Story and video by Scott Clayton - Shore Sports Network contributor

BARNEGAT – Sophomore running back Mike Bickford rushed for two touchdowns 61 seconds apart in the fourth quarter to lead Central to one of the most surprising results of the young Shore Conference football season, a 21-15 win on the road over Barnegat, the defending Class B South champion and No. 5 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, on Friday night.

Bickford’s first score from 5 yards out brought the Golden Eagles (1-1, 1-1) to within two points at 15-13 with 2:48 to play, but he was stuffed at the line on a conversion attempt that would have tied the game. After senior Jordan Hardy recovered an onside kick at the Barnegat 46, Bickford was back in the end zone four plays later, this time from 21 yards out.

“I knew it was a big game, and it was important,” said Bickford, who rushed for 120 yards, 105 in the second half. “I was excited. I knew there were going to be some scouts here with three (Division)-one kids going.”

Barnegat appeared to be the class of the division heading into the season, both on the strength of its recent history and individual talent. Wide receiver/linebacker Manny Bowen (Penn State) and two-way lineman Sam Madden (Wisconsin) are both Big 10 commits, while quarterback Cinjun Erskine will continue his playing career for FCS program Bucknell. While all three flashed some standout moments Friday, including a 41-yard Erskine-to-Bowen touchdown strike in the second quarter, they could not overcome a determined second-half effort by Central.

“If you want to model your program after somebody, it’s what (Barnegat head coach) Rob Davis has been doing,” Central coach Willie Jacobs said. “Their kids are awesome kids. They are aggressive, and they’re big.”

Coming out of halftime down 9-0, it was Central that played the role of the aggressor. Bickford carried the ball nine times on a 13-play, 64-yard drive that was capped when junior quarterback Michael Miserendino kept the ball and scooted around the left end for a 12-yard touchdown, trimming the deficit to 9-7. On the Golden Eagles’ next drive, however, Barnegat senior Ricky Gerena picked off Miserendino and returned the ball to the Central 26-yard line.

When Erskine found junior Josh Bowen, Manny’s brother, in the right corner of the end zone for a 15-yard score four plays later, Barnegat appeared to have the game back in its control. However, Brandon Vuono blocked the second extra point of the night for Central, keeping the Eagles within a score at 15-7. Bickford’s 5-yard score then capped the ensuing 11-play, 62-yard drive.

“We missed on two extra points, which was huge,” said Davis. “They did an outstanding job preparing their guys, and they outcoached us. This loss stuns me. I’m not going to make any excuses. They outcoached me, but we’ll bounce back. We’ve been 0-2 before and came back and went pretty deep into playoffs.”

Barnegat managed two more opportunities in Central territory in the final two minutes. One possession ended with Central junior Matthew Aires making an outstanding one-handed interception on the Eagles’ 25.

“The ball was sailing over the receiver’s head and I knew I had to do something,” Aires said. “That ball just stuck to my hand, and I tried to bring it in and held it as tight as I can.”

After a three-and-out and a punt by Central, Barnegat gained 29 yards on a strike on the left sideline from Erskine to Manny Bowen. The home crowd was temporarily whipped into a frenzy when Erskine connected with Gerena in the end zone on the next play with just nine ticks left on the clock, but an illegal shift penalty negated the play and helped Central seal the win.

“We knew we had a chance if our kids believed, and our kids believed tonight,” Jacobs said. “I knew we had a shot in the second half. Did I know it would go like this? No, I’m still dreaming.”

“We’re just rolling,” said Central’s emotional leader, senior linebacker/center Liam Christensen. “This is only the beginning.”

Box score

Central 21, Barnegat 15

Central (1-1, 1-1)      0          0          7          14        -           21

Barnegat (1-1, 1-1)   0          9          0          6          -           15

 

Scoring summary

B – Lustenberger 24-yard field goal.

B – M. Bowen 41-yard pass from Erskine (kick blocked).

C – Miserendino 12-yard run (Quick kick).

B – J. Bowen 15-yard pass from Erskine (kick blocked).

C – Bickford 5-yard run (run failed).

C – Bickford 21-yard run (Arneth pass from Miserendino)

 

Team Stats                             Central                        Barnegat

First Downs                                14                                  7

Rushes Yards                         43-199                          22-57

Passing                                   4-11-1                          4-13-2

Passing Yards                            55                                112

Fumbles-Rec                              0-0                                0-0

Punting                                     4-32.8                            2-37

 

Individual Stats

Rushing: (C): Bickford 28-120, Leone 10-46, Miserendino 5-33; (B) McGuinness 12-43, Erskine 8-16, Wickwire 2-(-2).

Passing: (C): Miserendino 4-11 55 yards, 1 int; (B): Erskine 4-13 112 yards 2 ints.

Receiving: (C): Yager 2-26, Hardy 1-21, Arneth 1-8; (B): M. Bowen 2-70, J. Bowen 2-42.

Interceptions: (C): Hardy 1-0, Aires 1-0; (B) Gerena 1-36.