A pair of Top 10 clashes that lived up to their billing and another round of impressive rushing performances highlighted Week Four in Shore Conference football.

The headliner was No. 1 Middletown South, which fought off an upset bid by No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven, to pull out a 14-13 nondivisional win at "The Swamp" in a game between defending state champions.

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The Eagles held a team that had outscored its first two opponents 90-0 to 179 total yards thanks to a defense led by junior linebacker/defensive end Jake Krellin, who had 14 tackles, two for a loss, a big stop on fourth down and a pass break-up that sealed the win.

The Middletown South defense rose to the challenge against a tough Rumson-FH team. (Photo by Robert Samuels.)

Rumson's own defensive star, UMass-bound linebacker Mike Ruane, had 15 tackles, three for a loss, and a fumble recovery as the teams slugged it out in the rain. A missed extra point in difficult conditions turned out to be the difference, but both teams had chances that their respective tough defenses snuffed out.

Surely the play that was most talked about after the game was Middletown South getting a stop on fourth down at their own 34-yard line with under 30 seconds to go. It's one of those "you make the call" plays, but you could certainly argue it was pass interference with contact before the ball got there. That would've potentially been a huge penalty by giving Rumson a crack at going for the end zone or a game-winning field goal.

In the end, Middletown South gutted out another tough win in a schedule that features one tough opponent after another. The Eagles' ability to take deep shots downfield with quarterback Aneesh Agrawal is that extra wrinkle that makes them tough to defend. Agrawal connected on a 61-yard strike to Jeremy Joyce that proved to be the difference after the second extra point kick of the game by Chris Kaldrovics.

If they can go 12-0 this year, it would be one of the more impressive undefeated seasons by any Shore team in recent memory given the teams they will have to beat. Their remaining regular-season slate includes top 10 teams St. John Vianney, Wall, Middletown North and the big one, No. 2 Toms River North, which continues to detonate every team in sight with its offense.

Rumson showed by going toe-to-toe with the Eagles that the Bulldogs look like a solid bet to make it four straight state titles in December. Their game on Oct. 14 at Borden Stadium against St. John Vianney, which looks to decide the Class A Central title, should be a doozy.

Doing it with Defense

Speaking of the Lancers, St. John Vianney showed that it has a championship-level defense to go with its array of standouts on offense in a 22-14 overtime win against Brick in a nondivisional match-up of Top 10 teams.

The Lancers were a mess on offense in the wet weather, turning the ball over six times, including two fumbles that led to first-half touchdowns by Brick and another one out of the back of the end zone that cost them a touchdown.

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The defense came to the rescue, shutting Brick out in the second half and overtime and not allowing a first down after halftime. Linebacker Johnny Buchanan was outstanding with 13 tackles, including 3 for a loss, to lead the way along with Josiah Walker, who had 11 tackles, and Rutgers recruit Micah Clark, who finished with 9 tackles on the defensive line. Alex Calabro also had a strong night with 8 tackles, 2 for a loss, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

St. John Vianney's Johnny Buchanan led a tough defensive effort that brought home a win on the road against Brick.

The defense held the fort long enough to push the game to overtime, where Chris Chukweneke's touchdown run proved to be the difference.

The Lancers face winless Holmdel this week and then have the defining stretch of their season with games against Rumson, Red Bank Catholic and Middletown South. That is basically a path toward making a serious argument to be No. 1 in the Shore if they can run that gauntlet.

Defense was definitely a theme of the weekend as seven Shore Conference teams posted shutouts. Also, Freehold Township is 4-0 for the first time since 1980 largely due to a defense that held down Neptune in a 10-6 win on a night where the Patriots' pass-happy spread offense had to deal with torrential rain. Freehold Township forced three turnovers that helped them seal the win.

Running wild

I thought in this era of spread offenses and aerial football that the running game was dying a slow death?

Yeah, not so much in the Shore Conference. Week after week, running backs are posting some big numbers, occasionally in record-setting fashion.

Jackson Memorial senior Mike Gawlik already became the Jaguars' all-time leading rusher this season, and now he has the single-game school record after exploding for 320 yards and three touchdowns in a 26-8 win over Toms River South.

Another week, another record-setting performance by Jackson Memorial running back Mike Gawlik. (Photo by Mark Brown/B51 Photography.)

Gawlik joins Matawan's Derrick Wiley and Marlboro's Cameron Caorsi as players who have set their program's single-game rushing record so far this season.

Colts Neck's Carmen Catena had a career day of his own to help the Cougars get their first win by beating Marlboro, putting up 234 yards rushing and three touchdowns.

Toms River North continues to explode scoreboards and a big reason is senior Parker Day, who had 200 yards rushing and three touchdowns in a 58-33 win over Howell. I'm not sure what the Shore Conference record is for the highest points-per-game average by a team in a season, but the Mariners have to be in the vicinity.

Toms River North senior running back Parker Day put up 200 yards on the ground as the Mariners' offense continues to be unstoppable. (Photo by Ray Richardson).

Obviously the games will get harder as the season progresses and the Mariners embark on their run to defend their South Jersey Group V title, but they are averaging 50.3 points per game through four games.

Wall senior Sean Larkin continued his brilliant season with a career-high 268 yards and three touchdowns in a 20-point win over Long Branch. Connor Morgan put up a career-high 210 yards on the ground for Wall's Thanksgiving rival, Manasquan, in a 34-0 win over Barnegat.

Six other running backs or quarterbacks went over the 100-yard mark, including a Point Boro triple option attack that piled up 405 yards rushing in a 42-0 win over Monmouth behind quarterback James Fara.

Quick hits

---SSN's Ed Sarluca takes an early look at how the playoff picture is shaping up for Shore Conference teams, which you can check out here.

---Manalapan posted its third straight shutout in a 14-0 win over Freehold Boro. Sophomore linebacker Tommy Pearce is blossoming into the latest defensive star for the Braves. He finished with 16 tackles in the win.

---Senior running back Paul Reed turned in his second straight 100-yard rushing effort with 110 in a shutout win over Metuchen for Asbury Park.

---In his first full game at quarterback, RBC's Nick Brusca was outstanding with 137 yards rushing and three touchdowns in a win over Colonia.

---One of the more underrated backs in the Shore is Manchester's Jalen Glenn, who put up 160 yards and a touchdown as the Hawks doubled their win total from last season by beating Toms River East to improve to 2-2.

---Pinelands and Raritan picked up their first wins of the season with nondivisional victories. The Wildcats topped Keansburg 36-12 behind a combined four touchdowns by Dave Fairl and Evan Burton, while the Rockets rolled past Donovan Catholic 34-6 thanks to a pair of touchdown runs by Vito Aleo.

---Ocean running back Anthony Tedesco had a career-high 165 yards rushing and three touchdowns to help the Spartans end a three-game losing streak with a 27-0 win over Matawan. That's an encouraging sign for Ocean, which had struggled to run the ball in its three losses.

---At the rate he's going, Freehold Township kicker Tyler Schulman might be able to make a run at the single-season Shore Conference record for field goals. He already has five through four games after booting one in a win over Neptune. Former Middletown South star Matt Mosquera nailed 14 in 2014 to set the record.