Matawan Beats Carteret to Win Central Jersey Group III for Its 7th State Title
UNION - Driving rain, Carteret’s defense, historical precedent – none of them was any match for 14-year-old Matawan quarterback George “L.C.” Pearson in Friday night’s NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III championship game at Kean University.
The precocious signal-caller capped the best season by a freshman quarterback in Shore Conference history by going 10-for-14 for 198 yards and throwing a career-high four touchdown passes on the biggest stage of his young career to help the fifth-seeded Huskies roll to a 27-7 win over the third-seeded Ramblers (8-4) for their first state title since 2011 and their seventh overall. Pearson is believed to be the first freshman quarterback from the Shore to ever be the starter on a state championship team, and the Huskies (8-4) went 8-2 once he was inserted as the starter following an 0-2 start.
“He’s something special,’’ said junior wideout Shawn Ramcheran, who had a pair of touchdown catches. “He’s one of the best quarterbacks I’ve seen in the Shore since (former Matawan star Jared) Allison.”
The enormity of the game, plus a persistent rain, never came close to rattling Pearson. The end result was a seventh title, which ties Matawan with Brick for the third-most state championships in Shore Conference history behind Manasquan (11) and Middletown South (9).
“I knew my team believed in me, so there was nothing to get nervous for,’’ he said. “If they’ve got my back, I’ve got their back.”
“He’s an unbelievable kid,’’ said head coach John Kaye. “He’s unlike any kid I’ve ever coached. Poise, demeanor – nothing fazes him.”
Pearson and Ramcheran were far from the only heroes on the night as senior wide receiver/defensive back Justin Ferrara had a touchdown catch and a huge tackle on fourth down on defense, senior Jimmy Pierce had a touchdown grab, junior linebacker Aliem Shaw had a pair of fumble recoveries, and junior cornerback DeJohn Rogers had an interception as well as three catches for 58 yards on offense. To top it off, the Matawan offensive line paved the way for 358 total yards of offense to bring home the Huskies’ third state title in the last six seasons and the first under Kaye, who is in his third season.
“This is the best thing ever,’’ Pierce said. “The one thing I wanted to do before I leave high school was win a state championship.”
“We don’t care about what anyone else thinks as long as we get the job done and we do what we’ve got to do,’’ Shaw said. “It just feels wonderful to win it.”
That possibility seemed remote early in the season when the Huskies fell into an 0-2 hole with a pair of losses to two top 10 teams in the Shore, St. John Vianney and Rumson-Fair Haven, in which they only scored a combined 20 points. That’s when Kaye decided to go away from the zone read running attack with Pierce at quarterback and switch to a more wide-open passing game with Pearson, who is the nephew of former Dallas Cowboys great and South River star Drew Pearson.
“What (Pearson) has done is amazing,’’ Shaw said. “He is going to do really big things in his career.”
Before Pearson could get to work on Friday night, Matawan’s defense set the tone early. Carteret opened the game by driving to the Huskies’ 20-yard line before Rogers snatched an interception at the 1-yard line on fourth-and-13 for the first of three turnovers by the Ramblers on the night.
Matawan then marched 94 yards in nine plays, highlighted by a 45-yard catch and run by Rogers, before taking a 6-0 lead. Pearson lofted a 32-yard pass on third-and-17 that ricocheted off a Carteret defender and landed in the hands of Pierce for a touchdown with 2:07 left in the first quarter.
“He kind of underthrew me, so I knew I had to save him,’’ Pierce said. “I tried to come up and swat the ball, and somehow it popped up and I just caught it.”
“(Pierce) had my back,’’ Pearson said. “I knew those guys had confidence in me, so I trusted them and let them make plays.”
Carteret answered with its lone scoring drive of the game, a 10-play, 68-yard march capped off by an 18-yard run by Ra’keem Bennett that gave the Ramblers a 7-6 lead with 10:10 left in the second quarter.
Matawan had an immediate answer with a four-play, 84-yard drive highlighted by a 56-yard run by Ramcheran on a jet sweep that helped set up a 17-yard touchdown pass from Pearson to Ferrara for a 13-7 advantage with 8:25 left in the half.
Bennett had 86 yards rushing in the first half on 12 carries out of Carteret’s power-I formation, but the Huskies shut him down after the break, holding him to 11 yards on five carries in the second half.
“We thought they were going to pass more, but the weather threw that off, so we put it on the (defensive) line,’’ Ramcheran said. “I said, ‘You guys want a ring? It’s on you guys tonight.’’’
The score remained 13-7 heading into the fourth quarter as the teams each turned it over once before Matawan built on its lead with a drive that bridged the third and fourth quarters. After Shaw recovered a Carteret fumble at the Ramblers’ 49-yard line, the Huskies went on an eight-play drive that ended when Pearson hit Ramcheran with a shovel pass as Ramcheran sped across the formation for an 8-yard touchdown. Ferrara then hit Pierce on a trick play for a two-point conversion and a 21-7 lead with 11:58 left in the game.
On Carteret’s ensuing possession, the Ramblers drove to their own 49-yard line, where they decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 instead of electing to try to pin Matawan deep with a punt. Ferrara and Shaw led the charge as the Huskies came up with a huge stop on Bennett for no gain and a turnover on downs. They then put the icing on the cake with a nine-play drive that again ended with a shovel pass from Pearson to Ramcheran, this one for a 32-yard touchdown and a 20-point lead with 3:50 left in the game. Matawan had used the play early in the season and broke it out again for two huge second-half touchdowns to put the game away.
“We lure everybody inside because we run ‘iso’, and you see that D-end squeezing,’’ Ramcheran said. “The best was (St. Louis Rams receiver) Tavon Austin running it at West Virginia with (Jets quarterback) Geno Smith. That’s one of the best plays ever.”
A team that was 3-4 at one point ended with a five-game winning streak for a jubilant end to a roller coaster year. Before the season started, a pair of All-Shore talents, junior running back/linebacker Calvin Beaty and junior wide receiver/cornerback Khalil Haskins, transferred to rival St. John Vianney. Then the Huskies had the 0-2 start, which was followed by the death of Kaye’s father only a few weeks later.
“We grew a hunger,’’ Ramcheran said. “At 0-2 we’d go around town and people were telling us, ‘Oh, you guys are not going to win a ‘ship, you guys are going to have a .500 season.’ I told them, my family at this school, we think otherwise. And now look at us – state champs.”
“There were all the naysayers and detractors when people left and went elsewhere on us,’’ Kaye said. “We just said, ‘We’ll coach the kids who want to stay here and be a part of our team.’ If you want to go somewhere else and play, go play, but we’re going to go coach our guys.’’
This might only be the beginning as the core of the team is the junior class, which will return along with Pearson, who threw for 1,953 yards and 16 touchdowns, which are both believed to be records for a freshman quarterback in Shore Conference history.
“This is going to be the start of a good run,’’ Shaw said.
“I’m positive that we can repeat,’’ Pearson said. “This team is young, but we’re playmakers.”
Matawan 27, Carteret 7
. M C
First downs 18 10
Rushes-yards 39-160 23-121
Passing 10-14-1 8-21-1
Passing yards 198 114
Fumbles-lost 4-1 3-1
Penalties 4-35 10-53
Matawan (8-4) 6 7 0 14 - 27
Carteret (8-4) 0 7 0 0 - 7
M: J. Pierce 32-yard pass from Pearson (kick failed).
C: Bennett 18-yard run (Lopez kick).
M: Ferrara 17-yard pass from Pearson (Elliott kick).
M: Ramcheran 8-yard pass from Pearson (J. Pierce pass from Pearson).
M: Ramcheran 32-yard pass from Pearson (kick failed).
Rushing - M: Spann 18-42, Pearson 5-(-6), Ramcheran 3-61, J. Pierce 5-26, Phillip 2-14, Midtlyng 3-19, Caesar 2-2, Malta 1-2. C: Bennett 17-97, Irving 1-5, Kamara 1-1, Baez 4-18.
Passing - M: Pearson 10-14-1 198. C: Baez 8-20-1 , Bennett 0-1-0 0.
Receiving - M: Rogers 3-58, Ramcheran 3-50, Spann 1-37, J. Pierce 1-32, Ferrara 2-22. C: Taylor 2-36, Gilder 2-27, Irving 2-14, Bennett 1-24, Nowak 1-13.
Interceptions - M: Rogers 1-5. C: Gilder 1-0.