An all-time performance from Freehold’s Ashante Worthy, a thrilling road victory by Howell, a gutsy win by Manasquan and Toms River North surviving a scare highlighted Week 10 action in the Shore Conference as the NJSIAA playoffs began with quarterfinal games.

The biggest storyline of the weekend was Worthy, a junior quarterback for Freehold, obliterating the record book by rushing for a Shore Conference-record 465 yards and 8 touchdowns on 43 carries while also throwing for 71 yards and 2 touchdowns to power the Colonials to a 69-56 win over Pennsauken in the first round of the Central Jersey Group IV playoffs.

Freehold quarterback Ashante Worthy broke multiple records with a historic performance. (Photo by Bill Normile).

Worthy scored on touchdown runs of 10, 14, 1, 53, 15, 30, 24 and 53 yards while throwing a 14-yard touchdown to Ahlonte Hair and a 46-yard touchdown to Markee Gill. Worthy had four touchdowns in the first quarter and seven by halftime.

His 465 yards smashed the previous record of 425 set by Manalapan running back John Sieczkowski against Howell in 2011. In that game Sieczkowski broke the mark of 420 set by former Middletown South, University of Georgia and Denver Broncos/ Miami Dolphins star Knowshon Moreno. Worthy’s eight rushing touchdowns are a Shore Conference record, and his 10 combined touchdowns are also assumed to be a record. He also set a state record for rushing yards in a game by a quarterback, surpassing the mark of 405 set by Old Tappan’s Devin Fuller in a 2010 game vs. Paramus, according to Chuck Langerman of South Jersey Football Magazine. Fuller starred for UCLA and is now a member of the Atlanta Falcons. Worthy's eight touchdowns on the ground are second in state history behind the nine touchdowns from Netcong's John Giannantonio in 1950 and Hoboken's Dwayne Peterson in 1989. The state record for rushing yards in a game is also owned by Giannantonio, a mind-boggling 754 in the same game, according to MSG Varsity’s Mike Kinney.

The 125 combined points put up by Freehold and Pennsauken made it the highest scoring playoff game in NJSIAA history, surpassing the 119 points set by Old Tappan and Paramus in 2010.

Worthy was already having a ridiculous year with over 2,000 yards of combined offense, two 300-yard rushing games and two games where he had seven combined touchdowns, but Saturday’s game took him to a level not previously reached in the history of the Shore Conference.

What aided Worthy breaking the record was the fact that Pennsauken kept scoring. Most huge statistical performances come in blowouts, so the chance for mega stats usually ends because of a running clock or the starters being pulled. Freehold needed every single yard and touchdown because Pennsauken running back Marvin Booker nearly equaled Worthy by rushing for 376 yards and eight touchdowns. The two combined for run for 841(!) yards and 16(!!) touchdowns. This is the pantheon of statistical performances across the board. It’s like a Madden game on rookie with 15 minute quarters come to life, and we’ll all be talking about it for a very long time.

Worthy was a candidate for an first-team All-Shore spot coming into the season and has certainly locked that up by now. He is also now in the running for Offensive Player of the Year, an award that seemed like a lock for Toms River North quarterback Mike Husni but now has Worthy and Jackson Memorial running back Mike Gawlik in the mix.

Even more remarkable is the fact that Worthy started the year at running back, which is where he had played throughout his high school career. He told Freehold head coach Dave Ellis he had had not played quarterback since his youth football days. The Colonials began the season 0-3 before moving Worthy to quarterback, and ran the triple-option that game in a 14-0 loss to Manalapan to fall to 0-4. With the season on the brink of slipping away with one more loss, the Colonials went to a shotgun, spread offense, and since then Worthy has been unstoppable. He has led Freehold to six straight wins and its first appearance in a sectional semifinal since winning the Central Jersey Group III title in 2010. He has 38 total touchdowns on the season, 36 of which have come in the last six games. He has rushed for 1,881 yards and 28 touchdowns and thrown for 732 yards and eight touchdowns. He now has 3,334 rushing yards for his career.

The Shore Conference record for total touchdowns in a season is 44 by Mater Dei Prep quarterback Christian Palmer in 2014. Conventional wisdom would say Freehold would need to reach the Central Jersey Group IV title game for Worthy to have a chance to break that, but considering he is averaging six touchdowns a game over the last six games, who knows.

The task of trying to stop - or at least slow down - Worthy in the semifinals falls on top-seeded Brick. The Dragons have the best defense and are the best team Freehold has faced since the loss to Manalapan, so the Colonials will have their work cut out for them. Brick has also seen arguably the Shore’s three best offensive players outside of Worthy - Husni, Gawlik and Central running back Mike Bickford - so it’s nothing new for the Dragons’ defensive coaching staff and players to try to stop a superstar. It all goes down Friday night at Brick’s Keller Memorial Field.

Seven Years in the Making

Howell’s first playoff appearance and win in the last seven years was a memorable one thanks to an 18-yard field goal with 21 seconds left by junior Pat Handy that delivered a dramatic 29-27 win over Vineland in the South Jersey Group V playoffs.

 

Shore Sports Network’s own Bob Badders drove approximately 800 miles into the depths of South Jersey to take in the best first-round game involving Shore Conference teams, and it was certainly worth the trip. The fifth-seeded Rebels were facing a Vineland team that was making just its seventh playoff appearance in its long program history and going for its first ever postseason win. The Fighting Clan led 27-19 early in the second half, but the Rebels stormed back to earn the win and spoil the party.

Handy’s game-winning field goal was sweet redemption after he had missed a pair of extra points and dropped a pass that would have almost certainly gone for a 70-yard touchdown. He admitted he was down in the dumps for most of the second half and could only hope he would get a chance at vindication. He did, and he drilled the chip-shot field goal to send the Rebels into the semifinals.

This was also the breakthrough performance for Howell junior quarterback Eddie Morales and junior wide receiver Naz Brantley. Both have had big games already this season and Morales also played quarterback a bit last season, but to come through the way they did in a road playoff game proves they have what it takes to win a big game. Morales threw for 278 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for a touchdown, while Brantley caught 10 passes for 116 yards and a score. Vineland is a physical team with several explosive players, but had no answer on defense for Howell’s up-tempo, run-pass option offense piloted by Morales.

Howell now gets a second crack at the Shore’s No. 1 team, top-seeded Toms River North, on Friday night at Gernard Field. The Mariners were far from their normal invincible selves in surviving a scare from Atlantic City with a 27-20 win, however, so the Rebels can go in feeling they have a shot to pull the upset. The two teams met in the regular season with Toms River North winning 58-33.

The Boys of Broad Street are Back

Manasquan’s resurgent season continued on Saturday afternoon with a vintage 33-29 comeback victory over A.L. Johnson in the Central Jersey Group II quarterfinals for its first playoff win since 2013.

The best compliment to pay Manasquan is to say it looks like it usually does, and that is a hard-nosed, championship-contending squad that plays with toughness, heart and pride. The Warriors rallied from a pair of two-score deficits in the second half to advance to play undefeated Roselle in the semifinals.

Senior Damaso Jaime exemplified everything Manasquan stands for by returning from what looked to be a serious ankle injury to deliver three huge plays that keyed the win. He went down on a kickoff return early in the second half, but returned later in the third quarter to haul in a 31-yard reception on fourth down that led to a touchdown. He then had a dazzling 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and caught a 32-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jerry Maher that provided the winning points.

Human battering ram Connor Morgan ran for 128 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries and Maher made some huge throws, including a 10-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Adam Schreck plus the two clutch passes to Jaime.

Manasquan’s defense had trouble with Johnson’s triple-option offense for most of the afternoon, but when the Warriors needed stops they got them. The Crusaders were gaining an edge by waiting for Manasquan’s defense to line up, then looking over to the sideline for a new play. To counter, Manasquan’s coaching staff gave the defense the ability to make its own calls and audible out with senior middle linebacker Jack Mallett taking the reigns. On Johnson’s final two drives of the game Manasquan forced a three-and-out and then used an interception by senior defensive back Peter Mills to effectively clinch the game. In the biggest of moments Manasquan’s coaches put it all on the players and they delivered, and that says a lot about the group.

In its semifinal game against Roselle this coming Saturday, Manasquan’s defense will face by far its biggest test of the season. The Rams are 9-0 and have been an offensive juggernaut in averaging a state-high 53.4 points per game in eight games (one win was a forfeit over Dayton). They demolished Harrison 69-26 in the first round. However against its two best opponents, Bernards and Johnson, Roselle allowed 54 and 41 points, respectively, so its defense is a bit suspect. Manasquan has also played far tougher of a schedule, so that should be a factor.

Surviving the Game

Top-ranked and top-seeded Toms River North nearly didn’t make it out of the first round of the South Jersey Group V playoffs on Friday night, needing a late touchdown run from Parker Day to hold off eighth-seeded Atlantic City, 27-20.

Everyone around the Shore was in shock when the Twitter feeds and text messages began announcing the Mariners were down 6-0 at halftime. Toms River North entered averaging 48 points per game and had not been tested like this all season, so give credit to Atlantic City. Still, the Mariners were able to eke out the win and advance. There are no style points this time of year, so they will put that game in their rearview mirror and concentrate on getting two more wins to defend their sectional title.

To do that the Mariners will have to beat Howell for the second time this season. The Rebels enter with their confidence through the roof after a 29-27 comeback win over a 7-1 Vineland team on the road. The Mariners won the first meeting 58-33, so Howell still has plenty of work to do to close the gap.

The Moment of Truth

Mater Dei Prep crushed yet another opponent in beating St. Anthony 51-8  on Saturday in the first round of the Non-Public Group II playoffs to improve to 10-0 for the first time in school history.

Outside of a win over Keyport that put the Seraphs in the driver’s seat to eventually clinch the program’s first division title, they haven’t been talked about much this season. That’s mainly because they haven’t played another top 10 team and have wrecked all of their opponents by an average of 35.8 points per game. Mater Dei has four shutouts this season and has effectively had each game decided by halftime.

That will change this Saturday when the Seraphs host the biggest game in program history against St. Joseph (Hammonton). The Wildcats have won six straight sectional titles in either Non-Public Group I or II (the sections were combined starting in 2015) and have an astounding 25 state titles altogether. They have also played a much more difficult schedule with games against St. Augustine, Cedar Creek, Allentown and Holy Spirit.

This is the game that will tell us if Mater Dei is a championship team or a year away. They have reached new heights under first-year head coach Dino Mangiero, but it’s not a surprise considering the talent and the fact Mangiero built a powerhouse program at Brooklyn's Poly Prep. Junior quarterback George Pearson is among the best in the Shore, and he and senior wide out Eddie Lewis and senior linebacker Marvin Pierre are FBS-caliber players. If they can take down the Wildcats they will still likely have to contend with a very good Holy Spirit team in the final, but would be the favorite to win the first sectional title in program history.

Quick Hits

—Jackson Memorial senior running back Mike Gawlik continues to detonate defenses as he ran for 220 yards and 3 touchdowns on 22 carries to lead the sixth-seeded Jaguars to a 39-6 win over Nottingham in the first round of the Central Jersey Group IV playoffs. He now has 2,023 yards rushing and 25 total touchdowns this season. If the two-time defending champion Jaguars can reach the final Gawlik has an outside shot to break the Shore Conference single-season rushing record of 2,589 set by Long Branch’s Dahmiere Willis in 2014. Gawlik, who is second in the state in rushing behind New Milford’s Christian Correa (2,053), would need to average 283 yards per game to set a new record. He does have two 300-yard games this season, so it’s not out of the question. The state record is 2,605 by Hoboken’s Tyrell Dortch in 1999.

—Wall’s offensive line bulldozed Camden in the Crimson Knights’ 35-0 win in the first round of the South Jersey Group III playoffs to pave the way for 402 yards rushing. Senior running back Sean Larkin led the way with 229 yards and 3 touchdowns on 25 carries. The Crimson Knights will host fifth-seeded Hamilton on Friday night where they will try to reach their first state final since 2004.

—Top-seeded Manalapan cruised past New Brunswick 49-0 in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group V playoffs where junior tailback Naim Mayfield had a crazy game with 274 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns on just 11 carries to average 24.9 yards per carry. This all came in the first half as the Braves were up big and pulled their starters. Paced out over four quarters that would be 548 yards and 8 touchdowns on 22 carries. The Braves continue their quest for the program’s first 12-0 season and second state title when they host fifth-seeded South Brunswick on Friday night.

—Middletown North senior wide receiver Brendan Kube has quietly put together another monster season. After leading the Shore in receptions (63) and yards (1,066) last season, Kube has 40 catches for 808 yards and eight touchdowns this year. He pulled down five passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in the Lions’ 33-14 win over Woodbridge to open the North 2, Group IV playoffs. Middletown North hosts Summit on Friday night where it will try to reach its first state final since winning the Central Jersey Group IV crown in 1996.

—The Central Jersey Group I playoffs have officially become the Class B Central tournament with Shore, Point Beach, Keyport and Asbury Park the final four teams left standing. Keyport should be considered the favorite since it has wins over the other three semifinalists, but since every game between the four teams was close it should be a tight battle to take home the state title. Keyport has the longest title drought of the four with its last championship coming in 2002, while Shore is the two-time defending champion. Point Beach won its first and only title in 2013, while Asbury Park won three in a row from 2007-2009.

 

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