LAKEWOOD — When Point Boro visited Lakewood on Saturday afternoon in a Shore Conference Class B South game, it was the home team that had everything to play for with playoff positioning on the line.

Being that it was Point Boro’s ninth game, the outcome would not have an impact on whether or not the playoffs were in its future. But for the Panthers, they had come too far this season to simply play out the stretch.

In its most complete effort of the season, Point Boro defeated Lakewood, 21-12, to improve to 5-4 on the heels of a 1-9 season. Junior running back Devin Connelly caught a touchdown pass and ran for another score, and junior running back Gene Franceschini threw a touchdown pass to Jax Wigert on a trick play. Point Boro’s defense limited the big-play potential of Lakewood’s offense, and shut the Piners out in the second half to guarantee a non-losing season.

Because it was the Panthers’ ninth game, however, it did not count toward their power point total as they tried to climb into the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II sectional playoffs. The Panthers did not get enough residual points and were edged out by Lakewood, which could have jumped to a five or six seed with a win but instead fell to No. 8.

“There wasn’t much we could do about the playoffs, but we wanted to come out and play our best game possible,” Connelly said. “From 1-9 last year, to go 5-5 or 6-4 is much improved.”

“That’s definitely a talented football team over there that could make a deep playoff run,” said Point Boro head coach Sean Henry. “Our kids were gutsy today. Whenever they needed to make a big play they did.”

Temple-bound senior quarterback Chapelle Cook did not play during the first quarter as he was nursing an injury, according to assistant coach Len Zdanowicz, and during his absence the Panthers jumped out to a 14-0 lead.

They struck first on the game’s opening drive in classic Point Boro fashion. Senior quarterback Jack Fitzsimmons led a 14-play, 68-yard drive that chewed up the first 8:09 of the game. The Panthers converted on fourth-and-four from the 12-yard line when Fitzsimmons threw a quick pass to Connelly over the middle, and the junior absorbed a hit while keeping his balance to dive across the goal line. The first of Collin Ansbach’s three extra points on the afternoon put Point Boro up 7-0.

“It was a seam play and I wasn’t sure if it was there because the safety was there, but Jack threw it up and I made a play,” Connelly said.

In Cook’s absence, Lakewood junior running back Amir Tyler took over at quarterback for the first quarter-plus of the game.

A sack by junior defensive lineman Gavin Hynes for a 17-yard loss stopped the Piners’ first offensive series and set up the Panthers to take a two-score lead. Three plays after taking over at their own 43, Point Boro went deep into the playbook to go up 14-0. On first down, Franceschini took a pitch on a sweep before pulling up and firing to a wide-open Wigert, who got behind the defense for a 54-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.

“That was something we practiced a little bit more this week thinking we’d take a shot,” Henry said. “Jax made a great fake and Gene put the ball where it needed to be. That really lifted us.”

“Anything to gain momentum on the road is huge,” Connelly said. “It was a great throw by Gene and Jax had the speed to break away and stay in bounds.”

Cook entered the game on a series that started at 6:12 following an interception by senior linebacker Josh Palmer. He then led a five-play, 48-yard scoring drive that got Lakewood on the board. A 48-yard catch-and-run by senior Eric Segui down to the one-yard line set up Cook’s one-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion pass was incomplete, and Point Boro led 14-6 with 3:36 left in the first half.

A fumble recovery by Tyler three snaps into the following series gave Lakewood the ball back at Point Boro’s 40-yard line, and the Piners capitalized to cut their deficit to 14-12 heading to the break. A 12-yard pass from Cook to Segui gave the Piners first-and-goal, and Tyler scored on a seven-yard run on third-and-goal. Point Boro senior defensive lineman Jack Enright sacked Cook on the two-point conversion attempt to keep the Panthers in the lead. Lakewood recovered the ball on the ensuing kickoff and took over at Point Boro’s 46, but an interception in the end zone by junior defensive back Noah Husak ended the threat.

Point Boro stopped Lakewood on fourth-and-five from just across midfield to start the third quarter, and that defensive stand led to the Panthers’ third touchdown. After taking over at their own 45, Point Boro scored using six straight running plays to go up 21-12. On first down from the 19, Connelly took a pitch and weaved his way through the Lakewood defense for his second touchdown of the game.

Point Boro’s defense then made two fourth down stops on Lakewood’s final two drives to cement the victory. Penalties put Lakewood into a fourth-and-28 on a 13-play drive, and senior defensive back Mike Larson intercepted Cook in the end zone to end the drive.

Lakewood then drove all the way to the Point Boro four-yard line with just over two minutes to play in the game, but on fourth down the Panthers stopped Cook at the one-yard line to take over on downs.

“We came out and got a nice stop to start the second half and we put together a drive, and our defense did the rest,” Henry said. “It’s a testament to our seniors, who led us all year. And kids like Devin Connelly and Gene Franceschini who got a lot of playing time as sophomores are now making big plays as juniors. It’s nice to get back to .500. Now we’ve got to go win another ball game.”


Box Score

Point Boro 21, Lakewood 12


Point Boro Lakewood
First downs 12 15
Rushes-yards 32-156 45-186
Passing 2-3-1 9-17-2
Passing yards 66 119
Fumbles-lost 2-1 1-0
Penalties-yards 8-70 8-90


Point Boro (5-4, 5-2) 7 7 7 0 – 21

Lakewood (4-4, 4-3) 0 12 0 0 – 12


Scoring summary

PB – Jack Fitzsimmons 12-yard pass to Devin Connelly (Collin Ansbach kick)

PB – Gene Franceschini 54-yard pass to Jax Wigert (Collin Ansbach kick)

L – Chapelle Cook 1-yard run (pass failed)

L – Amir Tyler 7-yard run (run failed)

P – Devin Connelly 19-yard run (Collin Ansbach kick)


Individual statistics

Rushing – PB: Gene Franceschini 8-58, Jack Fitzsimmons 14-48, Devin Connelly 5-43, Nate Husak 5-7; L: Chapelle Cook 25-114, Amir Tyler 16-57, Erick Segui 2-9, Sheldon Cobbs 2-6.

Passing – PB: Gene Franceschini 1-1-0 54, Jack Fitzsimmons 1-2-1 12; L: Chapelle Cook 9-15-2 119, Amir Tyler 0-2-0 0.

Receiving – PB: Jax Wigert 1-54, Devin Connelly 1-12; L: Erick Segui 5-66, Datrell Reed 2-42, Amir Tyler 2-10.

Interceptions – PB: Mike Larson 1-29, Noah Husak 1-0; L: Josh Palmer 1-11.