STAFFORD — Three plays after being flagged for a holding penalty that wiped out a run for a first down, Central senior fullback Dennis Corbin saw a chance to completely redeem himself.

With the Golden Eagles facing a fourth-and-21 on the first possession of overtime, Corbin found some space down the seam and made a great catch in traffic for a 31-yard reception and an unlikely first down. Two plays later junior running back Mike Bickford walked into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown, allowing Central to escape Ron Emmert Field with a thrilling 27-20 Shore Conference nondivisional victory over host Southern to open the season.

“Coach Jacobs says when you mess up you just get to the next play,” Corbin said.

“We practice that play all the time,” said senior quarterback Mike Miserendino. “I knew Dennis was going to be there, and when I put it up I knew he was going to grab it.”

Central’s defense took care of the rest with sacks by Corbin and sophomore Brandon Voss on third and fourth downs to seal a season-opening win over its longtime Thanksgiving Day rival, taking a 23-18-1 series lead and the Boyd/Emmert Trophy.

The Eagles (1-0) showed plenty of resiliency Friday night, rallying from a pair of deficits in the fourth quarter while overcoming three turnovers. Bickford picked up right were he left off after a record-setting sophomore season in which he ran for a school-record 2,052 yards. He finished with a game-high 207 yards rushing and one touchdown while fighting through cramps the entire game. Miserendino threw touchdown passes to Corbin and Malcolm Vaughn while also running for a 3-yard score. It all added up to a very emotional victory for the Eagles.

“We came out here in our only away game and just gave it our all,” Bickford said.

Southern senior Pat Walker ran for 157 yards and two touchdowns and senior Brandon Barnetti added 88 yards and a touchdown.

What was a 7-0 Central lead at halftime turned into a back-and-forth shootout over the final two quarters and overtime with three lead changes. Southern looked to have dealt the finishing blow when Walker broke several tackles on a run up the middle on his way to a 68-yard touchdown, giving the Rams (0-1) a 20-13 lead with just over five minutes left in regulation. Central responded quickly, however, when Miserendino found Vaughn on a deep pass down the left sideline for a 64-yard touchdown to tie the score at 20.

Central quarterback Mike Miserendino, fullback Dennis Corbin and tailback Mike Bickford fueled the Eagles' 27-20 overtime victory over Southern to start the season. (Photo by Bob Badders).

“We bend but don’t break,” Miserendino said. “We make a bad play and we pick ourselves up as a team. That’s football. Sometimes you make bad plays, but you have to let it go. You win by keeping your head up.”

Southern opened the scoring on its third possession of the game by marching 52 yards in just four plays. Miserendino ignited the drive with a 32-yard run on first down that moved the ball to Southern’s 20-yard line. After runs of six and five yards by Bickford, Miserendino connected with Corbin over the middle on a 9-yard touchdown to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead with 58 seconds left in the opening quarter.

Both defenses were stingy for the remainder of the half, and the teams headed to the locker rooms with Central holding a one-score lead. Southern’s defense gave its offense good field possession on its second drive of the second half, and the Rams went 45 yards in four plays to tie the score at seven. A 16-yard run by Barnetti followed by a 14-yard run by Walker moved the ball inside the 20, and another 14-yard run by Walker put him into the end zone for the tying score.

Later in the third quarter an interception by junior defensive back Matt Bleichner set the Rams’ up for their second scoring drive. Starting at their own 46-yard line they went 54 yards in seven plays to take a 14-7 lead. Junior quarterback Jackson Donahower found running back Dane Walker for a 15-yard gain that moved the ball into Central territory, and after a pair of runs for first downs by Barnetti the senior took a toss and cut back for a 13-yard touchdown run with 10:31 left in the fourth quarter.

Barnetti then intercepted Miserendino on a pass that deflected off a helmet, but Central’s defense came up with a big stop after Southern had taken over inside the 30-yard line. That defensive stop by the Eagles allowed them to pull within one point just three plays later. Bickford moved the ball to the 20 with a 10-yard run on first down, then ripped off a 67-yard run down to the Southern 3-yard line. Southern senior defensive back Nick Simonelli took a great angle to make a touchdown-saving tackle.

“It was a power to the right and the fullback pushed out and there was a huge hole,” Bickford said.

Miserendino took it himself on the next play for a 3-yard touchdown but the extra point was no good, keeping Southern in front by one. Walker’s 68-yard touchdown run then put Southern up 20-13, but that extra point try was also no good, meaning Central did not have to go for a two-point conversion if it scored. The Eagles did score, and they did so quickly on the bomb from Miserendino to Vaughn. Jon Gonzalez banged through the extra point to send the game to overtime.

In the extra session the Eagles showed what they are made of. After an 8-3 season that saw them claim a share of their first division title and win their first state playoff game since 1994, Central is out to prove they are no one-year wonder. Opening the season with that kind of win is a good way to make that statement clear.

“Last year was a different team and we knew we had to keep fighting,” Jacobs said. “We’re taking steps, and we’re definitely proud of this group right now.”

 

Box Score

Central 27, Southern 20 (OT)

 

Central Southern
First downs 12 13
Rushes-yards 37-270 37-236
Passing 6-11-2 7-17-0
Passing yards 109 48
Fumbles-lost 3-1 2-0
Penalties-yards 5-40 5-40

 

Central (1-0) 7 0 0 13 7 – 27

Southern (0-1) 0 0 7 13 0 – 20

 

Scoring Summary

C – Mike Miserendino 9-yard pass to Dennis Corbin (Jon Gonzalez kick)

S – Pat Walker 14-yard run (Brandon Barnetti kick)

S – Brandon Barnetti 13-yard run (Kyle McDonnell kick)

C – Mike Miserendino 3-yard run (kick failed

S – Pat Walker 68-yard run (kick failed)

C – Mike Miserendino 64-yard pass to Malcolm Vaughn (Jon Gonzalez kick)

C – Mike Bickford 4-yard run (Jon Gonzalez kick)

 

Individual Statistics

Rushing – C: Mike Bickford 22-207, Mike Miserendino 13-65, Dennis Corbin 1-2, Malcolm Vaughn 1-(-4); S: Pat Walker 19-157, Brandon Barnetti 14-88, Jackson Donahower 4-(-9).

Passing – C: Mike Miserendino 6-11-2 109; S: Jackson Donahower 7-17-0 48.

Receiving – C: Malcolm Vaughn 3-65, Dennis Corbin 2-40, Mike Bickford 1-4; S: Dane Walker 1-15, Nick Simonelli 1-10, Brandon Barnetti 2-13, Pat Walker 2-10, Vin Miele 1-0.

Interceptions – S: Matt Bleichner 1-0, Brandon Barnetti 1-0.