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By Art Gordon – Shore Sports Network contributor

Shore Regional is going back to the Central Jersey Group I final after it found a way in a 15-6 comeback win over Asbury Park at Robert E. Feeney Field on Friday night for its second victory over the Blue Bishops this season.

“It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty, but we hung in there and found a way like good teams always do,’’ Shore Regional head coach Mark Costantino told his team after the game.

A sensational over-the-shoulder touchdown grab by senior running back Brian Miller in the fourth quarter proved to be the game-winner as Shore rallied to beat Asbury Park 15-6 to advance to its second straight Central Jersey Group I final. (Photo by Sport Shots WLB)

After beating the fifth-seeded Blue Bishops 10-0 during the regular season, the top-seeded Blue Devils (9-1), who have won nine straight, had to come from behind in the fourth quarter to get this one. The win sets up two straight weeks of championship football against Point Beach. Shore will play the Garnet Gulls on Wednesday at home for the Class B Central title and then play them again at a neutral site in the state final on the weekend of Dec. 6-8 as Shore seeks its second state title in the last four seasons and first since 2010.

Shore used a punishing defense and an opportunistic offense to reach its 10th state final in program history as it seeks its sixth overall state title and the third under Costantino. Asbury Park (7-3) had been averaging 33 points per game during its five-game winning streak, but the Blue Devils did not allow an offensive touchdown.

The Blue Devils took an early 3-0 lead on a 25-yard field goal by junior Jake Monteiro. On their first possession of the game the Blue Devils took advantage of a partially blocked punt that gave them possession on the Asbury Park 37-yard line. The drive stalled at the 9-yard line , and Monteiro came on to give them an early lead with his eighth field goal of the season.

Both defenses took over on the next couple possessions. Shore had a 14-play, seven-minute drive in the second quarter, but a 37-yard field goal attempt was wide right.

“We expected this kind of game,’’ Costantino said. “We know each other very well and knew it would be a tough game.”

Shore took possession after a three-and-out by Asbury Park with just under two minutes left until halftime. With only 12 seconds left in the second quarter, Asbury Park senior defensive back Robert Barksdale picked up a Blue Devils fumble and returned it 53 yards to give the Blue Bishops a 6-3 halftime lead with a potentially huge momentum play.

“We didn’t panic,’’ Costantino said. “We had a good halftime. We knew the defense was playing lights out and knew the offense would get going.”

The game remained 6-3 until the 10-minute mark of the fourth quarter. Shore’s gameplan coming in was to do what Shore always has done in its Wing-T attack, and that is run the ball, but it was having a tough time solving Asbury Park’s defense.

“We thought we could run the ball against them and we did until they (Asbury coaching staff) made some adjustments,’’ Costantino said. “They did a great job with that. We thought we could throw play-action at them and use our quick game versus their man coverage.”

On third-and-14, senior quarterback Matt Muh, a Bucknell recruit, turned in his biggest throw of the season when he found senior running back Brian Miller behind the Asbury secondary. Miller made a great over-the-shoulder fingertip grab for a 39-yard touchdown reception, giving the Blue Devils a 12-6 lead with 6 ½ minutes to play in the game. Muh went 7-for-9 for 95 yards in the second half to help bring home the win.

“He threw the ball real well all game,’’ Miller said. “It was a ‘tunnel-and-go,’ where we faked a screen to our wide out and I run a wheel route. Matt sold the fake and put the ball out there.”

“We hadn’t run that play this year, but our offensive coordinator kept calling for it so I said, ‘Let’s go,’’ Costantino said. “Those two, Muh and Miller, ran it great and it worked.”

The game was now in the hands of the defense and they did not disappoint. Junior defensive lineman/outside linebacker Mitchell Canditto had three sacks of Barksdale during the last two drives.

“We ran an X-stunt twice and the other time I just beat him inside,’’ Canditto said. “We are pretty good up front.”

A short punt by Asbury Park late in the game took a Shore bounce and only sent 7 yards to the Blue Bishops’ 14-yard line. Shore only needed five plays for Miller to take it in from two yards out to extend the lead to 15-6 with 3:02 left in the game.

After two consecutive sacks by Canditto, Shore Regional punched its ticket for a return to the state final as it will try to finish the job after coming up just short in overtime in a loss to Florence last year.

Box score

Shore 15, Asbury Park 6

SCORING

TEAMS 1 2 3 4 FINAL

ASBURY PARK 0 6 0 0 6

SHORE 3 0 0 12 15

SHORE : JAKE MONTEIRO 25 YARD FIELD GOAL

ASBURY: ROBERT BARKSDALE 53 YARD FUMBLE RETURN. KICK FAILED

SHORE: BRIAN MILLER 39 YARD PASS FROM MATT MUH. KICK FAILED

SHORE: BRIAN MILLER 2 YARD RUN KICK FAILED

 

STATISTICS

ASBURY SHORE

FIRST DOWNS 5 17

RUSHING 24-42 41-189

PASSING 2-11-0-31 8-13-0-108

PENALTIES 5-40 2-20

PUNTS 8-30 4-30

FUMBLES 1-0 2-1

INTERCEPTIONS 0 0

 

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

 

RUSHING: ASBURY: TYQUIS DAVIS 1-1, DAQUANE BLAND-BENNETT 5-11, CHARLES SANDERS 6-26, ROBERT BARKSDALE 12-4. SHORE: MATT MUH 1-(2), BRIAN MILLER 22-102, CHRIS FRANCISCO 7-31, JAMES MURPHY 3-13, DOUG GOLDSMITH 8-53.

PASSING: ASBURY: ROBERT BARKSDALE 2-11-31. SHORE: MATT MUH 8-13-108

RECEIVING: ASBURY: TYQUIS DAVIS 2-31, SHORE: NICK KESSLER 1-8,DOUG GOLDSMITH 3-27,

COLE BARRALE 1-15, BRIAN MILLER 2-47, CHRIS FRANCISCO 1-11