Jair Bernier Sparks Ocean’s Win Over Neptune
NEPTUNE – In a game where both defenses refused to give an inch, someone was going to have to make a play to seize the momentum at Memorial Field on Friday night.
Ocean senior Jair Bernier answered the call, using special teams to jumpstart a hard-fought, 7-0 victory over host Neptune in a pivotal Class B North match-up. He returned a punt 60 yards in the fourth quarter to set up sophomore tailback Tyler Thompson’s one-yard touchdown plunge with 5:04 left in the game that proved to be the difference.
Ocean (2-0, 1-0) had stalled twice inside the Scarlet Fliers’ five-yard line in the game, but energized by Bernier’s return and a facemask penalty during the return that gave them the ball at Neptune’s 15, they punched it in five plays later for the game’s only points.
“In the beginning of the season, we knew special teams was going to be a weapon and a big portion of our entire team,’’ Bernier said. “The entire game they were punting it to Tyler, and as soon as they punted it to me, I was like, ‘I have to make a play here.’ They couldn’t wrap me up, and I just took it the other way.
“It was a momentum changer. Later in the third (quarter) and in the early fourth, we had our heads down, but after that play, we woke up. We were ready to score, and we got in the end zone.”
“That was huge,’’ said Ocean senior linebacker Miles Moody. “That was a momentum change right there. It gave us the juice to get back on offense and push it into the end zone from 15 yards out.”
Neptune had a chance to answer when it got the ball with 4:55 left in the game at Ocean’s 49-yard line following a squib kick. However, Moody tackled quarterback Shakeem Richardson for a two-yard loss on third down, and then senior linebacker Mike Halawani sacked Richardson for a 15-yard loss on fourth-and-4 to extinguish Neptune’s last real chance to tie it.
The Spartans’ defense limited Neptune to 159 yards of total offense and kept the clamps on the dangerous Richardson, holding him to 79 yards on 23 carries. They became the first team to shut out defending Class B North co-champion Neptune since an undefeated Lacey squad did it in 2010. Senior linebacker Dan Loizos, Halawani and Moody led the effort.
“All we did in practice was stress teamwork and everyone following the ball because we knew the quarterback, their running backs and all their wide receivers are real shifty, so we all just wanted to pursue to the ball in case of the cutback,’’ Moody said. “(Richardson) was my key the entire time, and I was going after him from the start.”
“This is my seventh year as head coach, and this is one of the best efforts we’ve had defensively,’’ said head coach Don Klein. “We really worked on (defending the cutback) during the week. I felt like last week, with the (Kashaun) Barnes kid at Manchester, it gave us a good preview of what today would be, so I thought that helped. We did a much better job of tackling this week in open space than we did last week.”
Neptune also turned in a stellar defensive effort on the heels of a shutout victory over Raritan to start the season. The Scarlet Fliers held Thompson to 44 yards on 16 carries, one week after he exploded for a career-high 240 yards in a 51-21 win over Manchester. They also limited dangerous quarterback Royal Moore to 37 yards rushing and intercepted him twice.
“You can’t ask for more than what our defense gave us,’’ said Neptune coach Mark Ciccotelli. “We just have to do a better job of execution offensively.”
Ocean had two golden opportunities to get on the board in the first half, but Neptune thwarted them both. On their opening drive of the game, the Spartans went 63 yards in 12 plays, but came up empty when Moore was tackled for a two-yard loss on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line.
After a missed 36-yard field goal attempt by Neptune in the second quarter, Ocean had another chance when it drove 77 yards to Neptune’s 3-yard line, keyed by a 45-yard bomb from Moore to senior wideout Cole Mehr. However, Neptune’s Jaree Parrish made an acrobatic interception of a tipped pass in the end zone with 30 seconds left in the first half to keep the game scoreless.
Neptune had its best opportunity to seize the lead when junior Cameron Calderon intercepted a tipped pass by Moore and put the Scarlet Fliers in business at Ocean’s 22-yard line with 3:41 left in the third quarter. The Spartans’ defense responded when senior defensive lineman Jack Morris batted down a pass on third down, and then Ocean stopped Richardson a yard short of the first-down marker on fourth-and-17.
Neither team could seize control until Bernier finally broke the ice when he fielded a punt along the Ocean sideline and cut back left for a game-changing gain.
“We stayed with it,’’ Klein said. “I knew that we were going to need a chunk play because field position would play a large part, and we got it on that play.”
By taking out the defending co-champions on their home field for their first win over Neptune since 2009, the Spartans have stamped themselves as an early front-runner for their first division title since 2006. They have also shown they can win multiple ways, whether by a shootout or a defensive slugfest.
“This is a very big win because it sends a statement to B North and to the whole Shore Conference,’’ Bernier said.
“It’s huge,’’ Klein said. “I don’t want to be cliché and say one game at a time, because this was a big win. It’s on the road in a hostile environment against a great program, so it’s a big, big win, but if we don’t take care of business moving forward, this doesn’t mean anything.”
Ocean 7, Neptune 0
. N 0
First downs 8 11
Rushes-yards 33-127 36-125
Passing 5-11-0 7-15-2
Passing yards 32 126
Penalties 5-30 5-45
Fumbles-lost 3-1 1-1
Ocean (2-0, 1-0) 0 0 0 7 – 7
Neptune (1-1, 0-1) 0 0 0 0 – 0
Thompson 1-yard run (Fisher kick)
Rushing – O: Moore 13-37, Thompson 16-44, Loizos 3-16, Mehr 4-28. N: Richardson 23-79, Campbell 3-0, Calderon 6-49, Dunn 1-(-1).
Passing – O: Moore 7-15-2 126. N: Richardson 5-11-0 32.
Receiving – O: Thompson 2-12, Mehr 2-83, Bernier 2-25, Godfrey 1-6. N: Campbell 2-8, Day 1-(-2), Calderon 1-16, Alston 1-10.
Interceptions – N: J. Parrish 1-0, Calderon 1-43.