FARMINGDALE -- Howell opened its home stand in grand fashion, coming from behind to beat Freehold 25-22 in a Shore Conference Class A North game on Friday night. On Pop Warner night where the Rebels played host to the young boys and girls from the Howell football and cheer programs, the Rebels showed that there is no quitting in the eyes of adversity.

Howell entered the game after a 20-13 victory in a non-conference matchup against Colts Neck, while Freehold Borough was victorious over cross-town rival and A-North foe Freehold Township 28-14.

With the bulk of their schedule kicking into high gear against Freehold Borough, Howell knew there could be no let up from the opening-day victory.  With the Colonials getting the best of the Rebels last season with a 41-21 victory, Howell was determined to turned the tables.

Freehold won the coin toss and decided to defer to the second half and kickoff to Howell and senior Nick Rossi.  Rossi would haul in the opening kickoff at his own fifteen yard line and hit the holes and made a few juke moves on his way to an 85-yard kickoff return to put the Rebels up 6-0.  Sophmore Patrick Handy added the PAT to make the score 7-0.

"We came into tonights game determined to set the tone early and when I received the opening kickoff I saw the openings my blockers created, I took advantage of it," Rossi said.

Nick Rossi returns the opening kickoff 85 yards against Freehold Boro (photo by Eric Braun)

For the next several drives, both teams struggled for any kind offense. Both defensive lines brought their A-games and made gaining any yardage impossible. Freehold Borough who found plenty of running lanes against Freehold Township, found very little room early against a rebuilt Rebels defense from last season. Howell would take advantage of busted coverage late in the second half when senior quarterback Mark Iacobino scrambled to his right and found a wide open Rossi for a 25-yard touchdown strike. Once again Handy was perfect with his PAT and the Rebels looked to be in control heading into the half.

Freehold Borough was not ready to roll over and give up, took the kickoff back 15 yards to their own 41 yard line. It was there that sophomore Ashante Worthy went to work. Worthy broke two runs to the outside and set himself and the Colonials up with a first down inside the 15 yard line with just under four minutes to play in the half. The next play Worthy lowered his pads and drove the heart of the Rebels defensive line for a 15-yard touchdown run.

Freehold turned a mistake into fortune when quarterback and PAT holder Jake Curry pick up the ball and scrambled left before finding an open Markee Gill in the corner of the end zone for a two-point conversion, which cut the Howell lead to 14-8 going into the half.

Freehold Borough's Matt Dasilva scrambes to complete a 2-point conversion against Howell (photo by Eric Braun)

With Freehold heading into the locker room with a big momentum shift, the Colonials looked to seize control of the game from the opening kickoff of the second half. Starting at their own 22 yard line, Freehold wasted no time in playing out its halftime adjustments. Worthy took the first play wide left and rushed for 32 yards to the Rebels thirty 8 yard line. Several plays later Curry hit senior wideout Jamel Smith-Rush for a seven-yard touchdown reception and this time the Colonials added the PAT to take their first lead of the game 15-14.

For the rest quarter and a half, both teams would play battle of field position with every punt Howell pinning Freehold Borough deep into their own territory. With Freehold once again struggling to move the ball against an aggressive Rebels defense, Howell would get three straight possessions at or around midfield but each time came away with zero points.

"We had our chances in the second half but you need to give credit to Borough giving us little room to get going," second-year Howell coach Luke Sinkhorn said.

With Howell punting back to the Colonials with just under eight minutes to go in the game, Freehold found success again on the left side and played excellent ball control. The Colonials put together an eight-play drive that took the game clock down to seven and a half minutes after Worthy once again found room up the middle and scored his second touchdown of the game and gave Freehold Borough a 22-14 lead after the PAT.

With a hush over the crowd it seemed like Freehold Borough was about to take the Howell crowd out of the game. Rossi and the rest of the Rebels offense never panicked and stuck to their game plan. With the play of the game, quarterback Iacobino hit a streaking Rossi for a 48-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the endzone with just over five minutes to play. Trailing by two, Sinkhorn dialed up a quarterback roll out that had Iacobino finding a Daniel Cacciatore in the corner of the endzone and tied the game at 22-22.

Both teams would exchange four-and-outs before Freehold Borough got the ball back with just over two minutes to play at their own 27 yard line. Two plays later, Curry attempted a pass down field but was picked off by David Galaraza who returned it to the Colonials 17 yard line with just under two minutes to play. After an offsides penalty pulled the Rebels even closer, the Colonials buckled down on defense and held the Rebels out of the end zone. Leaving Handy to attempt the go-ahead score with 14 seconds remaining on a dew-slick playing field. The lefty planted the right foot and buried the kick right down the middle for a 25-22 lead.

Freehold still had one last gasp after returning the kickoff to midfield, but Rebels senior defensive end Noah Powell sacked Curry on a roll-out to end the game.

"What a game for both teams," Sinkhorn said. "It came down to one mistake, but I have to hand it to our boys that never stopped working and found a way to pull this one out."

Coming into the new season the Rebels looked to play more aggressive and high-tempo, they did just that tonight by controlling both the offensive and defensive lines.

"I started cramping up late but told coach I need to go in and be there for my teammates," Rossi said. "Mark and I knew we could beat them deep on this route and he threw a great ball. What a great win."

Up next for Howell is a home game next Friday night against Freehold Township while Freehold Borough returns home to take on Middletown North next Saturday.

Mark Iacobino rolls out for his first passing touchdown against Freehold Borough (photo by Eric Braun)