Strong Finish Propels Midd. South Past Brick
By Art Gordon – Shore Sports Network contributor
Diligent film study came in handy at the perfect time in the fourth quarter to help Middletown South pull away and pick up a 28-7 win in its season opener at “The Swamp’’ against visiting Brick on Friday night.
The Eagles (1-0), ranked No. 4 in The Shore Sports Network Top 10, were tied 7-7 with the Green Dragons (1-1) at seven and Middletown South’s defense had just spent nearly the entire third quarter on the field. After stopping Brick early in the fourth quarter on downs, the Eagles mounted what would be the decisive drive of the game.
On the fifth play of the drive, senior quarterback Kyle Brey took a snap from his shotgun position, faked to senior running back Drew O’Connell and hit senior tight end Tayler Hendrickson on a short pop pass at the 30-yard line. Hendrickson side-stepped a tackler and dove into the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown to give the Eagles a 14-7 lead with 7:01 left in the game that they would not relinquish.
“We saw something on film involving their blitz scheme,’’ Middletown South head coach Steve Antonucci said. “We liked this one play, and we knew we would only have one shot at it and it worked.”
Middletown South then tacked on two more touchdowns in the final six minutes to knock off a Green Dragons team coming off a big season-opening victory over rival Brick Memorial.
The Eagles took an early 7-0 lead on their second possession of the game after the defense came up with a big stop. Brick had recovered a muffed punt on Middletown South’s 41-yard line and driven down to the three-yard line before Eagles sophomore Tom Coffey stepped in front of a pass by quarterback Carmen Sclafani in the end zone for a drive-ending interception.
Middletown South took that momentum and drove 80 yards in only six plays, thanks to a pair of long catches by senior wide receiver Andrew Wisialko, including a 25-yard touchdown grab from Brey to cap the drive.
“We started well, but penalties and first game mistakes hurt us,’’ Brey said about the overall performance.
The defenses took over for the remainder of the second quarter, as punters Matt Mosquera and Steve Ferlisi combined to punt eight times in the opening half.
Brick wasted no time getting back into the game after the break, as it took the second half kickoff and marched 85 yards in five plays, with Sclafani taking a quarterback draw 66 yards for a score. After the extra point by Ferlisi, the game was tied at seven less than three minutes into the third quarter. Sclafani played a big part in the second half, as he carried the ball 15 times for 95 yards.
Middletown South had the ball for only eight plays in the third quarter and early in the fourth, as the defense had to overcome turnovers on a bad snap on a punt and an interception. The Eagles forced Brick to settle for field-goal attempts both times, but both attempts were wide left. On the second drive, Brick reached the Eagles’ 11-yard line, but sophomore Dylan Rogers sacked Sclafani for a three-yard loss on third-and-9 to force the field goal attempt.
“We made some adjustments at halftime,’’ senior defensive lineman Conner Spreen said. “Tayler and myself moved to two- and three-techniques rather than head up, and it made it harder for them to block us.”
After the defense came up with one more stop early in the fourth quarter, Middletown South finally broke through with the touchdown pass to Hendrickson, who verbally committed to the University of Pennsylvania this week.
“We just had to hunker down and get some stops, and we did,’’ Hendrickson said about the defensive effort.
After another three-out-out, Middletown South took over at the Brick 35-yard line after a 15-yard punt return by sophomore Cole Rogers. Six plays later, junior Nolan Pereless took a jet sweep handoff 3 yards into the end zone extending the lead to 21-7.
The last of the scoring was a tight end screen pass to Hendrickson from 14 yards out that was brought out of the playbook for the first time in two years. After the fourth of Mosquera’s extra points the Eagles had a commanding 28-7 lead on their way to the win.
“We put in a play specifically for a certain coverage and blitz, and when we saw it, we called it,” Brey said.
“It’s been in our book for years, but we put it in this week,’’ Hendrickson said.
After a tight game for 3 ½ quarters, the Eagles brought it home with a big finish by dominating the fourth quarter.
“We always want to wear out our opponents and tire them in the fourth quarter,’’ O’Connell said.
“The defense stepped it up tonight especially in the second half,’’ Antonucci said. “(Brick) ran 73 plays, and I think 60 of them were in the second half. Credit Brick, they played a great game and made some good adjustments that took some things away from us. They are a solid football team. We will also get better after this being our first game.”