PISCATAWAY — For the second straight season and the fifth time in the last seven years, Manalapan suffered heartbreak in an NJSIAA sectional championship game.

South Brunswick rallied from a 14-0 deficit to stun the top-seeded and previously undefeated Braves, 18-14, and capture the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group V championship on Saturday afternoon at Rutgers University’s High Point Solutions Stadium.

A 17-yard touchdown pass from Felix Quinones to Jaylan Lawson with 53 seconds left in regulation capped an 11-play, 92-yard scoring drive and gave South Brunswick (11-1) its first lead of the game.

Manalapan tried to drive for the game-winning touchdown and appeared to have done so when senior running back Naim Mayfield caught a 29-yard touchdown with three seconds left, but an offensive pass interference call negated the touchdown and South Brunswick knocked down a final Hail Mary attempt to clinch its third state title in program history.

“They said he pushed off,” said Manalapan head coach Ed Gurrieri. “I’m not going to cry over spilled milk. That play in the end zone was a great adjustment on the ball. Whether it was a push-off or not, I don’t know, but I’m not going to complain about a call. They made plays and we didn’t. We had plays in the first half that could have broken the game open. We were up 14-0 and missed opportunities.”

Leading 14-12, Manalapan’s defense forced a South Brunswick punt with 6:51 left but could not move the ball or take any time off the clock, going three-and-out and punting it back to the Vikings with 3:55 remaining in the fourth quarter. An 18-yard run by Dylan Kirz and a 10-yard catch by Penn State recruit Justin Shorter moved the ball near midfield, and an 11-yard run by Lawson and an 11-yard catch by Shorter set up the go-ahead touchdown pass.

South Brunswick did not face a third down on the entire drive.

“For once in a long time I’m a little speechless right now,” said South Brunswick head coach Joe George. “We said right at halftime we could do this, and this right here is typical of what these kids have done all year. They’ve been resilient and never considered themselves out of it at all. I don’t think it ever showed more than on that drive.”

“It was about being relentless,” Quinones said. “We fight all season for that moment and we practice hard every day for moments like that when you have to dig deep and grind.”

The loss is a bitter defeat for Manalapan, which fell to 1-6 all-time in sectional championship games.

“(Our kids) have great heart and played really had, it was a good game, and (South Brunswick) played a great game,” Gurrieri said. “Give them all the credit, they did an outstanding job.”

Mayfield ran for 136 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries and also had a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown to account for both of Manalapan’s touchdowns in the first quarter. He finished the game with 2,682 yards rushing, which was a Shore Conference single-season record until Freehold quarterback Ashante Worthy eclipsed his mark in the Central Jersey Group IV final. Mayfield’s two touchdowns gave him 48 on the season, which, along with his 288 points this season, set a New Jersey state record.

Quinones was iffy to even play Saturday after injuring his non-throwing elbow in a semifinal win over Old Bridge two weeks ago, but got the start and played big with 179 yards passing and three touchdowns. Shorter had seven catches for 86 yards to lead the way.

Manalapan jumped out to a 7-0 lead when Mayfield capped a nine-play, 73-yard drive with a 34-yard touchdown run. Senior wide receiver Scott Scherzer made a nifty 12-yard catch along the sidelines to convert a third-and-7, and Mayfield scored on the next play.

The Braves’ lead grew to 14-0 on the final play of the first quarter when a thunderous block by Tommy Pearce sprung Mayfield for a 60-yard punt return touchdown. Shockingly, those were the last points Manalapan, the Shore Conference’s No. 1 offense, would score in the game.

South Brunswick’s comeback began with an 11-play, 85-yard drive where Kirz took a swing pass and weaved his way into the end zone from 14 yards out. The extra point was wide left, making it 14-6 Manalapan.

Manalapan was forced to punt on its next series and the snap went over the head of Gelb for a 23-yard loss that gave South Brunswick the ball at the Braves’ 33-yard line. A 19-yard pass from Quinones to Lawson moved the ball to the Manalapan 14-yard line, and on fourth-and-6 from the 10 Quinones connected with Shorter for a touchdown. Manalapan stopped the 2-point conversion try to keep the lead, 14-12, and it stayed that way through halftime.

Manalapan’s offense never got going in the second half and failed to score on all four of its possessions over the final two quarters. The Braves had two touchdowns called back, however, including Mayfield’s would-be score in the final seconds as well as a touchdown run by Mayfield that was negated by a holding penalty. On the next play after Mayfield’s touchdown run was waved off, Lawson intercepted Corcione in the end zone to end a drive that looked certain to come away with points.

“We had our opportunities with guys uncovered, we had wide-open routes and we missed a few,” Gurrieri said. “We thought we’d make a couple corrections at halftime and we’d be all right, but it never came about. We had our opportunities in the first half and in the second half we thought we would get it going and wear them down a little bit, and it never happened.”

Manalapan’s current group of seniors went 27-8 over the past three years, including two straight 11-1 seasons and two straight Class A North division titles. They did a lot of winning, but not being able to finish it off with a state title is surely deflating.

“They’re going to be hurting but we’ll get over it,” Gurrieri said. “We’ll come back.”

 

Box Score

South Brunswick 18, Manalapan 14

South Brunswick Manalapan
First downs 19 14
Rushes-yards 32-140 31-132
Passing 15-24-1 7-15-1
Passing yards 179 75
Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 4-25 6-57

 

South Brunswick (11-1) 0 12 0 6 — 18

Manalapan (11-1)          14 0 0  0 — 14

 

Scoring summary

M — Naim Mayfield 34-yard run (David Gelb kick)

M — Naim Mayfield 60-yard punt return (David Gelb kick)

SB — Dylan Kriz 14-yard pass from Felix Quinones (kick failed)

SB — Justin Shorter 10-yard pass from Felix Quinones (run failed)

SB — Jaylan Lawson 17-yard pass from Felix Quinones (pass failed)

 

Individual statistics

RUSHING — SB: Jaylan Lawson 5-43, Felix Quinones 14-41, Dylan Kriz 5-35, Justin Shorter 5-11, Taylor 2-8, Thomas Joe-Kamara 1-2; M: Naim Mayfield 25-136, Symir Blacknall 2-13, Chris Maksimik 2-8, team 2-(-25).

PASSING — SB: Felix Quinones 15-23-1 179, Jaylan Lawson 0-1-0 0; M: Luke Corcione 7-15-1 75.

RECEIVING — SB: Justin Shorter 7-86, Dylan Kriz 3-31, Jaylan Lawson 2-36, Hussain Abidi 2-11, Katibu Martin 1-15; M: Scott Scherzer 4-30, Chris Maksimik 2-25, Symir Blacknall 1-20.

INTERCEPTIONS — SB: Jaylan Lawson 1-0; M: Dale Sieczkowski 1-13.

 

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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