Ocean County Upsets, Manalapan Comeback Highlight Week Seven
A Friday night full of upsets in Ocean County and a heavyweight battle on Saturday that lived up to its billing highlighted Week Seven in Shore Conference football.
The game that headlined the weekend was a match-up of unbeatens between Manalapan and Colts Neck, and the visiting Braves pulled out a 24-21 comeback victory in a thriller to take a huge step toward wrapping up their third straight Class A North title. Junior running back Tyler Leonetti led Manalapan with 110 yards and a touchdown, and senior David Debner broke off a 54-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter for the winning points. Colts Neck put Manalapan in an immediate 14-0 hole in the first quarter as senior quarterback Mike Campbell threw touchdown passes to junior running back Anthony Gargiulo and senior tight end Connor Canonico.
Colts Neck led 21-10 at halftime after Gargiulo returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half. Manalapan fought back with the touchdown runs by Leonetti and Debner and a second-half shutout by the defense to continue its best start since 1987 by improving to 6-0.
The biggest upset and the most inspirational story of the weekend belonged to Brick, which stunned a top-five team by taking down Toms River North 24-21 in a Class A South game. It was the second straight win for the Green Dragons after an 0-5 start, and it came on a 23-yard field goal by senior Anthony Starego with 21 seconds left in the game that snapped a 21-21 tie. Starego is autistic but has been playing football since Pop Warner, and the game-winner was his first varsity field goal that touched off a wild celebration in Brick. Sophomore running back Ray Fattaruso ran for a career-high 181 yards and two touchdowns and senior Doug Cuccinello added 85 yards rushing and score.
Brick’s victory was not the only upset in Class A South on Friday night, as unranked Southern finally got over the hump after two close losses to top 10 teams by knocking off Brick Memorial 28-21 behind a fierce rushing attack. The Rams bulldozed the Mustangs for 278 yards on the ground, including a career-high 170 yards rushing and two touchdowns by senior Abe Gonzalez. Senior quarterback Dan Higgins also threw touchdown passes to wideouts Mike Gesicki and Nick Hem for a crucial win as far as Southern’s state playoff hopes are concerned.
The losses by Toms River North and Brick Memorial allowed undefeated Lacey to clinch no worse than a tie for the Class A South title with a 45-28 win over Jackson Memorial on Saturday. The victory came at a price for the Lions, however, as junior quarterback Tom Kelly, who was having an outstanding season, is believed to have broken his collarbone on a hit by the Jaguars in the second quarter and could be out for the season.
Senior linebacker/kicker Liam Dolly helped lead the way against Jackson with a sensational all-around game in which he had 9 tackles, a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown and a 71-yard fumble return for a score while also kicking six extra points, two touchbacks and a 42-yard field goal. Sophomore Conor Davies, the younger brother of former record-setting Howell quarterback Ryan Davies and the son of Lacey offensive coordinator Cory Davies, threw a touchdown pass to senior Bill Belford in filling in for the injured Kelly. Belford also caught a touchdown pass from Kelly in the win.
Another notable score from Class A South in Week Seven was Toms River South’s 38-6 rout of Toms River East that put the Indians at 3-3 and in the state playoff hunt. The victory ended an 18-game losing streak against fellow Toms River Schools by the Indians and was their first win over a cross-town rival in 10 years. Junior Otis Kearney continues to tear it up as he had three touchdown runs, including a 99-yarder, and sophomore quarterback Tymere Berry added a pair of touchdown runs.
Another program on the rise like Toms River South is the Indians’ long-time Thanksgiving rival, Lakewood, which is now 5-1 and on pace for its first state playoff berth since 2002 thanks to a 33-27 win over Central. Senior standout Tyrice Beverette led the way, running for two touchdowns, throwing a touchdown pass to Anthony Cook, returning a punt for a touchdown, and batting down a potential game-winning pass by Central in the final seconds to seal the win.
Also in Class B South, Point Boro picked up a pivotal win for its playoff hopes to stay right on Monsignor Donovan’s tail in the division race by beating Barnegat 23-13. Senior Brett Blank nailed three field goals, senior fullback Ryan Prout ran for a score, and senior wideout Kyle McGarry had a touchdown catch to lead the way. Jackson Liberty ended a two-game skid with a 63-28 win over Pinelands. Sophomore Matt Castronuova moved from wideout to quarterback and ran for 166 yards and four touchdowns in the victory.
As far as Class B South leader Monsignor Donovan, the Griffins found themselves on the wrong end of a 30-0 loss to undefeated Rumson-Fair Haven in a nondivisional game. Bulldogs senior quarterback Danny Roberto threw three touchdown passes to three different receivers, and the Rumson defense held the Griffins to 107 total yards, including eight yards in the second half.
In Class B North, Matawan and Long Branch set up an anticipated showdown this week by picking up wins to remain tied in the loss column with Neptune for first place in the division. Matawan pulled out a 14-7 win over resurgent Red Bank in double overtime thanks to a 1-yard touchdown run on a great second effort by senior Glenn Cross and then a defensive stop on fourth down. The Huskies rallied to tie the game 7-7 when offensive lineman Seamus Weldon recovered a fumble in the end zone in the fourth quarter. Both teams blocked potentially game-winning field goals before Matawan was able to finish the job in the second overtime.
Long Branch’s punishing running attack and the “Thunder and Bolt’’ tandem of senior Joscil Jackson and junior Deon Williams powered a 35-21 victory over rival Ocean. Jackson ran for 155 yards and a touchdown and Williams registered 152 yards and three touchdowns in the win. The Green Wave will now host Matawan on Friday night in a game that will have important Class B North title implications.
Neptune kept itself right in the hunt for a piece of the Class B North title by righting the ship after two straight losses. The Scarlet Fliers beat Freehold 28-7 as senior quarterback Ajee Patterson threw three touchdown passes, including two to senior wideout Keith Kirkwood, and also ran for another.
While Matawan-Long Branch is an anticipated showdown, all eyes will be on Middletown South this week when the Eagles welcome No. 1 Red Bank Catholic to The Swamp on Friday night. The Eagles took care of business with a 35-7 win over Marlboro on Saturday thanks to a pair of second-half touchdown runs by Jake Ripnick and another one by Eli Smith to help them pull away. RBC is coming off its bye week and has a 20-game winning streak against Shore Conference competition entering the nondivisional showdown with Middletown South.
In Class A Central, Manasquan continued its push toward a playoff berth with a 27-14 win over Holmdel. Junior Joe Fittin ran for a touchdown and also threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Chris Miller on a halfback pass for one of two touchdown catches by Miller. Much like Lacey, Holmdel was also dealt a blow when its starting quarterback and offensive centerpiece, senior Robbie Cantelli, left the game with an arm injury and may miss extended time.
St. John Vianney bounced back from a loss to Colts Neck and continued a playoff push of its own with a 27-9 win over Monmouth in which it scored 27 unanswered points. Senior Steve Callari returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the second straight week and also had a 37-yard touchdown catch. Standout senior wideout Ishmael Hyman also made his return from a knee injury that had sidelined him for multiple games. He had an 18-yard touchdown run in the win.
In Class B Central, Point Beach continues to dominate every team in its path as it picked up a 49-23 win over Highland Park in a nonconference game to improve to 7-0. Another team in the division that is on fire right now is Keyport, which has won six straight after routing rival Keansburg 41-0. Junior quarterback Alex Thomson ran for two touchdowns and also threw a touchdown pass on his way to erasing the Keyport single-season school record of 1,149 yards passing. Senior Johnny Olsen added a pair of touchdown runs in the win to complement a dominant performance by a Red Raiders’ defense led by Rich Shevlin, who had 16 tackles, four tackles for a loss and two sacks.
Asbury Park won its second straight game by topping Metuchen 27-16 as quarterback Robert Barksdale ran for two touchdowns and threw for another. Shore Regional rolled over Mater Dei Prep 47-0 to stay unbeaten in the division with a game coming up against Keansburg this week.
In the final game of the weekend on Saturday night, Freehold Township picked up its first victory of the season by beating Howell 35-7 in Class A North. Senior Shane McGhee had a brilliant all-around game, rushing for 142 yards and two touchdowns and also making two interceptions and recording a sack on defense. He also held the Shore Conference’s leader in catches, Howell senior Tory Robinson, to one catch. The Patriots’ defense finished with five interceptions.