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By John Bush - Shore Sports Network contributor

LAKEWOOD – Lakewood came into its home game against Jackson Liberty on Friday afternoon looking to get to 4-0 for the first time in 12 years while maintaining control of first place in Class B South.

Instead, it was the Lions who emerged with an upset victory to turn the division race into a free-for-all.

Lions junior quarterback Ryan Van Wickle threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Brett Ribellino while the defense added a safety as Jackson Liberty held off Lakewood for a 9-8 victory. The Lions' win allowed Point Boro to claim sole possession of first place in the division with its victory over Manchester on Friday night, with four teams right behind the Panthers, tied for second in the loss column.

Jackson Liberty quarterback Ryan Van Wickle threw a touchdown pass to help the Lions hand Lakewood its first loss. (Photo by John Portelli)

“It feels good to get a win, back to .500,” Van Wickle said. “Hopefully we can just spring off this win and win out the rest of our season, which I think we can.”

“Everybody thought we were going to come into this game, we were going to lose,” Ribellino said. “We knew differently. We knew we were going to come into this game, play as a team. We fought all week as a team, we won as a team, we got the win, that’s what we came here to do.”

Jackson Liberty (2-2, 2-1) was inspired by more than just getting back into the division race. On Wednesday, Lions sophomore lineman Chase Holden, who plays on the jayvee team, left practice when he learned his father had died. After the game was over Friday, the Lions gave Holden the game ball.

“The kids played for him,” Jackson Liberty coach Jim Sharples said. “He showed up today, he came out to the field and participated on the sideline and inspired the kids, the kids played inspired. There’s a family atmosphere around, and I saw it this week.

“(On Wednesday), he went home with his mother, and got on his bike and came back before practice ended and he addressed the team and it was very emotional. I’m very emotional about it. That’s why we do this, that’s why we coach.”

Against Lakewood (3-1, 3-1), Jackson Liberty’s offense struggled throughout the first half as both teams played to a scoreless tie. Van Wickle then opened the third quarter with a 23-yard completion to senior receiver Ryan Brennan, and the Lions were on their way to a 7-play, 92-yard touchdown drive.

Ribellino made his first catch with a diving 23-yarder to the Piners’ 41, and soon followed with an even more spectacular play. With the Lions facing third-and-14 from the 45, Van Wickle threw left to Ribellino, who made a leaping catch over a Lakewood defender, kept his balance and sprinted toward the end zone for a touchdown. Junior kicker Braden Yorke added the extra point as the Lions took a 7-0 lead with little more than three minutes elapsed in the second half.

“I just smelled the goal line, that’s it,” Ribellino said. “I knew I was getting the ball that play, I knew I was going to catch it, and I knew I was going to cross the goal line. I wanted to score, I wanted to win this game.”

“We decided to open things up,” Sharples said. “Our senior receivers, when they want to come down with the ball there’s nothing that can stop them. They are determined receivers and that’s what I love about them.”

Jackson Liberty then scored a safety on Lakewood’s ensuing possession. The Piners started at their 20, but a high snap in the shotgun pushed the ball back to the 4. Lakewood then fumbled on the next play as Piners senior Josh Palmer fell on the ball in the end zone, and the Lions took a 9-0 lead with 7:50 left in the third quarter.

Jackson Liberty nearly broke the game open on its next possession when Van Wickle threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Brennan, but the play was nullified due to a holding penalty.

After several near-misses in the first three quarters, Lakewood finally put together a touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter. The Piners drove 80 yards on eight plays --  all runs – as senior Eric Segui opened with a 13-yard run, junior Amir Tyler added a 10-yard gain, and senior quarterback Chapelle Cook broke free along the left sideline for a 35-yard run to the Lions’ 4. One play later, Cook ran up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown, and followed by throwing to senior tight end Datrell Reed for the 2-point conversion to pull the Piners to within 9-8 with 9:05 left.

Jackson Liberty, though, was able to hold on the rest of the way as senior defensive back Jordan Billups made an interception and the Lions recovered a muffed Lakewood punt return.

Lakewood had one last chance starting at its 23 with 1:46 left and no timeouts. The Piners moved to the Liberty 32 in six plays, but on fourth-and-13 with less than 30 seconds left, the Lions stopped Reed on a catch 3 yards short of a first down to clinch the win.

“We were hanging on for dear life, going three-and-out three times in a row, but we got the win,” Sharples said. “It’s a huge, huge win for our program.”

 

Box score

Jackson Liberty 9, Lakewood 8

 

First downs: JL 6; Lake 15

Rushes-yards: JL 25-10; Lake 42-167

Passing: JL 7-20-1; Lake 9-17-2

Passing yards: JL 142; Lake 95

Fumbles-lost: JL 0-0; Lake 6-2

Penalties: JL 5-30; Lake 10-80

 

Jackson Liberty (2-2, 2-1) 0 0 9 0 – 9

Lakewood (3-1, 3-1) 0 0 0 8 – 8

 

Scoring summary

 

JL:  Ribellino 45 pass from Van Wickle (Yorke kick).

JL: Safety, J. Palmer recovered fumble in end zone.

Lake: Cook 1 run (Reed pass from Cook).

 

Individual statistics

Rushing – JL: Regina 10-21, Barbato 3-9, Schuster 1-4, Van Wickle 11-(-24); Lake: Tyler 15-76, Cook 14-71, Segui 5-43, J. Palmer 5-4, Cobbs 1-1, Team 2-(-28).

Passing – JL: Van Wickle 7-20-1 142; Lake: Cook 9-17-2 95.

Receiving – JL: Ribellino 4-90, Brennan 1-28, Stout 1-16, Yorke 1-8; Lake: Reed 3-27, A. Palmer 2-21, Cobbs 1-20, Hunter 1-14, Tyler 1-10, Segui 1-3.

Interceptions – JL: Brennan 1-8, Billups 1-0; Lake: J. Palmer 1-25.