By Matt Stypulkoski - Shore Sports Network contributor

MATAWAN – It was a trying week for Matawan, but ultimately one that ended with a 23-6 triumph over Class A Central rival Manasquan on Friday night.

On the field, the Huskies had to recover from the 370-yard rushing performance Long Branch’s Dahmiere Willis posted against them last week. Off the field, the circumstances were even more difficult, due to the death of head coach John Kaye’s father on Tuesday.

It was an emotional victory over Manasquan for Matawan head coach John Kaye, whose father, also named John, passed away at 74 years old on Tuesday. The game ball was given to Kaye's mother and John's widow, Carol, who is pictured with her granddaughter, John's daughter Nicole, after the game. (Photo courtesy of Nicole Kaye)

“Losing my dad was devastating,” Kaye said. “He was the patriarch of our family, and we lost him. The fortunate thing is that I have a tremendous coaching staff.”

His assistants handled practices until Kaye returned on Thursday.

“He’s a tough man, he came to practice even though his father died,” running back/linebacker Isiah Phillip said. “We had to come out here and do it for him.”

Matawan put the pressure on immediately with an eight-play, 49-yard drive that ended with an Adam Elliot field goal. Elliot made kicks of 29, 25 and 34 yards to give the Huskies a 9-0 lead at halftime.

After that, it was the Matawan defense that took care of the rest. The Huskies allowed only 119 yards on the night – including just five in the first half – and scored two touchdowns to seal the victory.

Phillip was the first to find the end zone with a 35-yard interception return less than two minutes into the second half.

“I was covering the running back,” Phillip said. “My assignment was to cover him, but he blocked so I dropped back a little bit. My great defensive line and linebacking corps ran into the quarterback, put pressure on him. He threw it and it came right to my hands, right in my bread basket.”

After the Huskies’ first blemish – James McAlary scored on a 25-yard throw from Liam Grieb to get Mansquan within 16-6 with 8:26 left in the third – the defense got right back on track. The Warriors went for two in an attempt to make it a one-possession game, but Shawn Ramcheran made a desperation play in the corner of the end zone to knock Grieb’s pass out of the hands of Tanner Cowley and preserve Matawan’s 10-point advantage.

Junior cornerback DeJohn Rogers put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter. Rogers hit Grieb as he dropped back in the pocket, jarred the ball loose, caught the fumble before it hit the ground and took it back 10 yards for the score.

“We take great pride in playing defense,” Kaye said. “We walked into the room the other day and we wrote ‘370 yards rushing,’ on the board. And on the bottom it said ‘Never again.’ Those guys take great pride, our coaches and our players. We said that wasn’t going to happen to us again and we answered the bell today.”

With just one week remaining in the regular season, the win essentially locked up a Central Jersey Group III playoff berth for the Huskies (4-4, 4-2), who entered the weekend ranked fourth in the section in power points.

“It feels great,” Phillip said. “Last year we were 7-3 and we didn’t make the playoffs. I know we struggled, we’re 4-4, but we got in and we’re going to make some noise out there.”

And for Kaye, it was a therapeutic ending to an otherwise tragic week.

“For us to get back to where we aim to go in a time of adversity,” Kaye said, “when real adversity struck our family, it’s just a great sign of character by our players, our coaches, our administration, our school – everybody who stepped up.”

Meanwhile, Manasquan’s (3-4, 2-3) entered the week ranked sixth in South Jersey Group III, so Friday night’s loss leaves them looking to try to improve their seed in the postseason when they face undefeated St. John Vianney on Nov. 8.

Matawan 23, Manasquan 6

.                                 Man            Mat

First downs                4                  11

Rushes-yards          21-(-7)          27-65

Passing                    8-24-1          12-25-0

Passing yards            126              192

Fumbles-lost             2-1              5-1

Penalties                  1-10             7-81

Manasquan (3-4, 2-3)  0  0  6  0 – 40

Matawan (4-4, 4-2) 3  6  7  7 – 28

Scoring summary

Mat: Elliot 29-yard FG.

Mat: Elliot 25-yard FG.

Mat: Elliot 34-yard FG.

Mat: Phillip 35-yard interception return (Elliot kick).

Man: McAlary 25-yard pass from Grieb (pass failed).

Rogers 10-yard fumble return (Elliot kick).

Individual statistics

Rushing – Man: McAlary 11-23, Morris 2-4, Meyer 3-2, Grieb 5-(-36). Mat: Spann 11-45, Caesar 6-21, Midtlyng 5-11, Pearson 5-(-12).

Passing – Man: Grieb 8-24-1 126. Mat: Pearson 12-25-0 192.

Receiving – Man: Cowley 3-71, McAlary 4-35, Carrithers 1-20. Mat: Ferrara 2-63, Rogers 2-69, Ramcheran 3-27, Midtlyng 2-19, Pierce 1-8, Caesar 1-3.

Interceptions – Mat: Phillip 1-35, Ferrara 1-28.