Ashante Worthy’s 4 Combined TDs Help Freehold Reach First State Final Since 2010
BRICK - Freehold senior quarterback Ashante Worthy has turned the Shore Conference and state record books into his autobiography this season, but the distinction he wants the most cannot be accomplished by one player.
For the eighth-seeded Colonials to bring home their first state sectional title since 2010, it will take a full team effort like the one they turned in to beat fifth-seeded Brick 35-28 at Keller Memorial Field on Friday night to punch their ticket to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV final.
"We win every game as a team,'' Worthy said. "I keep (the records) in the way back (of my mind). I just want to win this state championship for Freehold Boro. That's all I care about."
Freehold (8-3) will face Long Branch in the championship game on the first weekend of December at a neutral site to be announced by the NJSIAA. The Colonials, who beat the Green Wave in a 27-20 thriller in the regular season, are trying to become the first Shore Conference team to win a state title as a No. 8 seed since Long Branch did it in Central Jersey Group III in 1999.
Worthy had 130 yards and three touchdowns rushing along with 117 yards and a touchdown passing to add to his record-setting totals as Freehold avenged a loss to the Green Dragons (6-5) from last year's semifinals. Worthy also had a pair of interceptions on defense.
However, plays like a leaping 28-yard touchdown catch on fourth down by junior Quincy Davis, a kick return touchdown by freshman Ahmad Dixon and some timely defensive stops were just as crucial in putting the Colonials in their first state final in seven years.
"(Worthy) is the most unselfish person and player,'' head coach Dave Ellis said. "His goal every game is to get all five of his wide receivers a touchdown. Everybody executes their role, and that's why we win."
Freehold pulled ahead for good with a pair of unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter that snapped a 14-14 halftime tie. Dixon, a budding star and the younger brother of former Freehold standout running back Josh Dixon, made his presence felt on the big stage by returning the opening kickoff of the second half 79 yards for a touchdown.
"I saw the hole and took it,'' Dixon said. "It gave us a whole bunch of life."
"Ahmad is gonna be a special player, and that really sparked us,'' Ellis said.
Dixon's return energized a Freehold defense that had given up 225 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns in the first half. They forced a three-and-out and the offense then drove 77 yards in 10 plays, capped by a juking, 32-yard touchdown run on fourth down by Worthy that made it 28-14 with 5:28 left in the third quarter.
"We made some halftime adjustments and just tackled better,'' Ellis said.
Worthy, who played on defense more than usual given the enormity of the game, killed Brick's ensuing drive with his second interception of the night. That set up a 12-play, 67-yard drive that put the game away. He broke about five arm tackles on his way to a 24-yard score that pushed the lead to 35-14 with 5:58 left in the game.
Brick made it interesting with a pair of late scoring drives, both of which ended with 2-yard touchdown runs by junior quarterback Jimmy Leblo. The second one cut the lead to 35-28, but junior Savion Macon recovered an onside kick with 29 seconds remaining that allowed Freehold to take a knee for the win.
"This is just an amazing feeling right now,'' Davis said.
The Green Dragons kept Worthy relatively under wraps by his standards in the first half given that he was coming off a Shore Conference single-game record 635-yard effort in a win over top-seeded Nottingham. They held him to 85 yards at the break, including only nine rushing yards, yet remained tied on the scoreboard.
The Colonials took advantage of a fumble recovery at the Brick 33-yard line on the first possession of the game to set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Worthy.
Brick answered with a 12-play drive capped by a one-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Cole Groschel and then an eight-play drive capped by a 43-yard touchdown run by Groschel for a 14-7 lead. Groschel was sensational in defeat with 197 yards rushing and a pair of scores.
Freehold made sure it would be deadlocked at halftime despite being outgained 239-85 when Worthy lofted a jump ball on fourth down that the 6-foot-6 Davis leaped to catch and then wrestled away from two defenders for a 28-yard score with 3:59 left in the half.
"I practice high-pointing the ball all the time," Davis said.
It was the latest highlight play involving Worthy, whose 55 combined touchdowns between rushing and passing this season are a state record. He now has 2,589 yards rushing, which ties the Shore Conference single-season record set by Long Branch's Dahmiere Willis two years ago and 226 short of the modern state record set by current Wisconsin star freshman Jonathan Taylor for Salem last year.
He also has 1,965 passing yards, leaving him 35 yards shy of becoming the first player in New Jersey history to both rush and pass for more than 2,000 yards in a season.
Worthy's rise has coincided with the upward trajectory of the Colonials after they went 3-7, 2-8 and 2-8 in Ellis' first three years from 2011-13. Ellis was the defensive coordinator under Mark Ciccotelli, now the head coach at Scotch Plains, when Freehold won its only two state titles in 2008 and 2010 before he ascended to the head job. The Colonials are now 27-15 over the past four seasons of Worthy's four-year varsity career.
"I told our coaches after we went 2-8 in 2013 that we're like a business and no one is buying our product,'' Ellis said. "It's been a long road, and there's been times when I didn't know if I would still be here. We just kept working and working, and that's why I'm so happy for these guys that they get to experience playing for a state championship."
Central Jersey Group IV semifinals
Freehold 35, Brick 28
. F B
Rushes-yards 28-133 54-346
Passing 7-12-0 4-11-2
Passing yards 119 50
Penalties 7-31 2-15
Fumbles-lost 0-0 2-1
Freehold (8-3) 7 7 14 7 - 35
Brick (6-5) 7 7 0 14 - 28
F: Worthy 3-yard run (Hurler kick).
B: Groschel 1-yard run (Wynkoop kick).
B: Groschel 43-yard run (Wynkoop kick).
F: Davis 28-yard pass from Worthy (Hurler kick).
F: Dixon 79-yard kickoff return (Hurler kick).
F: Worthy 32-yard run (Hurler kick).
F: Worthy 24-yard run (Hurler kick).
B: Leblo 2-yard run (Wynkoop kick).
B: Leblo 2-yard run (Wynkoop kick).
Rushing - F: Worthy 25-130, Dixon 2-2, DaSilva 1-1. B: Groschel 22-197, Carchio 17-68, Leblo 15-81.
Passing - F: Worthy 7-12-0 117. B: Leblo 4-10-1 50, Groschel 0-1-1 0.
Receiving - F: Davis 1-28, Hurler 3-37, Dixon 1-7, Hair 2-45. B: Groschel 1-14, Carchio 3-36.
Interceptions - F: Worthy 2-7.