Football – Howell’s Fast-Paced Offense Key in Upending No. 6 Freehold Township
It was a homecoming game to forget, at least for the host of Friday night's matchup, the Freehold Township Patriots, who suffered their first defeat of the season at the hands of the rival Howell Rebels, 22-13.
The Patriots weren't merely chasing 'the perfect season' but every win inside Class A North seems to matter weekly, as Manalapan has mirrored Freehold Township with a perfect record of their own which makes tonight's loss much more difficult to swallow.
Howell meanwhile walked into tonight's action 3-3 (3-1) overall and still very much alive inside the playoff hunt, and Freehold Township head coach Cory Davies saw the team he led on that opposing sideline for 21 seasons bring his new team's perfect season to an end.
The Rebels came into Friday night's action at a point differential of negative-9, by allowing 183 points on defense while their offense scored just 174, but after the win over Freehold Township those numbers go up to 196 points allowed and 196 points scored for a record of 4-3.
Freehold's numbers currently stand at 202 points scored and 112 allowed for a record of 6-1 overall.
"That's a good team over there, very good offense, we gave them a lot of respect," said Howell head coach Luke Sinkhorn. "We did some things to try and combat that, it's tough to try and combat everybody because they have a couple guys on either side of the ball but we have some athletes too that we showed this week. We knew what they could do, it was just a matter of putting a solid game together."
Friday night's showdown seemed from the start it would be a game of stingy defenses after both teams punted following their first possession.
"We ask a lot of those guys that play two ways as a whole, we have a lot of players on both sides of the ball across the board from Naz (Naseim Brantley) and Eddie (Morales), (Ryan) Mazik, (Patrick) Handy, (Daniel) Cacciatore, and they do a great job" said Sinkhorn. "I think more than anything, they're finally playing for each other and this is the culture part where we're happy where we're at right now."
However, Howell set the tone for the game when at 3:28 left in the first quarter they went on a drive lasting 1:47 that ended with a Morales 25-yard spiral to Brantley in the back of the end zone to put them up 7-0.
Following a three-and-out for Freehold Township, the Rebels spent the next 7:05 from the end of the first quarter (0:42) until midway through the second quarter (6:23) which ultimately ended in a turnover on downs after failing to convert a fourth down.
On their next drive they cashed in with 4:45 left in the first half as Nick Chambers scored on a 3-yard run for a 15-0 lead after a successful 2-point conversion.
The Patriots finally got onto the scoreboard on a one-play drive with 48 seconds left in the first half as they ran a little trickery where Sabbagh passed to Anthony Lotti on the screen, who then tossed it back in the direction of Adrian Rybaltowski, who took the hand off and ran 35 yards to the end zone making the score 15-7 at the break.
Following the extended recess, Howell had a three-and-out, but on the next drive increased its lead to 22-7 after Chambers scored again from three yards out.
Defense remained tight the rest of the third quarter and Freehold Township began its march towards a potential comeback.
Only a minute plus into the final frame is when the Patriots drew closer with a touchdown, but missed the 2-pt conversion attempt.
An onside kick by Freehold Township was recovered by Howell and on the Patriots final possession an interception at 1:19 by Brantley sealed the win for the Rebels.
Sinkhorn adds the quick-paced offensive tempo Friday night is nothing new for them.
"It's kind of what we've been running all year, we're pretty balanced," said Sinkhorn. "We do have the run and pass option. Some games we've come in thinking we're going to pass and we run and vice-versa, but I think we've been pretty balanced throughout the year."
Chambers finished with 122 yards and two touchdowns, while Morales threw for 189 yards Brantley caught six passes for 105 yards. Senior wide out Anthony Lotti caught 10 passes for 155 yards for Freehold Township.
As far continuing the winning heading into next week: "Year three, that’s what we’re trying to change is the culture here, trying to turn the corner, having belief even when we’re down,” Sinkhorn adds. “They can’t think that they’re too far ahead or too far behind, so games like this are going to help us do that.”
Beating a rival was an added thrill for them as well.
"Absolutely, it's a big time rivalry," Sinkhorn adds. "These guys know each other, a lot of guys went to middle school with each other. I know there's some coaches back and forth that have gone to different schools or coached different schools, but at the end of the day we have to play the game and get on the field."
Vin Ebenau is a Shore Sports Network Contributor. You can follow him on Twitter @VinEbenau. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.