By Art Gordon – Shore Sports Network contributor

POINT PLEASANT BEACH - All week, Point Beach head coach John Wagner continually answered text messages on his phone from his players. Text after text came in with the same general theme.

“They were so excited to be here, especially against Florence,’’ Wagner said. “They wanted the opportunity to play them again, because they still had a bad taste in their mouths.”

One year after Florence ruined Point Beach’s dream season by handing the Garnet Gulls their only loss in the sectional semifinals, they avenged the defeat with a 21-7 comeback win on Friday night over the sixth-seeded Flashes (5-4) to dethrone the defending Central Jersey Group I champions. The third-seeded Garnet Gulls (8-1) will host seventh-seeded Burlington City, which upset No. 2 South Hunterdon, in the semifinals next Friday in a bid to reach their first sectional final since 1982 and the second in school history.

Point Beach senior Noah Yates had the game-winning touchdown catch, a two-point conversion catch and his Shore Conference-leading ninth interception on defense to help the Garnet Gulls knock off defending Central Jersey Group I champion Florence 21-7 on Friday night. (Photo by Cliff Lavelle)

Point Beach scored all 21 of its points in the fourth quarter to overcome a 7-0 halftime deficit at Donald T. Fioretti Field. Point Beach completely dominated the game on both sides of the ball even though it trailed at halftime.

“We did not panic, but we did know that we only had a half of football left to play,” said junior Mike Frauenheim, who sealed the win with a 46-yard touchdown run with 1:59 left in the game.

The Garnet Gulls held the Flashes to two first downs and 59 yards of total offense in the first half yet still trailed 7-0. The offense was hurt by penalties and mistakes that eventually lead to Florence’s lone score.

Senior defensive back Noah Yates recorded his Shore Conference-leading ninth interception at Point Beach’s 18-yard line on the only pass Florence attempted in the first half, but the Garnet Gulls gave it right back with a fumble two plays later.

The Flashes then took the lead by going 24 yards in three plays, taking a 7-0 lead on a 12-yard touchdown run by Marcus Lawless with 57 seconds left in the half.

A minor adjustment at halftime by Wagner and his staff helped Point Beach’s comeback by inserting senior Luke Maas at linebacker. He led a fired-up defense in the second half that held Florence to zero first downs and only 30 yards of total offense.

“Coach put me at linebacker and told me to be aggressive, and I was,” Maas said.

“We were looking for some senior leadership, and Maas gave it to us,’’ Wagner said.

Point Beach looked like it was going to get on the board in the third quarter with a 12-play, 43-yard drive, but an interception by Florence’s Kenyari Moore in the end zone killed the threat. However, the Garnet Gulls’ defense kept the Flashes pinned, and Frauenheim returned a punt 19 yards to Florence’s 25-yard line.

The Garnet Gulls then got on the board for the first time with a seven-play drive that culminated with a one-yard touchdown run by junior fullback Joe Wegrzyniak, who had 73 yards on 18 carries, to cut it to 7-6. The big play on the drive was a 10-yard completion by junior quarterback Jake Fioretti to senior tight end Bill Barry on a third-and-5 from the 20-yard line. The extra point was no good, keeping Florence in front, but Point Beach was not done.

The Garnet Gulls took the lead for good on their next possession with a five-play, 55-yard drive that was capped off on a 24-yard fade pattern to Yates from Fioretti. The two hooked up again on the two-point conversion pass to make it 14-7 halfway through the fourth quarter.

Yates had three catches for 43 yards and was Fioretti’s main target most of the night. He was continually open, but Florence’s pressure forced numerous incompletions.

“The coaches told me to just throw it up there and let him go get it,’’ Fioretti said. “He’s a big target and he makes big plays.”

“Jake was under a lot of pressure, but the touchdown pass was perfect,’’ Yates said.

Beach finished the scoring and the Flashes with 1:59 left to play when Frauenheim, who had 11 carries for 78 yards, broke two tackles and cut back across the field for a 46-yard touchdown to official vanquish the demons of last season’s 17-14 heartbreaker against Florence.

“This was a great team effort on many parts,’’ Wagner said. “We had a lot of players from last year here tonight and our fans were great. We will enjoy this and get back to work tomorrow morning.”

Box score

Point Beach 21, Florence 7
SCORING
TEAMS 1 2 3 4 FINAL
FLORENCE 0 7 0 0 7
PT. BEACH 0 0 0 21 21
FLOR: MARCUS LAWLESS 12 YARD RUN. MIKE MUCHOWSKI KICK
PB: JOE WEGRZYNIAK 1 YARD RUN. KICK FAILED
PB: NOAH YATES 24 YARD PASS FROM JAKE FIORETTI. YATES PASS FROM FIORETTI
PB: MIKE FRAUENHEIM 46 YARD RUN. ZACH MCCARTNEY KICK

STATISTICS
FLORENCE BEACH

1ST DOWNS 2 11
RUSHING 28-69 39-163
PASSING 1-4-1-13 7-12-1-71
PENALTIES 2-15 3-25
PUNTS 6-31 2-32
FUMBLES 1-0 2-1

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING: FL: MARCUS LAWLESS 12-37, JOEY FOGA 7-22, JAZMIR BEST 3-16, KENYARI MOORE 2- (1), MIKE MUCHOWSKI 3-(5). PB: JOE WEGRZYNIAK 18-73, MIKE FRAUENHEIM 11-78 MARSHALL GOMBOS 5-10, JAKE FIORETTI 5-2.
PASSING: FL: MIKE MUCHOWSKI 2-4-1-20. PB: JAKE FIORETTI 7-12-1-71
RECEIVING: FL: MARCUS LAWLESS 1-13. PB: NOAH YATES 3-43, BILL BARRY 2-21, MIKE FRAUENHEIM 1-5, JOE WEGRZYNIAK 1-2
INTERCEPTIONS: FL: KENYARI MOORE PB: NOAH YATES