MIDDLETOWN — There was no doubt that the Neptune team that came into “The Swamp” for Friday night’s NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV semifinal game was much different than the one Middletown South saw two months ago. None of that seemed to matter, however, against a defense that continues to swallow opposing offenses whole.

The Eagles’ stingy unit stifled Neptune’s offense yet again, holding the Scarlet Fliers to 71 total yards to key a 27-3 victory that has Middletown South playing for a sectional title for the 20th time in program history. Junior running back Cole Rogers ran for 149 yards and two touchdowns and senior Joe Timmins turned the tide with a kickoff return touchdown just before halftime as the Eagles beat the Scarlet Fliers for the 10th straight time.

“The defense has been great all year,” said Middletown South head coach Steve Antonucci. “These kids just have a knack for playing big. We have some solid kids that run around and have a good time, and with Al (defensive coordinator Al Bigos) behind the scheme if you buy into it and play the way we ask you to play, you’re going to win football games.”

“It’s just a great group of guys that want to go out and hit people and have fun,” said junior linebacker Dylan Rogers.

Junior quarterback/kicker Matt Mosquera kicked field goals of 30 and 25 yard to give him a school-record 11 this season, and that was enough for a defense that held Neptune to minus-4 yards and zero first downs in the second half. The Eagles will play third-seeded Jackson Memorial in the finals at a neutral site on the weekend of Dec. 6-7 in search of their first state title since 2006 and their 10th in school history.

“It’s the best thing ever,” Rogers said. “That game is like nothing else you’ll ever play in in your life. It’s something special.”

In the teams’ first meeting, Middletown South blanked Neptune, 41-0, on September 19. Since then the Scarlet Fliers added quarterback Royal Moore to their lineup and got a few more pieces back to spearhead a six-game winning streak. During the run it was the Scarlet Fliers’ defense that set the tone, and they came out equalling the Eagles over the game’s first 24 minutes.

Field position was in favor of Middletown South all night, and the Eagles turned a short field into the game’s first points when Mosquera’s 30-yard field goal with 2:31 left in the opening quarter capped a six-play, 38-yard drive.

An interception by junior Marcque Ellington at Neptune’s 25-yard line set the table for a 13-play, 55-yard drive that chewed up 7:11 in the second quarter. Senior Hunter Daly banged through a 35-yard field goal that pulled Neptune even at 3-3 with 1:02 left in the half.

Just when Neptune had built some momentum, however, Middletown South’s special teams unit snatched it right back. Timmins fielded the ensuing kickoff at his own eight-yard line and returned it 92 yards for a touchdown to give the Eagles a 10-3 lead at the break, and that spark carried over to the second half, where they put the game away.

“That was the backbreaker,” Antonucci said. “They’ve got some momentum and we go 92 yards on a kickoff return, and it changed the whole game, really. We went into the half confident knowing we were getting the ball to start the second half.”

“That was the best possible thing we could have got,” Rogers said. “It got everyone pumped up going into the half and brought them down.”

Middletown South’s defense gave its offense another short field to work with on its second drive of the third quarter, and Mosquera converted the opportunity with a 25-yard field goal for a 13-3 lead with 6:20 left in the third. Of Middletown South’s 10 possessions, three of them started in Neptune territory and just three had the Eagles start more than 60 yards from the end zone.

Rogers had just 27 yards rushing at halftime, but started to get going in the second half and scored on a one-yard run to cap a seven-play, 37-yard drive late in the third quarter that pushed Middletown South’s lead to 20-3.

All the while, Middletown South’s defense kept Neptune in check, and that started with containing Moore. The Neptune senior quarterback’s dual-threat ability was the foremost challenge for Middletown South’s defense, and the unit did a phenomenal job in holding him to minus-3 rushing yards on 18 carries and 19 yards on 4-of-15 passing while also intercepting him once. The Eagles sacked Moore five times and dropped him for a loss five other times. Rogers led the way with 2 1/2 sacks while senior defensive end Pat Crowe had 1 1/2 sacks and senior defensive end Dan Servidio had another.

“They got their quarterback back and he can make things happen with his feet,” Rogers said. “Against him, we just wanted to hit him. We just wanted to play football.”

“Northern Burlington was the same kind of animal so the gameplans were a bit similar,” Antonucci said. “We had to contain the quarterback and not let him beat us with his feet, and I thought we did a great job of that tonight because he can flat-out run.”

Ironically, Middletown South’s best drive of the game ended without points when, after moving from their own 33 down to the Neptune 17, the Eagles turned it over on downs when Mosquera’s pass on fourth-and-four fell incomplete. Cole Rogers intercepted Moore on the next play, however, and then took a handoff 45 yards to the house for a 27-3 lead with 5:40 to play, cementing the Eagles’ 11th trip to a sectional final in the last 14 years and first since 2012.

Since a 36-24 loss to South Brunswick, which is undefeated and will play Manalapan for the Central Jersey Group V title, Middletown South has won seven of eight with a school-record six shutouts. The 24 points the Eagles scored is the most any team has put on the Vikings this season. Knowing what kind of team they were up against that day, they felt confident moving forward they could get to another state final in a rugged bracket.

“I thought when we left that game we played well enough to win, honestly,” Antonucci said. “We hung in and had an opportunity to make an impact. Now we're back playing for a title, and I’m excited for our kids and excited for the opportunity."


Box Score

1-Middletown South 27, 4-Neptune 3


Neptune Middletown South
First downs 6 12
Rushes-yards 30-52 30-193
Passing 4-15-1 7-15-1
Passing yards 19 77
Fumbles-lost 4-0 1-0
Penalties-yards 7-60 8-60


Neptune (7-3)                0 3  0 0 –  0

Middletown South (8-2) 3 7 10 7 – 27


Scoring summary

MS – Matt Mosquera 30-yard field goal

N – Hunter Daly 35-yard field goal

MS – Joe Timmins 92-yard kickoff return (Matt Mosquera kick)

MS – Matt Mosquera 25-yard field goal

MS – Cole Rogers 1-yard run (Matt Mosquera kick)

MS – Cole Rogers 45-yard run (Matt Mosquera kick)


Individual statistics

Rushing – N: Jaree Parrish 9-35, Savior King 3-20, Royal Moore 18-(-3); MS: Cole Rogers 20-149, A.J. Leandro 1-17, Samson Dube 3-16, Matt Mosquera 4-6, James McCarthy 1-3, Spencer Pereless 1-2.

Passing – N: Royal Moore 4-15-1 19; MS: Matt Mosquera 7-15-1 77.

Receiving – N: Isaiah Calhoun 2-13, O'Shane Curate 2-6; MS: Brian Badrick 2-30, Pat Crowe 2-24, Spencer Pereless 1-15, A.J. Leandro 1-5, Joe Timmins 1-3.

Interceptions – N: Marcque Ellington 1-0; MS: Cole Rogers 1-0.