All-Shore Gridiron Classic – Brick Pair, Defense Lifts Ocean Past Monmouth
BRICK TWP. – Brick football coach Rob Dahl is used to watching his teams pull out wins at Keller Memorial Field at Brick High School. On Thursday night, while coaching the Ocean County all-stars in the U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic, he watched his team do the same thanks to a couple of familiar faces.
Brick senior kicker Anthony Starego hammered the game-winning 20-yard field goal with 5:21 left in the game after an interception by teammate Drew Scott and Southern cornerback Logan Sheehan sealed the win with a late interception at the Ocean 5-yard line to wrap up a 17-14 win for Ocean over Monmouth County. The win ends a two-game skid for Ocean against Monmouth and is the second in the last six years for Ocean, which trimmed Monmouth's lead in the all-time series to 20-16-1.
“I think just being on the field and around the locker room provides an air of tradition,” Dahl said. “It has a big effect on our guys during the season, and I think the guys on this team had that sense preparing for today. Even Kenny Bradley from Jackson was saying before the game, ‘This field has a tradition of winning, and we’re not going to fail to live up to that tonight.’”
Ocean County forced three turnovers and returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown to headline the effort. Scott set up his Brick classmate for the winning field goal by intercepting a screen pass from Howell quarterback Connor McGlynn and returning it 26 yards to the 5 yard-line.
“Ocean County is a defensive county,” Scott said. “That’s what we do, that’s what we’re all about, and I love it.”
Monmouth kept Ocean out of the end zone thanks to a tipped ball by Manalapan’s Chris Noesges and a hit by Keansburg defensive back Kason Preston that broke up a potential touchdown connection on third down. Starego – who missed a 29-yard attempt in the first quarter – made his teammate’s defensive play count by connecting from 20 yards out to put Ocean ahead for good.
Starego was 2-for-2 on extra points and earned offensive Most Valuable Player honors for an Ocean County squad that managed only 138 total yards and seven first downs, instead setting up its scoring behind an opportunistic defense. Starego, who has autism, was a two-year varsity kicker for the Dragons and has been a source of inspiration, according to one of his closest teammates.
“It was an awesome experience to see him do what he did tonight and do what he did all year,” Scott said. “As close as I am to him, I wouldn’t want to see it end any other way for him.”
Following Starego’s go-ahead kick, Monmouth County moved the ball down to the Ocean 25 yard-line behind a 20-yard scramble by St. John Vianney quarterback Billy DeMato. On the following play, however, Sheehan undercut a corner route and picked off DeMato’s pass at the 5 yard-line, returning it to the 17 with 1:11 left.
“We messed up some coverages earlier when I was in the game, so they took me out for a little bit,” Sheehan said. “So getting back in, I knew I was just looking for a chance to make a play. Fortunately, the ball was a little underthrown, so I got a chance to undercut the route and make a play.”
Monmouth had already answered Ocean twice in the game, although the visiting county never led. McGlynn found Red Bank Catholic tight end Frank Olmo for a nine-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7 on the team’s first drive of the third quarter and Colts Neck running back Anthony Gargiulo stormed in for a five-yard score to tie the game at 14 late in the third.
Ocean fumbled the ball on consecutive possessions to open the second half and Monmouth cashed in with Olmo’s touchdown on the first of them. Matawan kicker Mike Creamer drilled a 42-yard field goal following the second, but a dead-ball encroachment penalty on Ocean killed the play and forced Creamer to try again, albeit from five yards closer. This time, Jackson Memorial’s Marcus Ademilola blocked the kick up the middle and Manchester’s Shaquille Benjamin picked up the loose ball and took it 71 yards for the touchdown, turning a potential 10-7 deficit into a 14-10 lead for Ocean.
"It was a big momentum swing,'' Ademilola said. "My coaches wouldn't put me in (on special teams), and I told them I could block the field goal, so I just went out there and did it."
The opening touchdown of the game was even more bizarre than Benjamin’s blocked kick return. Long Branch safety Myson Pennington intercepted a pass from Lacey quarterback Tom Kelly near the goal-line, and Kelly then ran him down from behind, forcing a fumble that Monsignor Donovan’s Vinny Grasso snatched up and raced 26 yards to the end zone to break a scoreless tie with only 55 seconds left in the first half.
Ademilola led all receivers with four catches for 49 yards to go with the blocked field goal. Kelly handled nearly all of the quarterbacking duties for Ocean County and finished 7-for-17 for 59 yards with one interception. Southern defensive lineman Mason Fezekas earned Defensive Most Valuable Player honors for Ocean with four tackles – two for a loss – and a blocked punt. Fezekas was also the Sam Mills Award winner for Ocean County, while Preston earned the honor for Monmouth.
Gargiulo rushed for a game-high 51 yards on 14 carries to earn Monmouth’s Offensive Most Valuable Player of the game. Matawan defensive end Nick Tomkins, a Dartmouth recruit, was the team’s defensive MVP with two sacks, a pass defensed and seven tackles, including consecutive stops at the goal-line on third and fourth down in the second quarter. Tomkins stopped Grasso on a 4th-and-goal, quarterback dive from the 1 yard-line to cap one of two goal-line stands by Monmouth.
Ocean 17, Monmouth 14
Vinny Grasso 26-yard fumble return (Anthony Starego kick)
Frank Olmo 9-yard pass from Connor McGlynn (Mike Creamer kick)
Shaquille Benjamin 71-yard blocked field goal return (Anthony Starego kick)
Anthony Gargiulo 5-yard run (Mike Creamer kick)
Anthony Starego 20-yard field goal
Rushing – M: Anthony Gargiulo 14-51, Tyler Leonetti 6-18, Billy DeMato 3-12, Joe Fittin 2-23, Daquane Bland-Bennett 1-6, Julanee Prince 1-(-2), Connor McGlynn 5-(-6); O: Tom Kelly 16-18, Kenny Bradley 1-20, Javon Hardy 1-4, Khani Glover 3-16, Vinny Grasso 4-11; Amani Richardson 1-7, Shaquille Benjamin 1-0, KaShaun Barnes 2-(-4)
Passing – M: Connor McGlynn 5-10-1-49, Billy DeMato 1-4-1-10; O: Tom Kelly 7-17-1-59
Receiving – M: Julanee Prince 2-17, Joe Fittin 1-19, Frank Olmo 1-9, Daquane Bland-Bennett 1-7, Anthony Gargiulo 1-7; O: Marcus Ademilola 4-49, Evan Sirota 1-11, Vinny Grasso 1-1, Khani Glover 1-(-2)
Interceptions-Yards – M: Myson Pennington 1-19; O: Drew Scott 1-26, Logan Sheehan 1-12