LONG BRANCH - When a team wins a state sectional title and returns the bulk of its lineup the following season, one of the biggest obstacles to a repeat can often be complacency.

Players who already have a ring may not have the urgency they had a year earlier. That hasn't been a problem for Long Branch, which looks as hungry as ever to add another trophy to the case after entering this season as a defending state champion for the first time in 18 years.

Long Branch junior RB Jermaine Corbett finished with 126 yards rushing and 3 TDs to power the Green Wave. (Photo by Scott Stump)

The top-seeded Green Wave showed on Friday night that they still have their eyes on the prize when they began their defense of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV title by routing eighth-seeded Middletown North, 42-0, at Bresett Stadium.

"Even though we won it last year, we always want to have more jewelry to wear,'' senior linebacker Luke Arnold said. "We want to be the team to beat."

This year's Green Wave (8-1) also have a chance to separate themselves at a program with a long and proud tradition. No Long Branch team has ever won back-to-back state titles since the inception of the state playoff system in 1974.

Long Branch's quest for that piece of history will continue next Friday when it will host the winner of Saturday's Freehold Boro-Brick Memorial game in the semifinals. The Green Wave beat Freehold in an overtime classic in last year's championship game and defeated Brick Memorial 40-14 last week.

"That's definitely motivating, but we just try to take it game by game,'' senior quarterback Marc Dennis said about the push to repeat.

The Shore Conference's leading rusher, junior running back Jermaine Corbett, continued his brilliant season on Friday night with 126 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 22 carries. He also had a 15-yard touchdown catch to lead an offense that churned up 346 total yards. The defense was equally as impressive, registering four interceptions and holding the Lions (1-7) to 163 total yards for its fifth shutout of the season.

Long Branch set the tone from the outset against a Middletown North team that had put a scare a week earlier into Red Bank Catholic, the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and the only opponent to beat Long Branch this season. The Lions led the Caseys 28-24 late in the fourth before RBC surged back to pick up a 38-28 win.

"That was the rally cry,'' Long Branch head coach Dan George said. "That's what we said on Saturday morning was '28-24, 3 minutes to go,' and that's all my kids had to hear."

"Once we found out that they only lost to RBC by 10, we knew it could be a tough game,'' Corbett said.

It also helped that George has two players who made sure the team would be in playoff mode from the opening whistle.

"I have two of the best leaders I've had in my 30 years in Luke Arnold and Marc Dennis,'' he said. "Every single kid listens to everything they say."

Long Branch won the toss and rather than defer to the second half like normal, the Green Wave chose to receive. George wanted to take the ball right away in case the rainy weather worsened late in the game, and the Green Wave used the opportunity to send a message to the Lions that it was going to be a long night.

Corbett capped an 8-play, 60-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run for an early 7-0 lead. The Lions responded by driving to Long Branch's 12-yard line, but the Green Wave blocked a 29-yard field goal attempt to stay in front.

"In practice we were like, 'If we punch first, they might not come swinging back,''' Dennis said. "(The blocked field goal) was probably the biggest play of the game because if they make that, who knows what happens. It might have been a different type of game."

Long Branch took that momentum and drove 73 yards to take a 14-0 lead on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Dennis to senior wideout Niles Montgomery. Dennis was perfect on the night, going 7-for-7 for 123 yards and two touchdowns and also running for 47 yards on only 5 carries.

Montgomery's score ignited a 28-point second quarter that put the game away by halftime.

An interception by Devyn Blount set up an 8-play, 55-yard drive that ended with a 17-yard touchdown run by Corbett for a 21-0 lead. Arnold then tipped a pass to himself for Long Branch's second interception to trigger a 41-yard drive that culminated in a 2-yard touchdown run by senior Qua'Zahun "Juice" Dennis to push the lead to 28-0 with 3:47 left in the half.

The Green Wave weren't done, as they came up with a stop on fourth down at Middletown North's 48-yard line. Seven plays later, Corbett took a screen pass 15 yards to the house for his Shore Conference-leading 25th touchdown with 14 seconds left in the half to make it 35-0.

 

Junior Jah'Kwan Gordon put the cherry on top in the fourth quarter when he returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown and a 42-0 lead. Junior Jarell Sherin added a fourth interception as Long Branch bottled up Middletown North quarterback Sean Glenn, who entered as the Shore Conference's third-leading passer with 1,324 yards.

They held him to 100 yards on 8-for-23 passing and caught half as many passes as Middletown North receivers.

"We were mainly focused on slowing down the screens and the passing game,'' Arnold said.

The impressive victory and the focus against a one-win opponent showed that Long Branch hasn't lost any of its hunger after winning its first state title since 1999 last season.

"This sent the message to the rest of Central Jersey (Group IV) that we're not complacent,'' Arnold said. "We want to get better every week."

Box Score

Central Jersey Group IV quarterfinals

Long Branch 42, Middletown North 0

.                                              L                     M

First downs                           16                    8

Rushes-yards                    38-223             22-58

Passing                              7-7-0               8-23-4

Passing yards                    123                  100

Penalties                           2-20                 1-5

Fumbles-lost                      0-0                   1-0

Long Branch (8-1)      7    28  0  7 -  42

Midd. North (1-7)       0     0   0  0  -   0

Scoring summary

Corbett 5-yard run (Mazza kick).

Montgomery 9-yard touchdown pass from M. Dennis (Mazza kick).

Corbett 17-yard run (Mazza kick).

Q. Dennis 2-yard run (Mazza kick).

Corbett 15-yard pass from M. Dennis (Mazza kick).

Gordon 40-yard INT return (Mazza kick).

Individual statistics

Rushing - L: Corbett 22-126, M. Dennis 5-47, Q. Dennis 8-46, Lawrence 3-4. M: Robbins 14-54, Campbell 3-10, Higgins 1-1, Soto 1-1, Glenn 3-(-8).

Passing - L: M. Dennis 7-7-0 123. M: Glenn 8-23-4 100.

Receiving - L: Montgomery 2-29, Clarke 1-21, Farrar 2-41, Corbett 2-32. M: Halloran 2-26, Higgins 3-52, Soto 2-15, Campbell 1-7.

Interceptions - L: Blount 1-0, Arnold 1-10, Gordon 1-40, Sherin 1-7.