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MANALAPAN — The rarity and historical significance of Manalapan’s emphatic 64-28 victory over Sayreville on Saturday night was not lost on head coach Eddie Gurrieri.

“Any time you score that many points on anybody, let alone a team of the caliber of those guys over there…,” Gurrieri said, leaving the answer open-ended.

There wasn’t much more he needed to say. In a battle of two undefeated Group V powerhouses it was the Braves that made a huge statement and answered any early-season questions regarding their stature.

Senior tailback Imamu Mayfield erupted for a career-high 247 rushing yards and five touchdowns behind an offensive line that dominated the line of scrimmage to the tune of 348 rushing yards in a huge nonconference home win for the Braves. Senior quarterback Dan Anerella fired a pair of touchdown passes while the Braves’ defense shut down Sayreville’s rushing attack, allowing Manalapan to follow last season’s 34-7 playoff victory with another convincing win over their nonconference rival.

Manalapan senior running back Imamu Mayfield erupted for a career-high 247 yards and five touchdowns in a 64-28 win over Sayreville. (Photo by Larry Murphy).

“Going into the game no one thought we’d played any real top teams, so this was a statement maker,” Mayfield said. “We answered a lot of questions tonight.”

Mayfield scored on touchdown runs of 11, 34, 38, 48 and 12 yards while Anerella threw for 130 yards and touchdowns to Kyle Mullen and Brian Conforth. Senior Dan Debner added a touchdown run in addition to being a force on kick returns, and Marcus Salinas added a late 74-yard touchdown run to cap the scoring. Defensively, the Braves forced two turnovers with senior Tyson Plummer intercepting a pair of passes and nearly returning one for a touchdown.

Sayreville’s standout running back, senior Penn State recruit Myles Hartsfield, was held in check in the ground with just 17 yards on 12 carries, but torched the Braves’ secondary for 147 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He also blocked three kicks - a pair of extra points and a field goal attempt off the foot of standout Manalapan senior Mike Caggiano. Sophomore quarterback Jayson Demild threw four touchdown passes, but even with the big play working for the Bombers (2-1) it wasn’t enough to eclipse a Braves team that set what is believed to be the school record for points in a game.

For the Braves, who entered the game ranked No. 4 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, it came down to their bigger offensive line taking control of the game early. After Mayfield’s 34-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that gave the Braves (3-0) a 13-0 lead, it was obvious their offensive line was on a roll and just starting to get going.

“I told them before the game started they would be a big factor,” Gurrieri said. “This offensive line has a chance to be the best we’ve ever had. We’re not there yet, but I believe the guys we have in place have the opportunity to be a tremendous offensive line.”

“We run for four yards, then six, then eight, then 12,” said senior Ben Sieczkowski. “We lean on them, and most teams end up giving up.”

Sayreville answered Manalapan’s battering-ram offense with big plays in the passing game, closing the gap to one score on several occasions. But Manalapan just kept pulling away. The Bombers pulled to within seven on Hartsfield’s 59-yard touchdown catch with 8:53 left in the third quarter, but that was the final time they would see the end zone. The Braves scored the final 29 points of the game in a little over a quarter and a half, eventually going up by 36 late in the game to institute a running clock.

It all began midway through the first quarter when Debner returned a punt 20 yards, and that combined with a penalty gave Manalapan the ball at the Sayreville 15-yard line. Two plays into the drive Mayfield scored from 11 yards out to give the Braves a 7-0 lead.

A combo sack by Sieczkowski and Mullen halted Sayreville’s next drive, and the Braves forced another three-and-out after that to get the ball back just across midfield. Again it took Manalapan just two plays to find the end zone as Mayfield broke to the outside for a 34-yard touchdown. The extra point was blocked by Hartsfield, but Manalapan was on its way up 13-0.

Sayreville answered quickly on a 66-yard touchdown pass from Demild to Hartsfield, but Manalapan responded on the first play of the ensuing drive. Debner’s 70-yard kick return down to the Bombers’ 21-yard line set up Anerella’s 21-yard touchdown pass to Mullen for a 19-7 lead with 8:59 left in the half.

Sayreville kept coming, though, and put together a 13-play, 67-yard drive that ended with a diving 5-yard touchdown catch by Hartsfield to cut Manalapan’s lead to 19-14. Yet again the Braves would find the end zone quickly, however, as Mayfield capped a 3-play, 53-yard drive with a 38-yard touchdown run to go over 100 yards rushing with 54 seconds left in the half. With Hartsfield having already blocked two extra points, Manalapan instead went for two and converted when Anerella hit Plummer to make it 27-14 at halftime.

“He’s a combination player that can lean on you and wear you down, and also take it to the house,” Gurrieri said of Mayfield. “He gives us the best of both worlds, and I truly believe he’s one of the best running backs in the Shore.”

“It’s definitely exciting to be in a position to put the team on my back,” Mayfield said. “The O-line kept blocking for me, and I kept making plays.”

Sayreville didn’t go down with a fight, but it was more of the same from Manalapan and its punishing ground game in the second half.

The Bombers closed to 27-21 three plays into the second half when Demild hit junior tight end Connor O’Brien for a 28-yard touchdown to start a string of three touchdowns in the first four minutes of the third quarter. On the third play of Manalapan’s next possession, Anerella hit Conforth off a play-action fake for a 57-yard score and a 35-21 lead after Mayfield ran in the two-point conversion. Hartsfield’s 59-yard touchdown catch on the first play of Sayreville’s next possession made it 35-28, but that was as close as the Bombers would get.

Mayfield broke free on a 48-yard touchdown run with 48 seconds left in the third quarter for a 43-28 lead, and after Plummer’s second interception gave Manalapan the ball right back, Mayfield scored touchdown No. 5 on a 12-yard run for a commanding 51-28 lead. Debner added a 23-yard touchdown run with 8:51 left, and Salinas put an exclamation point on the victory with a 74-yard touchdown run when the backups were in for both teams.

The graduation of some key members of last season’s 11-1 team that reached the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group V final hasn’t tempered the Braves’ expectations for this season. They still have their sights set on playing into December and being a factor in the race for a state title, and Saturday night served as confirmation the Braves are among the very best in all of Group V.

“I think we’re a good football team, but I didn’t know how good before tonight,” Gurrieri said. “The most important thing to take away is that we can get a lot better. As the offensive line grows each game we’re going to be pretty good."

 

Box Score

 

No. 4 Manalapan 64, Sayreville 28

 

Sayreville Manalapan
First downs 12 15
Rushes-yards 43-143 26-348
Passing 7-13-2 6-13-1
Passing yards 191 130
Fumbles-lost 3-0 2-0
Penalties-yards 3-25 4-25

 

Sayreville (2-1) 0 14 14 0 – 28

Manalapan (3-0) 7 20 16 21 – 64

 

Scoring summary

M – Mayfield 11-yard run (Caggiano kick)

M – Mayfield 34-yard run (kick blocked)

S – Demild 66-yard pass to Hartsfield (Lapinski kick)

M – Anerella 21-yard pass to Mullen (kick blocked)

S – Demild 5-yard pass to Hartsfield (Lapinski kick)

M – Mayfield 38-yard run (Anerella pass to Plummer)

S – Demild 28-yard pass to O'Brien (Lapinski kick)

M – Anerella 57-yard pass to Conforth (Mayfield run)

S – Demild 59-yard pass to Hartsfield (Lapinski kick)

M – Mayfield 48-yard run (Anerella pass to Sieczkowski)

M – Mayfield 12 run (Mayfield run)

M – Debner 23-yard run (Caggiano kick)

M – Salinas 74-yard run (kick failed)

 

Individual statistics

Rushing – S: Crump 15-64, Demild 3-25, Lopez 4-18, Hartsfield 12-17, Liberti 2-10, Negron 3-9, Cenci 3-0, Willie 1-0; M: Mayfield 21-247, Salinas 2-75, Debner 2-29, Anerella 1-(-3).

Passing – S: Demild 7-13-2 191, Redding 0-1-0 0; M: Anerella 6-13-1 130.

Receiving – S: Hartsfield 5-147, O'Brien 1-28, Liberti 1-6; M: Conforth 1-57, Surhoff 1-28, Sieczkowski 2-21, Mullen 1-21, Plummer 1-3.

Interceptions – S: C. Williams 1-0; M: Plummer 2-35