Photo gallery by Eric Braun

EAST RUTHERFORD - Two times in the first three seasons of their careers, Middletown South's seniors tasted the frustration of a long bus ride home after disappointment in a state championship game.

In their last chance to leave their mark at one of the Shore Conference's top programs, they combined with a stellar junior class to leave no doubt. Middletown South got back on top after five straight losses in the state finals by roaring to a 35-7 win over Phillipsburg on Saturday night at MetLife Stadium to win the North II, Group IV title for its first state championship since 2006.

 

"I can't wait for this bus ride,'' senior running back Cole Rogers said. "You always hear the stories about fire trucks, people cheering when we get back. I can't wait."

The Eagles, ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, polished off their first 12-0 season since 2005 to state their case to finish as the No. 1 team in New Jersey.

"After you don't experience something like this for nine years, it brings back that hunger for it,'' Eagles coach Steve Antonucci said.

"It feels amazing,'' senior quarterback Matt Mosquera said. "Coming so close last year (in a loss to Jackson Memorial), we worked so hard to finish it. It feels awesome to get it done."

For the seniors and juniors, it was the fulfillment of the prophecy that they would be the classes to return the Eagles to the top of Shore Conference football and put them back in the conversation among the best of the best in the state.

"There was a lot of pressure on our backs,'' Rogers said. "From freshman year, everybody was like, 'This is going to be the year.' We really took that to heart, and I'm so happy we pulled through."

"We talked all the time about bringing Middletown South to the place they belong: No. 1,'' Mosquera said.

Senior twins Cole and Dylan Rogers led the way as Middletown South won its 10th overall state title, one behind Manasquan for the Shore Conference record. Cole Rogers ran for 139 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, while Dylan Rogers led the defense at linebacker with 4 sacks and 15 tackles. Junior linebacker James McCarthy was also outstanding with a pair of interceptions.

"We weren't just chasing a state championship, we were chasing the 2005 team,'' Mosquera said. "We want to be one of the greatest teams to ever come through this school."

"We want to have a legacy like the (2005 team) did and have them talk about our team like they talked about their team,'' Dylan Rogers said.

Senior QB Matt Mosquera accounted for three total touchdowns to help the Eagles bring home their 10th state title. (Photo by Eric Braun)

Mosquera threw two touchdowns and ran for a 4-yard touchdown as Middletown South blew out to a 28-0 lead on their way to the win. He finished 14-for-21 for 134 yards passing and also went 5-for-5 on extra points.

During Middletown South's streak of losses in the state finals, a recurring issue was getting behind early and having to play catch-up the rest of the way. Jeff Lewandowski made sure that wouldn't be an issue on Saturday night when he returned the opening kickoff 79 yards to the 9-yard line to get the game started, leading to a 6-yard touchdown run by Cole Rogers.

"For the first time in a few years, we took charge of the game right away, which we hadn't done in previous (state finals),'' Antonucci said. "Opening kickoff you get down there and score a few plays later, I think that sends a message."

Cole Rogers ran for 139 yards and two touchdowns to help Middletown South finish unbeaten in a 35-7 win over Phillipsburg in the North II Group IV final. (Photo by Eric Braun)

"That was huge,'' Cole Rogers said. "You don't want to get out of your head, you want to get comfortable, and I think that play really let us settle in."

The Eagles made it 14-0 when Mosquera hit wideout Jeremy Joyce for a 27-yard touchdown with 8:38 in the second quarter on a fourth-and-7 play.

"We knew they were a similar style to Manalapan,'' Mosquera said. "They want to get the lead on you first. They want to run the ball at you, and once we got that (14-0) lead on them, we knew it was going to be more difficult for them."

Middletown South led 14-0 at the half after holding the Stateliners (9-3) to 39 total yards and three first downs. For the game, the Eagles stifled Phillipsburg to the tune of 149 total yards.

"They try to bully people,'' Dylan Rogers said. "We just had to be tougher than them and go upfield."

Phillipsburg mounted its best drive of the game to that point when it took the opening kickoff of the third quarter and marched to the Eagles' 26-yard line in six plays, but McCarthy killed that momentum by snagging an interception in the flat. That set up a four-play, 60-yard drive capped by a 9-yard touchdown run by Cole Rogers with 5:24 left in the third quarter to push the lead to 21-0.

A sack by junior defensive lineman Will Gulick killed Phillipsburg's ensuing drive and gave the Eagles great field position at the Stateliners' 30-yard line after a shanked punt. The lead ballooned to 28-0 six plays later when Mosquera walked in from four yards out on a zone read keeper with 3:52 left in the third quarter.

Mosquera later added the cherry on top with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Tom Marron with 8:50 left in the game to make it 35-7.

With the win, Antonucci tied retired Hall of Famers Mike Ciccotelli of Keyport and Warren Wolf of Brick with the second-most state titles of any coach in Shore Conference history with the sixth of his brilliant career. Antonucci, who played for Ciccotelli on the Red Raiders in the late 1980s, is now only behind late Hall of Famer Vic Kubu, who had 11 titles between stints at Middletown North and Manasquan.

Box score

Middletown South 35, Phillipsburg 7

.                              M                        P

Rushes-yards      28-152              43-122

Passing               14-21-0             7-12-2

Passing yards       134                  27

Fumbles-lost        2-2                    2-0

Penalties           2-20                      5-37

Phillipsburg (9-3)       0    0    0    7   -   7

Midd. South (12-0)    7    7    14   7  -  35

Scoring summary: 

M: C. Rogers 6-yard run (Mosquera kick).

M: Joyce 27-yard pass from Mosquera (Mosquera kick).

M: C. Rogers 9-yard run (Mosquera kick).

M: Mosquera 4-yard run (Mosquera kick).

P: Romero 14-yard run (Grube kick).

M: Marron 7-yard pass from Mosquera (Mosquera kick).

Individual statistics: 

Rushing - M: C. Rogers 23-139, Mosquera 3-10, Pinto 1-2, Dube 1-1. P: Romero 16-76, Ringhoff 6-(-4), Gardner 1-8, Shelton 1-5, Fisher 2-(-15), Boures 2-2, Jones 13-46, Morro 2-4.

Passing - M: Mosquera 14-21-0 134. P: Ringhoff 6-10-1 26, Fisher 1-2-1 1.

Receiving - M: Coffey 2-10, Joyce 1-27, Dube 2-5, Pereless 5-30, C. Rogers 1-1, Urhig 1-38, Marron 2-13. P: Shelton 3-11, Romero 3-15, Boures 1-1.

Interceptions - M: McCarthy 2-20.