Ashante Worthy’s Record-Breaking Performance Leads Freehold to Wild Win over Nottingham
HAMILTON — Historic. Unprecedented. Amazing, incredible and unbelievable. We are starting to run out of adjectives to describe Freehold quarterback Ashante Worthy and his record-breaking play over the past two seasons.
Every week there is a chance he will accomplish something never before witnessed in Shore Conference football, and Saturday’s state playoff game was another glorious example of that.
Against top-seeded Nottingham in the first round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV playoffs, Worthy ran for 419 yards and seven touchdowns on 32 carries while also completing 15 of 18 passes for 216 yards to power the Colonials to a wild 51-34 victory over the host Northstars at Jim Wino Sr. Field.
Worthy’s 58-yard touchdown run and 2-point conversion pass to freshman Ahmad Dixon gave Freehold a 37-34 lead with 1:28 left in the third quarter, swinging the pendulum back the Colonials' way for good in a see-saw battle. Worthy then added a 64-yard touchdown run and a 3-yard touchdown run to put Freehold into the sectional semifinals for the second straight season.
“This was very huge for us being the No. 8 seed and them being No. 1,” Worthy said. “We try not to listen to the media and just play our game and be patient. That’s what we did. It was back and forth but we went in at halftime, coach Ellis made adjustments and we came out and played good football.”
Freehold will head to Keller Memorial Field on Friday, Nov. 17 to face fifth-seeded Brick. It will be a rematch of last season’s semifinal game where the Dragons edged the Colonials, 24-23, to reach the championship game.
“Brick is a good football team who just beat Allentown and has their quarterback back,” said Freehold head coach Dave Ellis. “We have a lot to fix from (today) so we’l enjoy this one and get ready for Brick.”
“We got the rematch we wanted so now we just have to get right back to it,” Worthy said.
Worthy entered the game tied with Toms River North’s quarterback Mike Husni (2016) and Mater Dei Prep quarterback Christian Palmer (2014) for the most combined touchdowns in a single season (44). He blew past that to set the Shore Conference single-season mark with 51 touchdowns and counting. Worthy’s 635 combined yards between rushing and passing Saturday eclipsed the 624 yards he put up in a game versus Howell earlier in the year, setting yet another Shore Conference record.
In 10 games this season Worthy has rushed for 2,459 yards and 32 touchdowns and thrown for 1,848 yards and 19 touchdowns. His 4,307 combined yards are already a state record, and his 51 combined touchdowns are also believed to be a state record. Worthy now needs 131 yards rushing to break the Shore Conference single-season record of 2,589 set by Long Branch’s Dahmiere Willis in 2014 and 357 to break the state mark of 2,815 set last season by Salem’s Jonathan Taylor, who is currently the starting running back at the University of Wisconsin.
His career totals of 5,999 yards rushing, 2,705 yards passing and 109 total touchdowns take a moment to process.
“None of this would have been possible without the O-line,” Worthy said. “They did a great job and opened the holes for me. Coach said to be patient and wait for the holes to open, and that’s what I did.
The unit of Tyler Bennett at left tackle, Dalton Burdge at left guard, Zac Wiles at center, Alex Verardi at right guard and Seth Linares at right tackle has largely been unheralded this season, but when they elevate their game is when Worthy’s stats go into the stratosphere.
“At the beginning of the game we challenged the offensive line because we didn’t think they were getting it done up front, and I really felt like they came alive in the second half,” Ellis said. “They were able to get some movement and make some holes for (Worthy), so I’d be remiss not to mention those guys. They were getting a good push and they made it easier on him in the second half.”
In a game reminiscent of Freehold’s 69-56 win over Pennsauken in last season’s playoff opener, one where Worthy set the Shore Conference record with 465 yards rushing, eight rushing touchdowns and 10 total touchdowns, the Colonials needed every bit of his heroics to overcome a Nottingham rushing attack that nearly equaled Worthy.
Nottingham sophomore running back Diontae Nicholson ran for 233 yards and four touchdowns on 32 carries and senior fullback Eric D’Heron ran for 133 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. Nicholson, who entered the game as the state’s fourth-leading rusher, had touchdown runs of 80, 1, 13 and 65 yards to become Nottingham’s all-time leading rusher (2,491 yards) with two full seasons still in front of him.
It was the Northstars (8-2) who struck first when Nicholson broke free for an 80-yard touchdown on third-and-10 on the game’s opening possession. Freehold answered on the ensuing drive by going 78 yards in 10 plays. Junior wideout Matt Krauss had a 23-yard reception and Worthy had a 26-yard run down to the Nottingham 2-yard line. On third-and-goal, he finished off the drive with a 1-yard plunge, but the extra point was short to leave the Colonials down by one. They would chase that point throughout most of the first three quarters.
The trend of long runs continued on the next drive as D’Heron busted a 63-yard run up the middle to set up his own 4-yard touchdown run, giving Nottingham a 14-6 lead with 4:00 left in the first quarter.
Freehold was forced to punt on its next possession and the Colonials caught a break when a fake punt for a first down by Nottingham was negated by a holding penalty. Freehold then took over at its own 40-yard line and moved 60 yards in six plays with Worthy scoring on a 7-yard touchdown run to pull the Colonials within one point at 14-13.
Nottingham, however, came right back with a third touchdown drive to take a 21-13 lead with 5:19 left in the first half. This time the big play came through the air with Logan Barber connecting with Clifford Harris for a 37-yard gain down to the Freehold 30-yard line. Nicholson capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Following the script, Freehold countered with a scoring drive of its own, but this one featured a touchdown that was anything but ordinary. On second down and after being dropped for a one-yard loss, Worthy scored one of the most electrifying touchdowns imaginable by muscling through two tackles in the backfield, keeping his balance while breaking another tackle, spinning around a defender, breaking another tackle and zig-zagging his way through the rest of Nottingham’s defense for a jaw-dropping 71-yard touchdown run.
“I was pretty surprised on that 71-yard run, I’m not going to lie,” Ellis said. “As a staff we see him every day but that was pretty amazing. He’s so patient and has great vision.”
“That was a lot of Madden (moves),” Worthy said. “I just keep my feet moving and I kind of get a feel of what the defender’s going to do before he even make the move.”
The stunning scoring run once again pulled Freehold within one point and cut Nottingham’s lead to 21-20 with 4:22 left in the first half.
Despite the unreal touchdown run by Worthy, the Northstars were the ones who entered halftime with momentum. Starting at their own 45-yard line with 1:20 left, Barber connected with Harris for 25 yards and D’Heron had a 15-yard run on 3rd-and-3 to put the ball at Freehold’s 13-yard line. Nicholson then burst up the middle for a 13-yard touchdown run with four seconds left in the first half to give Nottingham a 27-20 edge (the extra point was no good) at the break.
Even with a seven-point lead and its offense putting up 305 yards, including 233 rushing, in the first half, Nottingham couldn’t have felt comfortable after seeing what Worthy could do first-hand and the fact Freehold was set to receive the second-half kickoff.
Freehold came out in the third quarter and put together a six-play, 63-yard scoring drive that ended with Worthy scoring from 23 yards out. The extra point his the upright, however, so Freehold still trailed by one, 27-26.
Worthy and the Colonials offense continued their torrid pace in the second half, but the big difference was the play of Freehold’s defense. It started on Nottingham’s first possession of the third quarter - a three-and-out - and continued on the next series. A Freehold drive was halted when Harris slid to intercept Worthy on an overthrow, but the defense was right there to pick up their star as senior defensive end Qua’jon Everett sacked Barber back at the 9-yard line to force a punt.
“(Nottingham) was doing some things up front that were hurting us and we had to adjust,” Ellis said. “We had kids there sometimes and didn’t make the play, and I told the defense at halftime it was about sheer will. If they want to win this football game they have to get some stops. We challenged them and they answered the call.”
Upon getting the ball back at their own 45-yard line, the Colonials moved 66 yards in nine plays to take their first lead of the game. Jake Hurler had a 20-yard reception and Worthy had a 20-yard run to set up first-and-goal at the 6-yard line. Worthy crossed the goal line on second down, but a holding call negated the touchdown and pushed Freehold back to the 11-yard line. They would have to settle for a field goal attempt, which Hurler drilled from 25 yards out to give Freehold a 29-27 lead with 2:57 left in the third quarter.
The one hiccup for Freehold’s defense in the second half game on the next play from scrimmage as Nicholson broke another long touchdown run, scoring from 65 yards out to give the Northstars the lead again, 34-29.
Resilient as ever, Freehold answered with a three-play, 80-yard drive to finally take the lead for good. Krauss had a 19-yard reception before Worthy scored on a 58-yard touchdown run. He then tossed the 2-point conversion pass to Dixon for a 37-34 lead with 1:28 left in the third quarter.
Nottingham missed a long field goal on its next drive, and Freehold needed just two plays afterward to extend its advantage. Krauss caught a 16-yard pass before Worthy broke free on a 64-yard touchdown to give Freehold a 10-point lead at 44-34.
Freehold’s defense turned up the pressure on the next series as Daniel Belmont, Kenny Tomkovich and Knox Stokes came up with tackles for loss, Krauss broke up a pass and linebacker Yahson Calhoun delivered a crushing sack on third down. The Colonials forced an incomplete pass on fourth-and-16 to take over on downs at midfield.
Freehold put another one in the end zone for good measure as Worthy carried five times for all 50 yards and scored on a 3-yard run for a 51-34 lead. The game was in hand at that point, but Freehold’s defense closed strong by forcing a turnover on downs.
As the calendar enters mid-November, Freehold is once again playing meaningful football led by a terrifying offense and a once-in-a-lifetime individual player. So much has been said and written about Worthy and Freehold this season, but the one word that has yet to be used: champion. They’re two wins away from changing that.
Freehold 51, Nottingham 34
Freehold (7-3) 6 14 17 14 — 51
Nottingham (8-2) 14 13 7 0 — 34
N — Diontae Nicholson 80-yard run (Alix Oge kick)
F — Ashante Worthy 1-yard run (kick failed)
N — Eric D’Heron 4-yard run (Alix Oge kick)
F — Ashante Worthy 7-yard run (Jake Hurler kick)
N — Diontae Nicholson 1-yard run (Alix Oge kick)
F — Ashante Worthy 71-yard run (Jake Hurler kick)
N — Diontae Nicholson 13-yard run (kick failed)
F — Ashante Worthy 23-yard run (kick failed)
F — Jake Hurler 25-yard field goal
N — Diontae Nicholson 65-yard run (Alix Oge kick)
F — Ashante Worthy 58-yard run (Worthy pass to Ahmad Dixon)
F — Ashante Worthy 64-yard run (Jake Hurler kick)
F — Ashante Worthy 3-yard run (Jake Hurler kick)
RUSHING — F: Ashante Worthy 32-419, Jahvonte Hair 1-5, Matt DaSilva 1-4, Matt Krauss 1-0; N: Dionte Nicholson 32-233, Eric D’Heron 9-133, Logan Barber 3-(-11), Louis Akpadago 1-0, Jaeir Nelson 1-0.
PASSING — F: Ashante Worthy 15-18-1 216; N: Logan Barber 5-11-0 93.
RECEIVING — F: Matt Krauss 7-125, Quincy Davis 3-38, Ahmad Dixon 3-23, Jake Hurler 1-20, Matt DaSilva 1-10; N: Clifford Harris 2-53, Jaier Nelson 1-25, Justin Vasquez 1-10, Christian Angelucci 1-5.
INTERCEPTIONS — N: Clifford Harris 1-0.
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.