MIDDLETOWN - Toms River North entered Friday night averaging a gaudy 49.5 points per game to lead the Shore Conference, yet the Mariners felt there were still a few skeptics when it came to their offense because they had yet to face a defense like the one at top-ranked Middletown South.

By the time the smoke cleared in their 41-21 nondivisional win over the No. 1 Eagles, the No. 2 Mariners (7-0) had 441 yards of offense, including 182 yards receiving and three touchdowns by senior wideout Bryce Watts and 354 total yards and five total touchdowns in yet another monster game by senior quarterback Mike Husni.

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Toms River North senior wide receiver Bryce Watts was sensational with 182 yards and three touchdowns on only 4 catches to power the win over Middletown South. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

"I think we have the best offense in New Jersey,'' Watts said. "We're so deep. We have so much talent, and we showed it here. Middletown South, we just smacked 'em."

Toms River North extended its winning streak to 17 games while ending a 17-game winning streak by Middletown South (5-1) in the match-up between defending state champions to leave no doubt about who the No. 1 squad is in the Shore.

The Mariners rattled off 21 straight points in the first quarter to silence the capacity home crowd at "The Swamp" thanks to some fireworks by Watts, and they never looked back.

After Middletown South won the toss and elected to receive, Toms River North's defense answered that early challenge by forcing a three-and-out thanks to a sack by junior linebacker Ian Briggs on third down.

Jordan Johnson and the Toms River North defense bottled up Middletown South at every crucial juncture in the game. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

On Toms River North's second play from scrimmage, Watts flashed the 4.35 speed that netted him multiple FBS offers before he verbally committed to Rutgers. He took a quick pass in the flat, beat one defender and then zoomed 45 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead only 2:12 into the game.

"They weren't respecting my quick screen, and it was open,'' Watts said. "I just tried to set the tone early. They knew I had speed, but they didn't respect it."

"That first (defensive) stop was big, and on offense we knew we had to punch it in and not take our foot off the pedal,'' Husni said.

A pass break-up on fourth down by Watts in the secondary killed Middletown South's ensuing drive at Toms River North's 18-yard line. Two plays later, Husni, who finished 9-for-14 for 282 yards and four touchdowns passing, unloaded a 71-yard bomb to a streaking Watts for a 14-0 lead.

"People really don't know how fast he is,'' Husni said. "Bryce can look like he's jogging, and he's still running a 4.5."

Middletown South was moving the ball on its next drive, but again the Mariners' defense made a crucial play. Linebacker Mickey Maldonado picked off a pass by senior Aneesh Agrawal and returned it 39 yards to Middletown South's 25-yard line to put the offense in business.

Four plays later, senior Parker Day rumbled his way into the end zone from 11 yards out, and just like that, it was 21-0 with 26.8 seconds left in the first quarter. Middletown South had not allowed more than 22 points in any game this season up to that point, and the Mariners almost hit that mark in a quarter.

 

"Everyone was talking about how great their defense was, and they were a great defense, but we made a statement that we're No. 1 in the Shore,'' Husni said. "Mariner football is back, and we're here to stay for a while."

Middletown South appeared poised to get on the board on their next drive, but Watts ended that threat with an interception.

"I thought the story of the game for me is our defense being physical, handling the run game and forcing them to throw the ball against our athletic secondary and making them be impatient,'' Toms River North coach Dave Oizerowitz said.

The Eagles finally broke through when senior linebacker Maxx Imsho sacked Husni and forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive lineman Will Gulick at Toms River North's 29-yard line late in the second quarter.

The Eagles cut the lead to 21-7 on an 8-yard touchdown run by Chaz Alessi with 1:59 left in the half and then held on as Toms River North nearly put more points on the board before the break. Husni rifled a 47-yard pass to senior wide receiver Darrion Carrington, who was tackled at the one-yard line with 3.3 seconds to go, but Kyle Bayha's 20-yard field goal attempt was no good as time expired to keep the lead at 21-7.

With Middletown South showing signs of life, the opening possession of the third quarter was crucial for Toms River North. The Mariners were in danger of going three-and-out, but Husni killed that notion when he threw a dart to Carrington for a 10-yard gain as he tightroped the Eagles' sideline.

"They had momentum,'' Carrington said. "If they would've stopped us and came back and scored again, it would've been a whole different story."

"Mike (Husni) is as good a player as I've ever seen, I've ever coached,'' Oizerowitz said. "I think he's one of the best players in Shore Conference history."

That kept the drive alive long enough for Watts to send a charge through the crowd again as the Mariners took advantage of the aggressive Eagles' defense. On third-and-17, Husni found Watts on a middle screen pass and the Rutgers recruit did the rest, turning on the nitro for a 58-yard touchdown and a 27-7 lead after the extra point was blocked.

"That was a great playcall,'' Watts said. "It was wide open."

The lead stayed that way into the fourth quarter as Toms River North's defense came up with three straight stops, including a fumble recovery by Briggs at the end of the third quarter that set up another scoring drive to put the game on ice.

The Mariners went 52 yards in eight plays, ballooning the lead to 34-7 on a 16-yard strike from Husni to Carrington with 9:27 left in the game.

Middletown South answered with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Agrawal to wide receiver Jeremy Joyce, who had 8 catches for 108 yards in the loss. Toms River North came right back with a five-play, 43-yard drive keyed by a 28-yard run by Day that ended with a 5-yard touchdown run by Husni for the exclamation point to make it 41-14.

Agrawal tacked on a 59-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Lewandowski, but by that time the Mariners had proven their point as not only the Shore's best team, but a team in the conversation for No. 1 in the state.

"We like going on the road and winning in someone's backyard, so to do it here, where not too many people have come here in the last 25 years and beaten a good Middletown South team, we can say we did it,'' Oizerowitz said.

Box score

Toms River North 41, Middletown South 21

.                                   T                 M

First downs               16                20

Rushes-yards        36-159         41-144

Passing                  9-14-0          14-26-2

Passing yards        282                209

Fumbles-lost          1-1                 2-1

Penalties               8-50               5-32

TR North (7-0)        21  0  6  14 - 41

Midd. South (5-1)     0    7   0 14 - 21

Scoring summary

T: Watts 45-yard pass from Husni (Bayha kick).

T: Watts 71-yard pass from Husni (Bayha kick).

T: Day 11-yard run (Bayha kick).

M: Alessi 8-yard run (Kaldrovics kick).

T: Watts 58-yard pass from Husni (kick blocked).

T: Carrington 16-yard pass from Husni (Bayha kick).

M: Joyce 25-yard pass from Agrawal (Kaldrovics kick).

T: Husni 5-yard run (Bayha kick).

M: Lewandowski 58-yard pass from Agrawal (Kaldrovics kick).

Individual statistics

Rushing - M: Dube 6-12, Agrawal 8-18, Imsho 1-3, Summey 6-31, Alessi 19-75, Lewandowski 1-5. T: Husni 18-72, Day 15-76, Watts 3-11.

Passing - M: Agrawal 14-26-2 209. T: Husni 9-14-0 282.

Receiving - M: Joyce 8-108, Donlon 2-14, Lewandowski 4-87. T: Watts 4-182, Carrington 4-80, Rhoden 1-20.

Interceptions - T: Maldonado 1-39, Watts 1-6.

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