Spotlight Thursday: Pt. Boro at Barnegat
When Barnegat started its football program six years ago, one goal the Bengals always envisioned was having a state playoff game on their home field.
That moment has arrived, as the third-seeded Bengals will take on sixth-seeded Point Boro at 7 p.m. Friday in a South Jersey Group II quarterfinal that promises to be a lively atmosphere. The game will be live right here on The Shore Sports Network on 105.7 f.m. only, as Monmouth University men’s basketball will be live on 1310/1160 a.m. simultaneously.
The game features two teams that lurched out of the gate to the start the season but have come alive at the perfect time. Point Boro won three straight after a 2-3 start to qualify for the state playoffs for the seventh time in the last eight seasons, while Barnegat has won five of six since an 0-2 start to earn consecutive state playoff berths for the first time in program history.
“The school is going to go nuts on Friday,’’ said Barnegat senior quarterback Mark McCoy. “The student section is going to be insane. I heard people are getting there starting at like 3 o’clock. Our biggest home game we’ve ever had was against Lacey last year (in a regular-season game), and this game is going to be 10 times bigger than that.’’
“Everybody is excited,’’ said Barnegat head coach Rob Davis. “This is something that when we started the program six years ago we had as a goal, and now we can check this one off. But we’re not just happy to get a home game. We want to win it because our kids aren’t satisfied just being in the playoffs.’’
The Bengals, who only have to beat winless Pinelands on Thanksgiving to clinch the outright Class B South title for their first division title in program history, have been a dynamic offensive team but one that has a little bit of a different identity than in the past. This year’s team is tough up front and physical on defense, characteristics that were lacking in the past on units more known for their high-octane offense.
“We’re allowing about 190 yards per game, and the difference is that we can stop the run,’’ Davis said. “We’re playing tough.’’
“On film, they look a lot more physical than I’ve seen in the past,’’ said Point Boro senior quarterback John Dunbar. “They get great jumps off the ball. We just have to block them well and execute everything.’’
Stopping the run will be the primary objective for Barnegat, as Point Boro employs the flexbone option led by Dunbar, an elusive runner who is about 30 yards shy of 1,000 yards rushing for the season. He is coming off a 169-yard, four-touchdown performance in a 36-0 win over Manchester that clinched Point Boro a spot in the postseason. It will be up to a front seven led by senior defensive lineman Vinny Calderon and the school’s all-time leading tackler, senior linebacker Matt Schofield, to play assignment football to stop the dangerous Dunbar. The Panthers also will attack with punishing fullback Jack Vitale and slotback Dan Trainor.
“We're finally getting our groove and getting everything done,’’ Dunbar. “We were preparing all summer to play the way we are right now. We're clicking on all cylinders, so we just want to keep playing the way we played the last couple games.’’
This is also the first triple option team that Barnegat has faced all season, which can be difficult to prepare for in only a week. The Bengals did scrimmage Monsignor Donovan in the preseason, so they at least have seen it at some point this fall.
“We’re just working on being sound defensively because they have a stud quarterback,’’ Davis said. “It’s assignment football. We're pretty confident with our run defense, which has been very good the last six weeks.’’
“We’ve just been focusing on defense and kind of changing the culture in Barnegat,’’ said McCoy, who also plays defensive back. “This is just assignment football. If you don’t do your job, they are going to run all over you.’’
On the other side of the ball, McCoy, who is headed to Wake Forest on a baseball scholarship, has steadily improved in his one season as the starting quarterback to make the Barnegat’s a tough team to defend. He has thrown for 1,202 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he has also run for 263 yards and four touchdowns.
Add in senior tailback David Smithman, who has 658 yards and four touchdowns on an average of 5.6 yards per carry, and that keeps defenses off balance. So does having three quality receivers to spread the ball around to. Junior wide receiver Pat Moran has a team-high 32 catches for 536 yards and 4 touchdowns, Purdue-bound senior tight end Ryan Morris has 14 catches for 282 yards and a touchdown, and senior wide receiver Jordan Salt has 12 catches for 249 yards and 5 touchdowns. Moran is also a talented kicker who is 4-for-5 on field goal attempts this year with a long of 37 yards.
The depth in the passing game forces teams to pick their poison. The Bengals have had star receivers in the past, like current New Hampshire freshman Mike DeTroia and former standout Dan Cintron, but not this many dangerous targets at once.
“It's very tough to defend,’’ McCoy said. “We can run the ball, and throw the ball. It’s not like the past when you could just cover Cintron or DeTroia. If you cover Morris, you leave a one-on-one for Moran and Salt, and vice versa.’’
“We’re not just coming out and throwing the ball,’’ Davis said. “We’re attacking what’s open.’’
Point Boro will counter with an improved defense that limited Manchester’s explosive offense to 102 total yards to register the Panthers’ first shutout since 2009. Senior defensive end John Connell is a playmaker up front along with tackle Dru Kegreiss, and junior Ryan Prout is the team’s top pass rusher. Junior Chris Oliphant is a ball hawk in the secondary who will lead a unit that has to play well in order to slow down this Barnegat team.
Barnegat is looking to advance to the semifinals for the second year in a row after winning its first state playoff game in history last year. Most likely looming in that game is second-seeded West Deptford, a perennial state playoff power that blistered Point Boro 44-13 in the first round last year and then hammered Barnegat 56-7 in the semifinals before being upset by Haddonfield in the championship game.
“Ever since last year against West Deptford when we didn’t come to play, there’s been a nasty taste in our mouth,’’ McCoy said. “We don’t want to have that feeling again.’’
This is one of two home games left for Barnegat’s seniors, and while Morris is moving on to play major college football, for many of them, like McCoy, this is the end of a football career that started when they were in middle school.
“It’s very emotional,’’ McCoy said. “It started hitting me last week. Matt (Schofield) said it before our last game, ‘I don’t want this to be the last game under the lights.’ I was in tears before the game. It’s crazy that it’s almost over. We can have two games left or four, so we want to make it four."