With a veteran roster returning off a solid 2016 season there was plenty of promise surrounding Point Boro’s football team heading into this year.

While the Panthers finished one win short of perfection, they made Friday night’s special at Al Saner Field by turning in the program’s best season in a decade. For his role in leading the Panthers to an 11-1 record, a division title and a trip to a sectional final, Point Boro head coach Matt Cilento has been selected as the 2017 Shore Sports Network Coach of the Year.

In his second season leading Point Boro, Cilento guided the Panthers to their most wins since 2005, their first championship game appearance since 2007 and the program’s third consecutive Class B South division title. The Panthers shared the title with Lakewood in 2015, but have gone 14-0 within B South over the past two years. It is the third time in program history Point Boro has won three straight division crowns and the first since doing it from 1977 to 1979.

The Panthers had a top-10 offense and a top-10 defense in 2017. Led by senior quarterback James Fara, Point Boro and its triple-option attack was the No. 7 offense in the Shore Conference with an average of 32.5 points per game. Fara had a tremendous season to finish fourth in the Shore in rushing with 1,628 yards and 24 touchdowns while also throwing for 611 yards and seven touchdowns. Senior running back Brandon Cipriano also had a great season after an injury-shortened junior year. Cipriano ran for 825 yards and 12 touchdowns on an average of 11.9 yards per carry as one of Point Boro’s slot backs, and was also the Panthers’ leading receiving with 25 catches for 451 yards and five touchdowns. Senior fullback Tanner Gordon battled through an injury all season but still managed to run for 708 yards and eight touchdowns.

Before becoming Point Boro’s head coach in 2016 Cilento built some standout units as the Panthers’ defensive coordinator. With Cilento still running the defense this year, the Panthers finished as the Shore’s No. 4 defense in allowing just 12.9 points per game with one shutout. Point Boro allowed more than 20 points only once and held teams to seven points or less four times.

Junior linebacker Garrett Romer led the Panthers with 107 tackles while junior defensive lineman Trent Livolsi had 65 tackles and senior safety Trevor McNamara had 59 stops. Gordon had a team-high four sacks and senior defensive back John Callander had three interceptions.

Point Boro's first big moment of the season came in Week 2 when they blanked Lacey, 27-0. The Lions, who finished 7-3, were thought of as a challenger to Point Boro in the division race, but the Panthers dominated from start to finish to send a message to the rest of B South.

In Week 4 the Panthers hosted a surprising Monmouth Regional team which had started the season 4-0. The battle of unbeatens drew a huge crowd to Al Saner Field and Point Boro delivered with a 13-3 victory.

Two weeks later Point Boro faced its first true adversity of the season when Lakewood jumped out to a 20-0 lead in the first half. The Panthers battled back to take a 21-20 lead and, after Lakewood went back in front, 28-21, Point Boro scored twice in the final two minutes to win a thriller, 35-28, and improve to 6-0.

The Panthers won their next three games to enter the playoffs undefeated for the first time since 2005 and earned the No. 1 seed in the Central Jersey Group II playoffs. A 41-12 first-round win over Raritan set the stage for a massive semifinal matchup against defending-champion Manasquan. That game had several layers of intrigue to it, starting obviously with the Panthers trying to unseat the reigning champs to reach their first state final since 2007. The two teams were also Thanksgiving rivals for many years and the communities are situated across the Manasquan River from one another.

Point Boro made a statement that Friday night with an impressive 27-6 win that propelled them into the Central Jersey Group II final. Cipriano had a career night with four touchdowns and the Panthers’ defense held down Manasquan until the Warriors punched in a late touchdown.

The victory also helped raise the profile of Class B South, as well. B South teams have struggled to win marquee games outside of the division in recent years, but Point Boro bucked the trend against a Manasquan program that has a Shore Conference-record 12 sectional championships.

Perfection was not in the cards for Point Boro, however, as the Panthers fell to Hillside in the Central Jersey Group II championship game, 20-13. The Comets jumped out to a 20-0 lead and Point Boro didn’t find its offensive groove until late in the game. The Panthers rallied with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter but ran out of time to complete the comeback.

While the state championship defeat was certainly disappointing, Cilento’s message to his team was to not let the one loss detract from the rest of the season. This Point Boro team was forged on friendships that go back to elementary school in their small town. Many teams preach having a “family” culture and Point Boro absolutely embodied that. And it wasn’t manufactured. It was obvious to see how much each player truly cared about their teammates.

It’s clear Point Boro had a talented class of juniors during Cilento’s first year, and his ability to cultivate that talent and get them all playing at a high level as seniors was instrumental to Point Boro’s success in 2017. A constant coaching mantra is to maximize the potential of all the players on the team, and in a memorable year for Point Boro, Cilento did exactly that.

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights. 

 

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