Football – Clutch Plays By Howell Defense Offsets Record Night by Freehold’s Ashante Worthy
FARMINGDALE – In a game that featured over 1,100 yards of offense, 90 points and a record-setting individual performance, it’s a bit unbelievable to suggest the biggest plays of the game were made on the defensive side of the ball. Yet, the ability to create turnovers in key spots is what ultimately turned the tide in a critical division game.
Howell, ranked No. 5 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, outlasted No. 7 Freehold, 55-35, in a wild Shore Conference Class A North game on Friday night in the inaugural football game on Howell’s new turf field. The Rebels’ defense forced five turnovers, including a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns, to offset a night where Freehold quarterback Ashante Worthy set the Shore Conference single-game record for combined yards by rushing for 338 yards and four touchdowns on 38 carries and passing for 286 yards and a touchdown to finish with 624 yards of offense.
Senior running back Nick Chambers ran for 164 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries and senior wide receiver Ryan Mazik had four receptions for 153 yards and a touchdown to lead Howell’s offense. Mazik also had a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown. Senior Naz Brantley had a 94-yard interception return for a touchdown along with a 26-yard touchdown run, while senior quarterback Eddie Morales threw for 180 yards with touchdown passes to Mazik and Pat Handy. Gerard Urso added a 51-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
When the clock reached zeros and the calculators could finally be put away, it all added up to an important victory for Howell against a difficult opponent.
“We knew he’s a great player and some things were going to slip away from us,” said senior linebacker Braedon Baldwin. “We had 11 guys practicing all week just to stop him. We had to capitalize on those opportunities with those picks and turnovers, because without those it could have been a lot closer.”
“It’s one of those things were, [Freehold’s offense] it’s not normal,” said Howell head coach Luke Sinkhorn. “All the principles you teach, you have to throw them out the window. He’s special, you have to give credit to him, but we talked all week how we have 11 guys and they’re not going to beat us with one guy.”
Freehold runs an empty-backfield, five-wide receiver set on every play. Worthy is essentially the quarterback and the running back, and that makes scheming against the Colonials very tricky. Freehold also runs its offense at warp speed, snapping the ball only seconds after the referee has spotted it.
“We switched up our defense, moving a strong safety down to try to contain him a little bit, and just in case he threw one over the top we had cover 3 behind it,” Mazik said.
“We had both linebackers tail his back hip and tried to sandwich him the best we could because he’s so quick and can get to the outside,” Baldwin said.
Howell’s defense forced a punt on the game’s first possession, aided by a pair of 10-yard penalties on Freehold to force a third-and-38. It took the Rebels just three plays to get into the end zone, as Morales connected with Mazik for a 59-yard touchdown.
Howell’s defense then forced a turnover on downs on the following series. Worthy hit junior wide out Matt Krauss for a 57-yard gain down to the Howell 23-yard line, but on fourth-and-1 from the 14-yard line, Howell senior Matt Mazauskas stuffed Worthy for no gain to give Howell the ball.
After an offsides penalty on Freehold, Chambers broke free on an 81-yard touchdown run to give Howell a 14-0 lead.
Freehold would answer immediately, however, as Worthy busted off a 77-yard touchdown run to make it 14-7 with 4:11 left in the opening quarter. That’s when things started to get interesting.
Howell went three-and-out on its next series thanks to stop for no gain on third down by defensive lineman Alex Verardi. Freehold then drove 60 yards in five plays to tie the score at 14, as Worthy hit Krauss and Jahvonte Hair for gains of 18 and 19 yards, respectively, before scoring on an 18-yard touchdown run.
Howell’s defense began to make big plays in the second quarter, starting with an interception by Mazik in Howell territory. Taking over at their own 45-yard line, the Rebels used an 18-yard catch by Brandon Wilson to move into Freehold territory where Chambers scored on a 32-yard run for a 20-14 lead.
Freehold would march to the Howell 22-yard line on the ensuing drive, but an interception by Handy inside the 10-yard line stopped the Colonials cold. The Rebels offense was forced to punt on the next series, but once again the defense came through with a clutch turnover that turned the tide of the game.
Freehold appeared to be on its way to scoring the tying touchdown with under a minute left in the first half, but Brantley had other plans. He picked off Worthy at the 6-yard line and returned it 94 yards for a touchdown to give the Rebels a 27-14 halftime lead.
“Those were huge,” Baldwin said. “We were gassed, too, and they were driving on us. To be able to contain him and make him throw those passes when he wasn’t able to run anywhere was huge for us.”
Howell pushed its lead to 34-14 early in the second half when a 55-yard catch by Mazik set up Morales’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Handy. Freehold then embarked on a 14-play, 64-yard drive which Worthy capped with a 1-yard touchdown plunge to make the score 34-21. Worthy converted a third-and-22 with a 25-yard pass to Matt DaSilva and converted a fourth-and-2 with a 17-yard run on the drive.
Howell immediately responded as Morales hit Mazik for 14 yards before Brantley took a jet sweep 23 yards to the end zone to give Howell back its 20-point cushion at 41-21. The answer from Freehold was swift, as a long kick return gave the Colonials the ball at Howell’s 34-yard line. Worthy scored on a 21-yard run to make it 41-28 with 3:31 left in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Howell’s defense came up with another big play as Mazik picked off Worthy and returned the interception 45 yards for a touchdown to put Howell up 48-28. On the ensuing drive, Freehold made its way all the way to the Howell 7-yard line, but a fumble by Worthy was recovered by Mazauskas to end the drive.
Freehold would draw closer when Hair caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from Worthy with 2:23 left, but Urso’s 51-yard touchdown run on the first play of the next drive made it 55-35 and iced the hectic victory for Howell.
“We just focused on never giving up,” Mazik said. “We know we have an explosive offense so we always have to fight back. We were up 14-0, they came back to tie it 14-14, but none of us put our heads down. We just kept fighting to get the win.”
No. 5 Howell 55, No. 7 Freehold 35
H – Eddie Morales 59-yard pass to Ryan Mazik (Pat Handy kick)
H – Nick Chambers 81-yard run (Pat Handy kick)
F – Ashante Worthy 77-yard run (Jake Hurler kick)
F – Ashante Worthy 18-yard run (Jake Hurler kick)
H – Nick Chambers 32-yard run (kick failed)
H – Naz Brantley 94-yard interception return (Pat Handy kick)
H – Eddie Morales 9-yard pass to Pat Handy (Pat Handy kick)
F – Ashante Worthy 1-yard run (Jake Hurler kick)
H – Naz Brantley 23-yard run (Pat Handy kick)
F – Ashante Worthy 21-yard run (Jake Hurler kick)
H – Ryan Mazik 45-yard interception return (Pat Handy kick)
F – Ashante Worthy 26-yard pass to Jahvonte Hair (Jake Hurler kick)
H – Gerard Urso 51-yard run (Pat Handy kick)
RUSHING – F: Ashante Worthy 38-338, Matt DaSilva 3-10, Ahmad Dixon 2-8, Jahvonte Hair 1-(-4); H: Nick Chambers 13-164, Gerard Urso 4-59, Braedon Baldwin 5-21, Naz Brantley 1-23, Eddie Morales 7-4, Chris DeMarco 1-1.
PASSING – F: Ashante Worthy 18-31-4 286; H: Eddie Morales 7-12-0 180.
RECEIVING – F: Matt Krauss 4-96, Matt DaSilva 4-68, Jahvonte Hair 3-49, Quincy Davis 4-38, Savion Macon 1-23, Steven Cirillo 1-10, Andre Kelly 1-2; H: Ryan Mazik 4-153, Brandon Wilson 1-18, Pat Handy 1-9, Naz Brantley 1-0.
INTERCEPTIONS – H: Ryan Mazik 2-58, Naz Brantley 1-94, Pat Handy 1-10.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.