By John Bennett - Shore Sports Network contributor

ASBURY PARK - The opening night match-up at Asbury Park Stadium between Class B Central rivals Asbury Park and Point Beach was reminiscent of a boxing match where the guy who takes a pounding early on finds the will and the way midway through the fight to gather up the strength to deliver the knockout blow in the final round.

Trailing the Blue Bishops by five points going into the fourth quarter, the Garnet Gulls put together a nine-play, 74-yard scoring drive to take the lead, followed by two series of swarming defensive efforts to put the home team down on the canvas for good with a 15-12 victory.

Senior quarterback Jake Fioretti ran for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter as Point Beach came back to beat Asbury Park in the season opener. (Photo by Bill Normile)

Point Beach's defense came up with eight sacks to spearhead the win. Junior Tanner Smith had 10 tackles, a tackle for a loss and a sack, senior linebacker Joe Wegrzyniak had 6 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and a sack, sophomore Matt Zuhowski finished with 5 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss and 2 sacks, and linebacker Jake Delorenzo registered 9 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, a sack and an interception in the win.

The two teams, which have won two of the last three Central Jersey Group I titles, have developed a fierce divisional rivalry.

“I knew they (Asbury Park) were going to be fast and really motivated,” Wegrzyniak said. “They always want to beat us, and we always want to beat them. It’s always a tough rivalry game.”

After Point Beach missed a field goal on its first possession, Asbury Park marched 70 yards on the ground in 15 plays. It took the Blue Bishops four tries from the 3-yard line to score before running back Charles Sanders’ one-yard touchdown to start the second quarter made it 6-0, which was followed by a missed extra point.

On the Garnet Gulls' next possession, Asbury Park outside linebacker Davon Thompson forced Pt. Beach running back Mike Frauenheim to fumble, which was recovered by defensive end Josue Williams.

A 46-yard screen pass from quarterback Sal Swain to running back Trevor Saunders then set up the Blue Bishops up Point Beach's 5-yard line. Two plays later, Swain ran it in from six yards out, which made it 12-0 before an errant snap on the extra point.

As the second quarter was coming to an end, Point Beach refused to go into halftime scoreless. Wegrzyniak converted a fourth-and-1 with a 5-yard run and reserve running back, Zach Schaller, filling in for an injured Frauenheim, hauled in a spectacular diving catch at the Blue Bishops' 5-yard line. Wegrzyniak found his way to the end zone with a 4 yard touchdown run up the middle to cut Asbury Park's lead to 12-7 at the break.

“We blew a field goal early and didn’t make plays early on, but getting that touchdown before the half was key,” said Point Beach head coach John Wagner.

The Garnet Gulls' defense came alive in the third quarter, as Smith, Delorenzo and Wegrzyniak spearheaded the group in stopping Asbury Park’s rushing attack, forcing the Blue Bishops to go to the air. It appeared as if every time Swain dropped back to pass for the Blue Bishops in the second half, Zuhowski, a sophomore defensive tackle, was applying pressure. He recorded three sacks and batted down one pass attempt to help his team get the opportunity for the go-ahead score and preserve their lead on Asbury Park’s final possession.

“Coach put me in to rotate in with Cade (Watkins),” said Zuhowski. “I just had to work to get past my man and find the quarterback as quick as I can to make a play.”

With the defense energizing the team, Point Beach's offense came alive in the fourth quarter while still down by five points. Following an Asbury Park punt, the Garnet Gulls took over on their own 26-yard line. The winning drive began with an 11-yard completion from quarterback Jake Fioretti to wide receiver Kent Napoliello. Then Schaller gashed the Blue Bishops defense with runs of 11, 12 and 20 yards before Fioretti found his way around the right side for the winning score.

“I was pretty pumped up,” said Schaller. “Our halfback Mike (Frauenheim) hurt his hand, so I knew I had to step up and make some plays, and that’s what I did playing my hardest.”

“We always tell our kids to stay close because you never know when it’s your turn to get in there,” Wagner said.