An Early Feast: No. 1 Wall rolls past Thanksgiving rival Manasquan despite Larkin’s injury
WALL TOWNSHIP – When star running back Casey Larkin exited the game with an injury just two plays into Friday night’s showdown with rival Manasquan, it could have sent top-ranked Wall careening off the tracks. Instead, the Crimson Knights once again showed what makes them such a great team.
Led by a relentless defense that posted its third straight shutout, Wall, ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, blanked Manasquan, 21-0, for its 17th straight win versus Shore Conference teams. The Crimson Knights were dominant on defense in allowing just 27 yards of offense, including just two yards rushing, and only one first down to beat Manasquan for the third straight year.
The Wall-Manasquan game is traditionally played on Thanksgiving Day but, like many other Turkey Day games was moved up to ensure it could be played due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senior quarterback Logan Peters threw a 41-yard touchdown to Rocco Palmieri and ran for 95 yards on 17 carries to lead an offense that churned out three touchdown drives. Junior linebacker standouts Charlie Sasso and Colin Riley picked up the slack in the backfield in Larkin’s absence with each scoring a touchdown behind a punishing offensive line. It all added up to another dominant win in a season in which Wall has outscored its opponents 142-13.
“Losing Casey was definitely a big blow, he’s our best guy and (Manasquan) probably schemed all week for him,” Peters said. “We had to adjust. We said it the second he went down, we’re one unit and the next guy has to step in and do just as good. We had confidence in Charlie and Colin and we knew we could still run on them and do what we want.”
“When Casey went down it hit us a little bit but how we stepped up shows a lot about the guys on this team,” Sasso said. “That’s just our mentality going through all this. When a player like Casey goes down not one person has to step up, the whole team does, and that’s exactly what happened tonight.”
Larkin suffered a sprained shoulder and will be re-evaluated on Saturday, according to Wall head coach Tony Grandinetti. He broke free for a 45-yard gain on the second play of the game, was tackled and landed on his shoulder and did not return. Larkin, who is committed to Army, entered Friday with 366 yards rushing and eight touchdowns on an average of 11.4 yards per carry in three games. Last season, Larkin, a first-team All-Shore selection, suffered a concussion in the Thanksgiving game vs. Manasquan and missed the NJSIAA Central-South Group 3 Regional Championship game, which Wall lost to Woodrow Wilson, 12-7, for its only defeat of the season.
“We don’t know how serious it is but we’re going to get it checked out first thing in the morning,” said Wall head coach Tony Grandinetti. “It’s an unfortunate thing in this game – injuries – and that’s two years in a row for him in this game. On a personal level, I know how bad Casey wanted to play in this game because of last year and to go down so early in the game, that hit him hard.”
The opening drive of the game for Wall short-circuited at the Manasquan 15-yard line, but Wall’s defense pushed Manasquan backward on the next series with tackles for loss by Sasso, Riley and sophomore linebacker Mike Fumarola. On the first play of the Crimson Knights’ next series, Peters fired a strike to senior wide receiver Rocco Palmieri for a 41-yard touchdown, giving Wall the only points it would need.
In the first half, Wall’s defense held Manasquan to 21 yards of offense and zero first downs, but the lead was still just 7-0 at halftime. Manasquan was still hanging around when it received the kickoff to start the third quarter, but Wall’s defense was so unrelenting it felt like the only way Manasquan was going to score was on defense, special teams or with a fluky play. Neither happened, and when a sack by sophomore defensive lineman Keisun Sanders forced the Warriors to punt on the first possession of the third quarter it led to Wall’s second touchdown.
Starting from its own 43-yard line, Wall went 57 yards in eight plays to take a 14-0 lead with 5:16 left in the third quarter. Peters, Sasso and Riley were the three-headed monster on the ground as the Knights methodically marched inside Manasquan’s 20-yard line. On first down at the 12-yard line, Sasso emerged from a scrum just beyond the line of scrimmage and busted free for a 12-yard touchdown run.
“I got stuffed at the line but it was a great push by the O-line, I bounced it to the right and it was wide-open. I walked it in,” Sasso said.
Wall nearly went ahead by three scores early in the fourth quarter but a penalty for an ineligible man downfield wiped out a 16-yard touchdown catch by junior tight end Blake Rezk. Manasquan was able to force a turnover on downs, but it only delayed the inevitable.
At this point, Manasquan still had not gained a first down and Sasso kept it that way when he pulled down Manasquan sophomore quarterback Brett Patten with one hand on a third-and-three to force the Warriors to punt.
Wall started its next drive at the Manasquan 44-yard line and eight plays later was in the end zone for a 21-0 lead. Peters scrambled and flipped a pass to Jackson Coan for a 9-yard gain on first down and the Knights were off and running to the end zone once again. Peters, Sasso and Riley alternated carries with another pass to Coan mixed in. Ultimately, it was Riley who turned the corner around left tackle and scored on a 4-yard touchdown run with 5:23 left in the game.
The only drama left was whether Manasquan would gain a first down, and the Warriors were finally able to move the chains when junior fullback Cole Kozlowski narrowly converted a third-and-one with 3:15 left in the game. That was the only “blemish” on Wall’s defensive ledger Friday night. Sasso, Riley, Rezk and Sanders led the charge for a unit that is now allowing a measly 3.3 points per game.
“We know we can shut down any team if we play the way we know we can,” Sasso said. “It comes down to all 11 of us on the field. I don’t worry about one other guy on this field because I’m confident in everybody. It allows me to do my job and I know everybody else is going to do theirs.”
“For me as the play-caller, to have a defense I have so much confidence in really helps me out,” Grandinetti said. “I know even if we don’t have our entire catalog of plays all we have to do is control the ball and at least get one more score for insurance.”
With the current postseason structure set to have teams placed in four-team pods, the anticipation is that the top four teams in the Shore Conference will meet to determine the No. 1 team in the Shore. Through Oct. 30, that would be Wall, Donovan Catholic, Red Bank Catholic and either Rumson-Fair Haven or Mater Dei, which play either other on Saturday afternoon. Despite its dominance, Wall knows it can’t afford a slip-up against Middletown South (2-3) in Week 6.
“We just have to keep doing what we do and keep the foot on the gas,” Sasso said. “We know Middletown South is going to come out flying. We’ll be ready to go.”
“Every game for us starting this week is a playoff game,” Grandinetti said. “Every game. It’s a playoff mindset and playoff preparation and focus.”
No. 1 Wall 21, Manasquan 0
W – Rocco Palmieri 41-yard pass from Logan Peters (Max Oakley kick)
W – Charlie Sasso 12-yard run (Max Oakley kick)
W – Colin Riley 4-yard run (Max Oakley kick)
RUSHING – M: Cole Kozlowski, 2-6, Jhamier Howard 4-3, Patrick Woodford, 4-2, Brett Patten 6-(-9); W: Logan Peters 17-95, Casey Larkin 2-51, Charlie Sasso 8-40, Colin Riley 11-32, Mike Fumarola 2-4.
PASSING – M: Brett Patten 4-8-0 25; W: Logan Peters 4-10-0 68.
RECEIVING – M: Cole Kozlowski 2-12, Jack Collins 1-10, Robert Pendergist 1-3; W: Rocco Palmieri 1-41, Jackson Coan 2-18, Matt Dollive 1-9.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.