Football – Dwight Wilkerson’s Career Game Powers Middletown North’s Win over Howell
MIDDLETOWN — Dwight Wilkerson wears many hats for Middletown North, and on Friday night the Lions needed him to be their starting running back. His response was a career night that delivered a much-needed, bounce-back victory.
Wilkerson, a senior captain, ran for a career-high 280 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries to power Middletown North to a 38-7 Shore Conference nondivisional victory over Howell at Arnie Truex Stadium. Wilkerson had a 93-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that helped turn the tide, and added scoring runs of 19 and 8 yards.
Meanwhile, the Middletown North defense shook off an early scoring drive to shut down a Howell offense that entered averaging 38 points per game. Senior linebacker Nick Kish had a sack, a fumble recovery and an interception while Wilkerson also had an interception for a Lions defense that was stout one week after allowing 30 points in a loss to Red Bank Catholic. They held the Rebels’ fast-paced, run-pass option offense led by junior quarterback Eddie Morales to just 178 yards.
Senior quarterback Donald Glenn threw for 120 yards and a 39-yard touchdown to senior Marc Cerbo, sophomore running back Connor Robbins ran for 50 yards and a score and sophomore kicker Joey Cavanagh knocked through a 33-yard field goal while also going 5-for-5 on extra points.
Wilkerson has been a do-it-all player for the Lions (2-1) for several years. A second-team Shore Sports Network All-Shore selection at defensive back last season, he has started in the secondary since his freshman year and contributed on offense in various positions since his sophomore season. When junior running back Connor Welsh went down with an arm injury during the loss to Red Bank Catholic, Wilkerson took the workload and finished with 100 yards on 16 carries. Starting from the opening snap on Friday night, he was the difference maker.
“He’s a really good football player and he does a lot of things for us, so we knew he would run the ball well,” said Middletown North head coach Steve Bush. “He’s playing both ways, which is tough, but he did a great job on both sides of the ball. We’re really proud of him and glad to have him.”
“Connor Welsh going down was definitely a big loss for us, but we’re a next-man-up team,” Wilkerson said.
Morales finished 13 of 24 for 118 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for Howell (2-1). On their first offensive series, the Rebels looked like they were going to carve up Middletown North’s defense all night. Howell marched 85 yards on a 16-play drive to take a 7-0 lead on Morales’ five-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Dan Cacciatore. Morales made plays through the air, going 5-for-5 for 52 yards, and also ran for two first downs on the drive.
From there, however, Howell could manage just 93 yards and seven first downs. Keying the swift turnaround was a Middletown North front four that put consistent pressure on Morales, allowing the Lions to drop their linebackers into coverage. Senior cornerback Sam Santiago did a great job matched up with Howell’s Naz Brantley, a 6-foot-3 junior who had over 200 yards and three touchdowns in the first two games. Morales tried several deep shots to Brantley, but the playmaker was held to 18 yards on three receptions.
“We’re a really mature defense with a lot of seniors with experience,” Kish said. “We bounced back and showed that maturity.”
“We got some pressure on the quarterback, and in the beginning of the game we had some chances in the backfield, but we weren’t wrapping up and finishing,” Bush said. “After that first drive they responded and shut down a team that was averaging 38 points per game. We played the way we are capable of playing.”
After Howell’s drive to take a 7-0 lead, Middletown North immediately responded with a nine-play, 71-yard drive that ended with Wilkerson scoring from 19 yards out. Wilkerson carried four times for 47 yards on the drive, and Glenn connected with Cerbo on gains of 16 and 10 yards.
“After they scored I felt like I had to put it on my back,” Wilkerson said. “Coach kept call my name and I had to make plays.”
Howell went three-and-out on its next drive, but the punt was downed inside the 10-yard line, and coupled with a penalty on Middletown North had the Lions starting from their own 2-yard line. Robbins moved the ball out to the 7-yard line to give the Lions some breathing room, then Wilkerson did the rest. He broke a run off right tackle for a 93-yard touchdown and a 14-7 Middletown North lead.
“I saw a lot of green grass from (senior tackle) Jake Goldfarb,” Wilkerson said. “It was supposed to go to the outside and when I cut it up there was nobody there. I knew I had to get it.”
Middletown North would score on its next and final possession of the first half. After stalling a Howell drive and taking over at their own 25-yard line, the Lions went 75 yards in five plays to take a 21-7 lead. A roughing-the-passer penalty put the ball into Howell territory, and after runs of eight and 12 yards by Wilkerson, Glenn found Cerbo down the middle of the field for a 39-yard touchdown strike.
In the third quarter, an interception by Kish set up Middletown North’s fourth touchdown. Starting at their own 35-yard line, the Lions went 65 yards in five plays to go up 28-7. A 25-yard run by Wilkerson plus a 15-yard personal found for a late hit put the ball at the Rebels’ 25-yard line. A 10-yard run by Robbins made it first-and-goal from the 3-yard line, and after a penalty, Wilkerson weaved his way into the end zone on an eight-yard scoring run.
Howell fumbled on the first play of the ensuing possession and Kish recovered at the Middletown North 45-yard line. A 32-yard run by Wilkerson on the first play put the ball into Howell territory, and Robbins finished off the six-play drive with a four-yard touchdown run.
An interception and 40-yard return by Wilkerson on the next Howell series led to Cavanagh connecting on a 33-yard field goal with just under six minutes left in the game to cap the scoring.
This wasn’t a must-win game for Middletown North, but after a Week Two loss and all but one of their Class B North games remaining, the Lions needed to right the ship quickly. They did so against an offense that was operating at a high level early on, and received the kind of defensive performance they’ll need the rest of the way. It also helps when your ‘backup’ running back runs for almost 300 yards.
“Last week we weren’t on,” Kish said. “It was an eye-opener for us, and this game we wanted to make sure we started strong and kept it going. The defense played well, and we’re hoping to do that every game and get better every week.”
“We banded together,” Wilkerson said. “We had to go out and take it, and that’s exactly what we did.”
Middletown North 38, Howell 7
Howell (2-1) 7 0 0 0 — 7
Middletown North (2-1) 0 21 14 3 — 38
H — Eddie Morales 5-yard pass to Dan Cacciatore (Pat Handy kick)
M — Dwight Wilkerson 19-yard run (Joey Cavanagh kick)
M — Dwight Wilkerson 93-yard run (Joey Cavanagh kick)
M — Donald Glenn 39-yard pass to Marc Cerbo (Joey Cavanagh kick)
M — Dwight Wilkerson 8-yard run (Joey Cavanagh kick)
M — Connor Robbins 4-yard run (Joey Cavanagh kick)
M — Joey Cavanagh 33-yard field goal
Rushing — H: Nick Chambers 8-42, Mekai Gandy 5-27, Eddie Morales 9-17, Team 2-(-26); MN: Dwight Wilkerson 21-280, Connor Robbins 12-50, D.J. Hill 3-7, Marc Cerbo 1-0, Donald Glenn 2-(-1).
Passing — H: Eddie Morales 13-24-2 118; MN: Donald Glenn 7-11-0 120.
Receiving — H: Dan Cacciatore 5-64, Ryan Mazik 2-20, Naz Brantley 3-18, Ean Craig 1-12, Pat Handy 1-5, Nick Chambers 1-(-1).
Interception — MN: Nick Kish 1-17, Dwight Wilkerson 1-40.
Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.