Manasquan Takes Down No. 10 Middletown North to Bolster Playoff Chances
MANASQUAN — With just three games remaining to bolster a resume for the NJSIAA playoffs, Saturday represented a pivotal moment for the defending Central Jersey Group II champions.
On the bubble for the postseason heading into Week 7, Manasquan locked up a playoff berth with a 23-14 Shore Conference Class B North victory over No. 10 Middletown North at Vic Kubu Warrior Field. Senior running back Connor Morgan ran for 185 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries as part of a 263-yard rushing effort, and Manasquan’s defense and special teams provided a pair of game-changing plays.
“We told them if they want to be in the playoffs and not have to worry about making the playoffs we have to win this game,” said Manasquan head coach Jay Price. “If you do, the rest will take care of itself, and now we don’t have that to worry about anymore.”
“This was a big win for us because things would have been a little iffy for us, as far as the playoffs, if we didn’t get this win,” said senior quarterback and safety Tommy Antonucci.
Antonucci threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to junior fullback Canyon Birch and junior Michael Page recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown when Middletown North (3-3, 1-2) had a bad snap on a punt. Junior James Pendergist added a 19-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter.
Junior quarterback Sean Glenn threw for 222 yards and a touchdown and wide receiver Aidan Campbell caught five passes for 170 yards and a touchdown to lead Middletown North. Connor Robbins added a 1-yard touchdown run.
Arguably the biggest play in the game during a wild sequence in the first quarter. Morgan lunged for the goal line on a 3-yard run and appeared to have crossed the plain, but the ball was knocked free and recovered by Middletown North’s Brandon Wallrabe for a touchback. On the next play, Glenn connected with Campbell over the middle, and Campbell got behind the secondary and was on his way to an 80-yard touchdown catch. Pendergist sprinted to track him down, however, and was able to knock the ball free at the 1-yard line before recovering it in the end zone for a touchback.
“As soon as it went over my head and he caught it I knew I had to do everything to try to catch up to him and punch it out, and that’s what happened,” Pendergist said. “It was a relief. We knew we had the ball back and could start over 0-0.”
“I hope there were little kids on the fence watching because that’s a learning experience when you see a kid hustle like that to save a game,” Price said. “Because at the time you could feel the momentum swing. We thought Connor was in, they get the ball instead and then the next play they’re about to go 80 yards. To have that, and that’s a special talent, it’s an ace in the hole.”
“For James to make that play that really turned the tide of the game,” Antonucci said. “They go up 7-0 on a big play like that and who knows what happens from there.”
Manasquan’s offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage in paving the way for 263 yards on an average of 5.6 yards per carry. In addition to Morgan’s 185 yards, Antonucci added 50 yards and Birch had 33.
“I think the offensive line is just getting better every single week,” Morgan said. “They’re making phenomenal holes for me to find and run through. They played the best game of the season so far.”
“It helped out defensively, too,” Price said. “Steve [Middletown North head coach Steve Bush] is so good the way he coaches that if you’re going to sit in any base coverage he’s going to have a formation that will give you problems, and they’ll eat you alive. We were throwing a lot of things at our guys in the beginning of the week, and we realized if we can run the ball and keep it away from them it will help us out so much.”
Manasquan’s run defense was stout, as well, in yielding just 28 yards on 17 carries.
“Glenn has an amazing arm, but they ran for 200 against Wall, ran for 200 against RBC, and if you don’t stop [senior running back Connor] Welsh it doesn’t matter what you do against the pass.”
Another key factor for Manasquan’s defense has been the return of Page, who had to sit out the first 30 days of the season after transferring from Hun School. Page, who returned last week in a win over Ocean, stepped in at safety, which allowed Birch to move back down to linebacker. The Warriors’ defensive backfield held Glenn to a 44 percent completion rate. He entered the game completing 64 percent of his passes.
“It’s great to have Page back, because obviously he’s a great athlete, and it also lets us give some guys breaks,” Antonucci said. “It makes us more athletic, and we have a lot of guys in the back that can make plays. We weren’t perfect by any means today and we have to clean some things up, but having him back is a pretty big deal for us.”
Manasquan took a 7-0 lead with 6:33 left int he first quarter when Antonucci rolled right and flipped a pass to Birch, who muscled through a defender for a 7-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal. The score capped a 12-play, 68-yard drive and was set up by a 29-yard pass from Morgan to John Kinneally out of a wildcat formation.
Late in the first half, a sack by Sean Anderson pushed Middletown North back 13 yards and forced the Lions to punt from their own 15-yard line. The snap was low and bounced past punter Austin Dewise where Page was able to fall on it in the end zone for a touchdown. A penalty pushed the extra point attempt back and Manasquan decided to go for the 2-point conversion, and the pass was incomplete to make it 13-0 at halftime.
Morgan’s 2-yard touchdown run with 2:44 left in the third quarter put the finishing touches on a nine-play, 57-yard drive to put Manasquan up 20-0.
Middletown North answered with an 11-play, 75-yard drive to get on the board when Robbins plowed in from the 1-yard line. Welsh had a 19-yard run on the first play of the drive and Campbell had a 29-yard catch to set up the score.
On the ensuing kickoff, a short kick landed in between Manasquan’s return lines and was recovered by Middletown North at the Squan 24-yard line. Two plays later Glenn found Campbell for a 20-yard touchdown to suddenly cut Manasquan’s lead to 20-14 with 9:32 left to play.
Manasquan’s defense came up with the stop it needed when Antonucci intercepted Glenn deep in Middletown North territory with 5:41 left. Pendergist then converted the short field goal to give the Warriors a two-score lead with 2:55 left in the game.
“Watching [Middletown North] on film they were impressive, they do it all well,” Antonucci said. “Going into the week we knew it was going to be a challenge and defensively we really stepped up. It wasn’t perfect, and it got a little crazy in the second half, but to run the ball the way we did shows a lot of good things for us up front. We’ve come a long way since Week 1.”
Manasquan 23, No. 10 Middletown North 14
Middletown North (3-3, 1-2) 0 0 0 14 — 14
Manasquan (4-2, 2-2) 0 13 7 3 — 24
M — Canyon Birch 7-yard pass from Tommy Antonucci (James Pendergist kick)
M — Michael Page 0-yard fumble return (pass failed)
M — Connor Morgan 2-yard run (James Pendergist kick)
MN — Connor Robbins 1-yard run (Joey Cavanagh kick)
MN — Aidan Campbell 20-yard pass from Sean Glenn (Joey Cavanagh kick)
M — James Pendergist 19-yard field goal
RUSHING — MN: Connor Welsh 11-42, Connor Robbins 3-4, Aidan Campbell 2-(-5), Sean Glenn 1-(-13); M: Connor Morgan 31-185, Tommy Antonucci 6-50, Canyon Birch 9-33, James Pendergist 1-(-5).
PASSING — MN: Sean Glenn 11-25-1 222; M: Connor Morgan 1-2-0 29, Tommy Antonucci 2-4-0 18.
RECEIVING — MN: Aidan Campbell 5-170, Paul Dunleavy 2-24, Anthony Soto 3-18, Connor Welsh 1-10; M: John Kinneally 1-29, James Mele 1-11, Canyon Birch 1-7.
INTERCEPTIONS — M: Tommy Antonucci 1-0.
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