Brick Memorial Gears Up For Postseason by Knocking Off Southern to End Rams’ Playoff Hopes
By Scott Clayton - Shore Sports Network contributor
STAFFORD TWP – With its playoff berth and first-round matchup secure, and division title hopes gone since a season-opening loss to Brick, Brick Memorial entered its Week Nine meeting with Southern with seemingly little for which to play. The Rams, meanwhile, entered in a do-or-die situation, where a win would put them in the same South Jersey Group V bracket and a loss would leave them on the outside looking in.
The extremes of motivation, however, can only have so much influence.
If the Mustangs lacked urgency, with a first-round playoff game looming against Cherokee next weekend, the Rams surely didn’t notice. In a mistake-filled game for both sides, it was Brick Memorial (6-3, 5-2) that was most able to take advantage. Two of Southern’s four turnovers handed Brick Memorial possession of the football in the red zone during a two-minute span in the second quarter, and the Mustangs capitalized on those opportunities on the way to a 35-7 win in Class A South.
“It’s still an A South game,” Brick Memorial senior linebacker Zachary Tighe said. “You know it’s going to be a tough game. You don’t get many games left, especially when it’s your last year playing so you try to make the most of it.”
With the score tied 7-7, Southern turned the ball over three times in the span of four plays from scrimmage. The downward spiral began with an interception in the end zone by Joe Hans on the 11th play of a promising Southern drive.
“We had a pass in our hands at the goal line that we didn’t catch,” Southern coach Chuck Donohue Sr. said. “We tipped it up and it was in our hands. We make the play and we’re up 14-7 and I’m not saying we win the game, but we’re in the game.”
Led by Tighe, senior linebacker Connor Owen and junior defensive lineman Michael Nobile, Memorial gave Southern quarterback John Bleichner fits all night long. The Mustangs batted down five passes at the line of scrimmage and snagged three interceptions.
“When you’re getting pressure, he’s forced to make a bad decision and it allows you to make a play,” said Hans. “That’s what high school football is all about. The person that makes the worst decision usually ends up losing the game.”
The ensuing Mustangs drive stalled shy of midfield, but Matt Cathey ran the ball into the end zone from six yards out for a 14-7 lead after teammate Karl Kumm’s interception on the second play of the next Southern possession.
When Southern fumbled on the first play of the following drive, Tighe recovered at the Rams’ 10-yard lne, and junior quarterback Tim Santiago found a way through the pile from two yards out for a 21-7 lead.
“We never win pretty,” said Brick Memorial coach Walt Currie. “Everything we do is pretty ugly, but we find a way to win ugly.”
Desperate to close the gap before halftime, Southern advanced the ball into Brick Memorial territory before its drive stalled with under a minute to play in the first half. After a pair of incomplete passes, Southern aggressively opted to try to convert a fourth-and-12 from the Mustangs' 42. Bleichner’s incomplete pass was made worse by an intentional grounding call as he tried to escape pressure. The spot penalty gave Brick Memorial possession of the ball on the Rams' 39.
“We figured, ‘Hey if you don’t get the first down, it’s midfield and you can hold them for 30 seconds.’ And we didn’t,” Donohue said.
After a botched exchange on the drive’s opening play, it seemed likely the Mustangs would be content with a two-touchdown lead. However, that was not the case as Santiago aired one out down the left sideline for Kumm, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound target, who shrugged off a would-be tackler on his way to a back-breaking 42-yard touchdown. The score put the Mustangs up 28-7 at halftime, all but out of reach against a stout Memorial defense that held Southern to under 200 yards of total offense.
As a precaution, Brick Memorial rested Santiago in the second half, as he continues to recover from an ankle injury suffered in an Oct. 24 loss to Middletown South. His replacement at quarterback, fellow junior Justin Bates, iced the scoring with a 45-yard run with 43 seconds remaining in the game.
Southern started the scoring on the night, with junior Pat Walker running in for a 3-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal with 4:37 to play in the first quarter. Owen led the Brick Memorial's 228-yard effort on the ground with 103 yards on 15 carries, including the Mustangs’ first score, a 3-yard first quarter dive that quickly evened the score.
“Fortunately for me, I got to run the ball. I got the yards, but I couldn’t have done it without the line and the quarterback and everyone else. Running the triple option, everyone needs to do a job for the team to succeed,” Owen said.
While it was not lost on Currie that his team won despite a sloppy effort, fumbling five times and losing three of them (“We’ll probably have some up-downs and some sprints this week to help us with that,” Owen laughed after the game), the coach – in his eighth year with the Mustangs - would not blame a lack on motivation.
Says Currie, “When it comes down to playing football, you don’t play football for power points. You don’t play football for a game that’s in the future. You play football for now.”
Brick Memorial 35, Southern 7
Brick Memorial (6-3, 5-2) 7 21 0 7 - 35
Southern (4-4, 3-4) 7 0 0 0 - 7
S – Walker 3 run (Barnetti kick)
B – Owen 3 run (Cuppari kick)
B – Cathey 6 run (Cuppari kick)
B – Santiago 2 run (Cuppari kick)
B – Kumm 42 pass from Santiago (Cuppari kick)
B – Bates 45 run (Cuppari kick)
. Brick Mem. Southern
First Downs 11 11
Rushes-Yards 40-228 26-73
Passing 2-4-0 14-27-3
Passing Yards 56 114
Fumbles-Lost 5-3 1-1
Penalties-Yards 6-40 7-50
Rushing: (BM) Owen 15-103, Bates 11-93, Cathey 6-30, Santiago 6-0, Cuppari 1-6, Lavarin 1-(-4). (S) Walker 10-26, Winkler 9-35, Gesser 4-14, Farina 3-(-2), VanDeBrook 2-(-7), Gagliardi 1-3, Bleichner 1-(-14).
Passing: (BM) Santiago 2-3-0 56, Bates 0-1-0 0. (S) Bleichner 14-26-3 114, Winkler 0-1-0 0.
Receiving: (BM) Kumm 1-42, Hans 1-14. (S) VanDeBrook 9-78, Walker 3-22, Gagliardi 1-8, Davis 1-6.
Interceptions: Hans 2-24, Kumm 1-8.