Davies 19-yard pass to George Sayre (pass failed)

L – George Sayre 14-yard run (Pat Davis kick)

T – Russell Messler 36-yard field goal

Individual statistics

Rushing – L: Christian Tutela 8-30, George Sayre 9-27, Tommy Kelly 8-15, Conor Davies 9-14, Chris Jensen 3-0; TRS: Billy Kosh 2-64, Tymere Berry 13-58, Khaleel Greene 10-50, Otis Kearney 4-18.

Passing – L: Conor Davies 15-20-0 207, Tommy Kelly 5-6-0 65; T: Tymere Berry 8-14-1 108.

Receiving – L: Christian Tutela 6-78, Isaiah Brown 2-58, Mike Bocchini 3-29, Travis Covell 1-27, Conor Davies 2-25, George Sayre 2-25, Chris Jensen 4-24; T: Jared Egan 1-39, Khaleel Greene 2-32, Darius Hart 2-21, Otis Kearney 1-10, Javion Harris 2-6.

Interceptions – L: George Sayre 1-10.