Photo gallery by Ray Richardson

BRICK TOWNSHIP — No team had been able to find a sliver of success against Brick’s defense heading into Week Eight, but that did nothing to dissuade Toms River North from setting out to prove a point.

“From the get-go we knew what we were going to do, and that was run the ball down the throats of their defense,” said Toms River North senior offensive lineman Luke Butera.

It was a bold statement for sure against the third-ranked Green Dragons’ Shore Conference-leading defense, but one the Mariners backed up in a major way. Butera and company dominated the battle in the trenches against Brick’s formidable front, paving the way for 381 yards rushing on 56 carries that led Toms River North, ranked No. 7 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, to a 26-14 Shore Conference Class A South win over previously undefeated Brick on Friday night at Keller Memorial Field.

Senior running back Asante Moorer ran for a game-high 182 yards on 27 carries and scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns that snapped a 14-all tie. Junior quarterback Mike Husni added 118 yards rushing and a touchdown on 22 carries, and sophomore running back Daryn Blackwell had a rushing touchdown as the Mariners won their sixth straight game and clinched at least a tie for the division title.

“It’s a huge win,” Moorer said. “It was a personal battle we just had, and it feels great to beat a team you wanted to beat your whole life.”

Brick’s defense entered the game with five shutouts and conference-best 20 points allowed all season. No team had even scored on the Dragons (7-1, 5-1) in the first half, but the Mariners changed that in a big way by taking a 14-0 lead in the first half and piling up over 200 yards rushing at halftime. Toms River North beat Brick at its own game of physical football to continue its surge.

“That’s a great defense over there and everybody knows it,” said Toms River North head coach Dave Oizerowitz. “What we did tonight was special.”

Brick scored both of its touchdowns off passes from senior quarterback Tom Zbranak to junior wide receiver Ja’Sir Taylor. Zbranak tossed a 77-yard strike to Taylor in the second quarter and the two connected on a 38-yard touchdown in the third quarter. The Mariners defense kept Brick in check otherwise, allowing just 81 yards rushing on 27 carries.

“We came in here believing we were the better football team at this point and would win the game as long as we didn’t have penalties and shoot ourselves in the foot,” Oizerowitz said. “The sky is the limit for these guys.”

Toms River North senior running back Asante Moorer. (Photo by Ray Richardson).

The Mariners’ confidence was evident on the first play of the game when Moorer ran for 15 yards and a first down, and two plays later he found room on another 15-yard run to move the ball into Brick territory. The Dragons’ defense would buckle down to force a punt, but the Mariners showed they were not intimidated or overmatched against Brick’s formidable run defense.

“I think we set the tone the first few times we had the football,” Oizerowitz said. “We were knocking them off the football and Asante is a load. He gets the the second level and he’s 220 pounds and all muscle, ad he’s a nasty, mean runner.”

“It always starts with your first run, you get your feel,” Moorer said. “But even though I got the 15 yards I still had to come with that on the next run and all the ones after that.”

Toms River North’s defense forced Brick to go three-and-out on its first possession,and took over at the Brick 38 after a short punt. On the third play of the drive, Blackwell took a handoff and found daylight on the left side, barreling through a tackle at the goal line for a 32-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Mariners lead.

“They started overplaying Asante and Blackwell is a guy we have a lot of faith in,” Oizerowitz said. “He’s already a special one.”

Another three-and-out forced by the Mariners’ defense set up Toms River North for its second scoring drive. Runs of 26 and 32 yards by Moorer moved the ball inside the Brick 20 and a 14-yard run by Husni gave the Mariners first-and-goal. On third down, Husni stretched across the goal line from three yards out to cap a 70-yard drive and give the Mariners and 14-0 lead at a stunned Keller Memorial Field.

Brick would find an answer quickly, however, when Zbranak scrambled out of the pocket on a broken play and dropped a pass perfectly into the arms of a streaking Taylor, and the speedster did the rest in racing down the visiting sideline for a 77-yard to touchdown to cut Brick’s deficit in half.

The teams would combine for just four first downs in the final 11:30 of the first half, and the Mariners took a 14-7 lead into halftime. Brick used its adjustments at the break to come out and tie the score on its opening drive of the third quarter to tie the score at 14. Starting from their own 36, the Dragons marched 64 yards in seven plays, scoring on a 38-yard touchdown pass from Zbranak to Taylor.

After the teams traded three-and-outs, Toms River North got the ball back for the first of its two huge second-half scoring drives. Starting from their own 32 with 5:55 left in the third quarter, the Mariners moved 68 yards in 13 plays to take a 20-14 lead early in the fourth quarter. A fake punt that was converted by Blackwell on a run extended the drive near midfield, and a pair of third down conversions through the air set up Moorer for a 9-yard score.

After forcing Brick to punt, Toms River North got the ball back at its own 5-yard line for what would be its signature drive. The Mariners went 95 yards in 13 plays, getting a 38-yard run from Husni to move the ball to the Brick 26 and an 11-yard run to put the ball at the 3-yard line. Moorer polished off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run for a 26-14 lead with 2:45 to play.

“We knew we were going to score there,” Butera said. “That’s our mentality on every drive.”

Brick would drive to the Toms River North 15-yard line, but an interception by Husni sealed the Mariners biggest win in several years. Since a 1-9 season in 2013, this Mariners group has grown to become a division champion and a state title contender. Their skill play is well-known, they they showed a physical, punishing style on Friday night.

“It’s a very big deal,” Oizerowitz said. “Our kids believed we were physically going to push them off the football. That was our gameplan, to run the football right at them with a variety of window dressings and formations. Usually when we play a physical football team it takes us a quarter and half to start to see some fatigue, but we were knocking at the door right away.”

“To come out here and be as physical as possible and come out on top, it’s a great feeling,” Moorer said. “It just feels great to put your all into it and come out with the win.”

 

Box Score

No. 7 Toms River North 26, No. 3 Brick 14

Toms River North Brick
First downs 19 10
Rushes-yards 56-381 27-81
Passing 3-9-0 6-15-1
Passing yards 33 158
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-yards 6-55 4-40d

 

Toms River North (7-1, 6-1) 7 7 0 12 – 26

Brick (7-1, 5-1) 0 7 7 0 – 14

 

Scoring summary

TRN – Daryn Blackwell 32-yard run (Kyle Bayha kick)

TRN – Mike Husni 3-yard run (Kyle Bayha kick)

B – Tom Zbranak 77-yard pass to Ja'Sir Taylor (Javion Harris kick)

B – Tom Zbranak 38-yard pass to Ja'Sir Taylor (Javion Harris kick)

TRN – Asante Moorer 9-yard run (kick failed)

TRN – Asante Moorer 1-yard run (pass failed)

 

Individual statistics

Rushing – TRN: Asante Moorer 27-182, Mike Husni 22-118, Daryn Blackwell 6-58, Bryce Watts 1-23; B: Ja'Sir Taylor 10-50, Jay Obenauer 12-43, Tom Zbranak 5-(-12).

Passing – TRN: Mike Husni 3-9-0 33; B: Tom Zbranak 6-15-1 158.

Receiving – TRN: Bryce Watts 2-22, Asante Moorer 1-11; B: Ja'Sir Taylor 4-140, Matt Schliefer 2-18.

Interceptions – TRN: Mike Husni 1-18.