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No Titles, But Hope for Shore Conference Teams

Saeed Blacknall is back next year for Manalapan. (All Shore Media)

With five possibilities to win a State Championship, you would have to think we could walk away with at least one. Well the Shore was not treated very hospitable by opposing teams and that resulted in no wins and five losses.

It was the first time since 1985 that we did not have at least one winner. 27 years is a long time, and the streak is over, as Manalapan, Neptune, Shore Reg., Southern and Middletown South all lost in their bid for a title. In the case of Manalapan and Southern, who were looking for their first ever title, it was bittersweet, as both were primed to take home the trophy. Lets take a closer look at each game.
Williamstown(12-0) beat Southern(9-3) on Friday night in a game played before 7,000 fans at Rowan University. The final was 43-20, as Williamstown won their first title in school history. Southern had a great year, and a loss in the finals will sting for awhile, but when they look back at the season this team had, it will bring back many great memories that will forever stay with these Players. The program has been built. Future teams will talk about the 2012 team and how they worked in the off season to get to this championship game. While there are no moral victories needed for this program, you can always build and learn from big losses like this. It will hurt for a little, but 2 teams play the game, and on this night, Williamstown was the better team and deserved to win. Southern went down fighting as RB Abe Gonzalez ran for 189 yards and 2 TDs, QB Danny Higgins threw for 262 yards and a TD, and Mike Gesicki caught 7 for 122 yards and a TD. However when push came to shove it could not stop the powerful Brave offense who ran for 311 yards and 4 TDs and also scored twice on defense with a fumble return from 2 yards, and a pick 6 for 90 yards. 4 turnovers didn’t help the Ram cause, and the steady rain, which began early in the second half, was no help either. Congratulations to Chuck Donohue and his staff and players for a great year.

Of all the teams playing this weekend, none were a bigger favorite then Manalapan. South Brunswick(10-2) were the bad guys in this game and it won in similar fashion, as they had a powerful ground game(251 yds.) and also threw the ball well(180 yds.) for 431 total yards. They did turn it over 3 times to help keep Manalapan around, but the final was 33-22. South Brunswick wins their first Championship in school history and it was a wild celebration at Rutgers University in front of their 5000 fans who attended. In the loss Anthony Firkser caught two 43 yd. TD passes and Mike Isabella threw for 199 yds. and 3 TD passes. Saeed Blacknall also caught 5 for 86 yds. including a 45 yard TD. The Braves finish 11-1, and still are looking for that elusive first State Championship. With Isabella, Blacknall, and RB Tyler Leonetti all back for the Braves, they aren’t going anywhere. They are here to stay and it won’t take long to get that title.
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> Neptune was another of our favorites to win this weekend and they took the field against a good football team in Nottingham HS, but it was not supposed to end like it did for the Fliers. Nottingham(11-1) came into the game with a defensive reputation, having shutout 6 teams prior to the finals. If they were to have a chance, it would rely on their stingy defense. That was not the case, as Neptune QB Agee Patterson threw for 308 and the Fliers also ran for 103 yds. Enough offense to win this game? Not this Saturday, as Nottingham had 325 yards of offense to beat the Fliers 35-24. Four turnovers did the Fliers in, as Nottingham capitalized on the free possessions. The loss ended one of the more amazing streaks in Shore conference history. Head Coach Mark Ciccotelli had won 11 consecutive State playoffs games with State Championships at Freehold Boro in 2009 and 2010, and a State Championship at Neptune last year and the 2 wins this year. Unbelievable streak, which was broken with the loss this year. The Northstars, in winning, took home the first State Championship for Mercer County in 27 years, when Ewing won. They beat Neptune at their own game- 2 pass plays of 66 yards, an 80 yard pick 6 and a 57 yard run. Big plays up and down the field in this wild contest. Will Neptune be back? With the athletes that roam the halls in Neptune, it’s easy to understand why the Fliers will win again.

Shore Reg. lost a heartbreaker to a very good Florence team who already had taken out Point Beach one week earlier. When you go to OT, anything can happen and the result for Shore was not good, as they lost in 2 overtimes, 23-17. After Florence had scored in the second OT, the 2pt. conversion attempt was no good and Shore had the ball with a chance to win with a TD and extra point. QB Matt Muh was stopped on a 4th and inches on the Florence 16, and the Blue Devils hopes were ended. In defeat Shore fought hard and tied the game with a 30 yard FG by Jake Monteiro with 1:40 left in regulation. Both teams missed field goals in the first OT, setting up Florence’s winning score in overtime #2. Florence had 264 yards of offense on the day, while Shore was held to 187 total yards. The running game was held in check as they tallied 86 hard earned yards.

Middletown South lost to an excellent Sayreville team 35-28. The Eagles were playing in the finals for the 10th time in the last 12 years and the 19th time in school history. They have won 9 Championships. They came into this game on a very high note with a huge 45-35 victory over Colts Neck, who had beaten them earlier in season. Junior QB Kyle Brey was playing his best football of the year and RB Ely Smith had emerged as a game breaker along with steady RB Jake Ripnick. The Eagles fell behind 28-7 late in the first half, but this programs 41 playoff wins are no fluke. They fought back and showed much character, as they did all year long. The 99 yard TD drive which ended with an Anthony Citarella TD pass of 45 yards, demonstrated that never say die attitude the Eagles have had throughout this tremendous programs history. Brey on this day threw for 223 yards and 2 TDs after throwing for 302 yards last week against Colts Neck. Only a junior, he will be back to lead the Eagles next year. As Steve Antonucci said, “he grew up a lot as the year went along and he has a lot of fight in him.” The Eagles also started 2 freshman at LB during the last few weeks of the season and into the playoffs. The Eagles are set up for the return run next year. The negative stat they always have in the back of their minds, is that they have not won a title since 2006, having lost in 4 finals in the last 5 years. They are now 5-6 under Antonucci in final appearances. While other coaches would love to have 5 rings, Antonucci is not satisfied. That’s what makes him the coach he is.

That completes the 2012 season. However we at the Shore Sports Network have one more show this Thursday at 7 pm, when we will reveal our top 44 players and Coaches of year and Players of the year. Join us on 105.7 FM.

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