Outstanding Individual Performances Highlight Week Four
Week Four in Shore Conference football was defined by sensational individual performances and thrilling comebacks as several division races became much clearer.
A game that was one of the most eagerly-anticipated of the week lived up to the hype when Manalapan pulled out a 35-31 thriller over Middletown South on the road for a huge Class A North win. There were spectacular performances by both sides in a game that came down to the final seconds, when Middletown South drove all the way down to the Manalapan 12-yard line before Braves linebacker Matt McCann recovered a fumble to seal the win.
One of the Shore Conference’s top talents, Manalapan junior wide receiver/defensive back Saeed Blacknall, made his presence felt in all three phases of the game. He caught a 39-yard touchdown pass on offense, returned a punt 85 yards for a score on special teams and ran down Middletown South running back Jake Ripnick from behind to save a touchdown on defense. Ripnick had the best game of his career in defeat, rushing for 250 yards and a touchdown.
The victory was the 15th straight divisional win for the Braves, and it cleared a huge hurdle in their quest to win three straight Class A North titles for the first time in program history. Junior running back Tyler Leonetti also chipped in with 135 yards rushing and two touchdowns, including the game-winning 19-yard run in the fourth quarter for the Braves.
The most incredible comeback belonged to St. John Vianney, which trailed Manasquan 25-0, 35-6, and then 35-12 at halftime before roaring back for a 39-35 stunner in Class A Central. It is believed to be the Lancers’ first win over the Warriors since the early 1980s or possibly ever. Leaving his mark with another one of the indelible performances of Week Four was junior quarterback Billy DeMato, who threw for 316 yards and a school-record six touchdowns, including three to senior wideout Steve Callari, to power the amazing comeback. DeMato’s touchdown toss to Nick Anzevino with 19 seconds left in the game completed the win.
It was a big night for quarterbacks from schools in Holmdel. In addition to DeMato’s heroics, Holmdel senior quarterback Robbie Cantelli exploded for a career-high 201 yards rushing along with 95 passing and accounted for four total touchdowns in a 39-7 win over Monmouth Regional in Class A Central.
One of the most impressive performances by any quarterback this weekend came in only one half in a game between undefeated teams. Neptune senior Ajee Patterson continues to get people out of their seats with his superlative play, as he went 13-for-18 for a career-high 328 yards and four touchdowns passing in just the first half of a 46-10 rout of Matawan. Senior wideout Geoff Fairbanks had 127 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the win.
Ocean County also had its share of calculator-busting individual performances and all-around brilliance. In Brick Memorial’s 52-28 rout of Toms River East that kept the Mustangs unbeaten, senior quarterback Ryan Cieplinski was 7-for-12 for 208 yards passing and a career-high four touchdown passes and also ran for 107 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. The Mustangs rolled up 359 yards on the ground, as junior Mike Basile added 152 yards rushing on just seven carries in the win.
Barnegat senior Pat Moran matched Manalapan’s Blacknall for all-around impact to help the Bengals pull out a 14-13, double-overtime thriller against previously unbeaten Jackson Liberty to shake up the Class B South race. At defensive back, Moran had 17 tackles, four tackles for a loss and a pass break-up. As a punter, he pinned Jackson Liberty inside its own 20-yard line four times. He also kicked the extra point that sent the game into overtime late in the fourth quarter and kicked what proved to be the game-winning extra point in double overtime. As a wideout, he had six catches for 69 yards and a touchdown.
On Saturday, Lacey junior quarterback Tom Kelly continued to show how much he has improved in only one year by blistering Toms River South in a 42-20 win that kept the Lions unbeaten. Kelly went 11-for-14 for a career-high 266 yards and four touchdown passes, two of them to junior Christian Tutela. Senior tailback Kyle Spatz also caught two touchdown passes and ran for another.
Two Monmouth County signal-callers also put up big numbers in wins on Saturday. Keyport junior Alex Thomson went 14-for-26 for a school-record 360 yards and three touchdown passes while also running for a score in a 42-7 win over Middlesex. Thomson obliterated the previous Keyport record of 241 yards set by Joe Smith in 1972 to help the Red Raiders win their third straight game. Tyler Alvarez had four catches for a career-high 142 yards and two touchdowns, and Greg Armstrong added seven catches for a career-high 138 yards receiving.
Just down the road, Keansburg quarterback Ryan Kurtz continued a brilliant season when he threw three touchdowns and ran for another in a 42-28 win over Dunellen that put the Titans at 3-1. In the last three weeks, Kurtz has accounted for 14 touchdowns between rushing and passing.
One of the Shore Conference’s top wideouts turned in a great individual performance in Southern’s 19-7 win over Brick, as junior Mike Gesicki had five catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns from senior quarterback Dan Higgins. Not to be outdone, Colts Neck senior Tim Vangelas hauled in a career-high four touchdowns on his way to six catches for 128 yards from Cougars senior quarterback Michael Campbell in a 35-13 win over Middletown North that improved Colts Neck to 4-0 for the first time in school history.
A player who many expect will regularly be turning in tremendous performances in the coming years is Ocean freshman running back Tyler Thompson. He exploded for a career-high 210 yards rushing and three touchdowns in only his third varsity game as the Spartans beat JFK-Iselin 31-8 in a nonconference game. Another young player who had a great showing in Week Four was Lakewood sophomore Chapelle Cook. Normally a tailback, he moved to quarterback with starter Tyrice Beverette out sick, and he ran for a career-high 196 yards and a touchdown in a 20-13 win over Manchester that pushed the Piners to 3-1.
Several division races appear to be getting clearer as Rumson-Fair Haven and Red Bank Catholic continue their collision course for a Thanksgiving showdown for the Class A Central title. The No. 1 Caseys rolled over Raritan, 49-14, for their 18th straight win over Shore Conference competition. Quarterback Pat Toomey threw two touchdown passes to tight end Matt Golden and also ran for a score. Rumson grinded out a 9-3 nondivisional win over Red Bank in The Battle of Ridge Road to improve to 4-0 thanks to a stellar defensive effort in addition to a 41-yard field goal by junior Jake D’Amelio, and a touchdown run by quarterback Danny Roberto.
In Class B Central, Shore Regional still remains the team to beat, as the Blue Devils are now 3-1 after a 45-7 romp over previously unbeaten South River in a nonconference game. This week will show if Point Beach can take a big step toward setting up a Thanksgiving showdown with the Blue Devils for the division title. The Garnet Gulls rolled to a 42-12 win over Mater Dei Prep to set up a battle with defending division champion Asbury Park on Friday night at Point Beach. The Blue Bishops, who beat Point Beach twice last year, bounced back from a loss to Shore with a 24-14 nondivisional win over Point Boro in which the defense smothered the Panthers’ running game and junior quarterback Robert Barksdale threw a pair of touchdown passes.
The Class A South race continues to be a free-for-all, with Brick Memorial and Lacey tied at the top and Southern and Toms River North breathing right down their necks. Toms River North won its second straight game by rolling to a 42-10 win over Jackson Memorial, headlined by two touchdown passes and a pair of touchdown runs by sophomore quarterback Carmen Sclafani. Juniors Joey Fields and Kyle Carrington each had a pair of touchdowns in the win.
Neptune is now a heavy favorite to close out its first division title since winning Class B North in 1998. The Scarlet Fliers, who have the Shore’s longest current winning streak at 14 games, have gone through top contenders Long Branch and Matawan in successive weeks. They now have a monster nondivisional showdown with Brick Memorial on the road Friday night that will be one of the biggest tests to their winning streak. Long Branch bounced back from its loss to Neptune by routing Wall 38-7 behind two touchdowns apiece for seniors Deon Williams and Joscil Jackson.
While Manalapan looks to have seized control of the Class A North race with the win over Middletown South, unbeaten Colts Neck is still lurking out there. The other surprise team in the division looks to be Marlboro. After going winless last season and not having won a division game since 2005, the Mustangs now have two divisional wins after coming back to beat Freehold Township 19-17 on Saturday. Senior quarterback Parker Hoch ran for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter and Brian Prestigiacomo had two key interceptions in the win.
As expected, one of the wildest divisional races looks to be Class B South. Point Boro and Monsignor Donovan are tied for first, and they square off this week in a pivotal game. Jackson Liberty, Lakewood and Barnegat are all only one game behind and Central is still in striking distance after a 47-7 win over Pinelands kept the Golden Eagles two games behind.