Lacey at Brick is the Shore Sports Network Game of the Week
Three weeks ago, a Brick-Lacey match-up would not have been one to circle on the schedule for Week Eight in Shore Conference football.
However, plenty has changed since then, making Friday’s 7 p.m. Class A South game at Brick a lot more juicy. The Shore Sports Network will bring you all the action live on 105.7 “The Hawk’’ f.m. and also streamed online at 1057thehawk.com. No. 3 Lacey (7-0) can clinch the outright Class A South title with a victory and make a run at cementing the No. 1 seed in the South Jersey Group IV playoffs.
Brick (2-5) has now won two straight games in thrilling fashion after an 0-5 start, so the Green Dragons have had the magic the past two weeks. They are coming off a stunning 24-21 win over Toms River North that entered the national consciousness because Green Dragons’ senior kicker Anthony Starego, who has autism, nailed the game-winning, 22-yard field goal with 21 seconds left in regulation in addition to three extra points. A stream of television, print and online reporters were at practice this week to do features on Starego, who also made an appearance on NBC’s TODAY Show with his parents on Wednesday morning.
“It’s been crazy,’’ said Brick coach Rob Dahl. “I’m happy for Anthony and the whole storyline to show other kids with disabilities that they can do it. In that respect, I’m happy for him and happy for our school. There’s been a lot going on this week, but we have to try to stay focused.”
Two other positives in the Toms River North win were zero turnovers and a running game that had one of its best nights of the season. Sophomore Ray Fattaruso had a career-high 181 yards rushing and two touchdowns and senior Dan Cuccinello added 85 yards rushing and a score.
“We weren’t taking care of the ball the first five weeks,’’ Dahl said. “In the last two games, we’ve had zero turnovers, and the defense has continued to force turnovers like it had the first five games.’’
“This week, that’s what we’ve been focused on 100 percent is the defense,’’ said Lacey senior linebacker Liam Dolly. “Brick has a nice power game, two good running backs and a solid offensive line. They run it right up the gut.’’
Cuccinello, who also plays linebacker, and senior defensive end Dan Watson have led a Green Dragons defense that will face a Lacey offense that lost starting quarterback Tom Kelly to a season-ending broken collarbone in a win over Jackson Memorial last week. Sophomore Conor Davies, the son of offensive coordinator Cory Davies and younger brother of former record-setting Howell quarterback Ryan Davies, takes over as the starting signal-caller. Lacey will have to account for Watson, a quarterback assassin who leads the Shore Conference with 10 sacks to go with 52 tackles. Cuccinello leads Brick with 81 tackles and also gets after the quarterback with 6.5 sacks.
Davies was 5-for-6 for 28 yards and one touchdown and an interception against Jackson Memorial after replacing Kelly last week. Kelly was having one of the best seasons of any quarterback in the Shore before he got hurt, throwing for 1,037 yards and 14 touchdowns and only one interception with a 74 percent completion percentage.
“Tom was good because he could beat you with his arm or tuck the ball and run,’’ Dahl said. “I think with Davies we’re not as worried about him making big runs on us, but he can flat-out throw the ball. We saw him at the 7-on-7 tournament at Toms River East (in the summer), and they were taking turns. I was like, ‘Wow, they think a lot of this kid if they split things with him and Kelly.’ They lose Kelly, but we think highly of Davies. Plus, he’s getting coached up at the dinner table every night.’’
“Losing (Kelly) was a big factor, and it will be hard to not play with him, but we have to mentally adjust to it,’’ Dolly said. “We’re very fortunate to have another quarterback who knows what he’s doing. Tom is going to get surgery on Friday, and for the rest of our season our goal is to win the games for him. We want to make Tom feel like he is a big part of our team, and nothing is going to stop us.’’
Davies has five different weapons to employ in the passing game in Brandon Boos, R.J. Kurtz, Bill Belford, Kyle Spatz, and Christian Tutela. Spatz is also one of the top running backs in the Shore Conference with 881 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns in addition to 15 catches for 222 yards and 4 touchdowns.
“I think he is flat-out the best running back in our division, which has some really good backs,’’ Dahl said. “He is football fast. He knows how to make moves, and he’s really tough. I’m really impressed with the toughness of how he runs.’’
Senior linebacker Casey Sirotniak, along with Dolly and seniors Jose Ortiz and Tim Grochowski, leads Lacey’s defense, which will pack the box and dare Brick to beat them by throwing over the top. Those same skill players on offense patrol the secondary.
Will Brick continue its late-season resurgence after avoiding its first 0-6 start in the program’s 55-year history? Or will Lacey keep it rolling despite losing a star player on its way to winning its second division title in three seasons? It will all unfold on Friday night.