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MANASQUAN - One year after surrendering a 29-point lead in a stunning loss to St. John Vianney, Manasquan had the perfect antidote to any potential Lancers comeback on Saturday - a player who had no memory of last season's game.

Junior running back/defensive back James McAlary was on the soccer team at Manasquan last year, so there were no bad memories to cause any potential jitters down the stretch. St. John Vianney is probably wishing he stuck with European football, as McAlary ran for a pair of touchdowns and had the game-sealing pass break-up in the final seconds at Vic Kubu Warrior Field to power a 21-14 win in Class A Central that sent the Lancers (1-3, 0-3) to their third straight loss.

Manasquan junior James McAlary, who came over from the soccer team this season, had a pair of touchdown runs to help the Warriors hold off St. John Vianney, 21-14, in Class A Central. (Photo by Bill Normile).

"It's been crazy, but it's been great,'' McAlary said about playing football for the first time. "I've had so much fun. Playing with all my friends has been great. I came to a spring workout to see what it was like, but I had no plans on following through with it. But all my friends were doing it, and I've always wanted to do it."

"McAlary stepped up at corner and made a couple big plays,'' Manasquan coach Jay Price said. "He's also a fresh set of legs (on offense). For someone who's never played, he sees the field very well. He changed the complexion of the game, he really did."

Manasquan (3-1, 2-1) was hanging on to 14-7 lead in the third quarter when McAlary, who ran for 92 yards on only nine carries, cut back across the field for a 28-yard touchdown run for what proved to be the winning score and a 21-7 advantage with 3:30 left in the period.

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The Lancers made it interesting in the end, hearkening a lesser version of last season's comeback from a 35-6 deficit to beat Manasquan 39-35. Down by seven, they drove 49 yards in six plays to Manasquan's 23-yard line with 1:13 to go, but two incompletions and a 4-yard pass set up fourth-and-6 from the 19-yard line. McAlary, who was part of a secondary that was tested all afternoon in giving up 274 yards passing, dove to break up a pass on fourth down and seal the win with 28.2 seconds left in the game.

"We have a 'next play' mentality,'' McAlary said. "You make a mistake, you make up for it on the next play."

McAlary, who is nicknamed "Bubba," also has adjusted to the pressurized atmosphere of football at a school that has won a Shore Conference-record 11 NJSIAA sectional titles.

"Going from five people watching a soccer game to a couple hundred here is definitely different, but it's exciting,'' he said.

The game was scoreless into the second quarter before the Warriors put together a nine-play, 55-yard drive that ended with senior tailback Joe Murphy bulling his way in on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line for a 7-0 lead. It appeared that it would go into halftime that way, but McAlary took a handoff on a basic draw play, shook a pair of defenders and zig-zagged his way to the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead with only 10.5 seconds remaining in the half.

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"Our offensive line was great all day,'' he said. "They weren't getting tired, and they kept working. I give all the credit to them on that play."

McAlary, who also had two touchdowns in a win over Raritan last week, doesn't have to worry about the offensive line shying away from taking credit.

"I recruited him,'' senior two-way lineman Matt Forst said. "I'm taking full credit for 'Bubba Mac' playing Manasquan football. I brought him to my house, showed him my brother Rob and Art's state championship rings, put a couple highlight videos on and said, 'Hey, if you were going to another school, you play soccer. When you're at Manasquan, you play football.' He's been a hell of an addition."

"Forst had me all summer, calling me every day, showing me films and his brother's rings,'' McAlary said.

St. John Vianney fought its way back into the game in the third quarter thanks to an outstanding play by junior Liam Casey. Manasquan senior quarterback Tucker Caccavale hit senior wideout Kieran Preston coming across the middle, and he was streaking for a 50-yard gain when Casey came up behind him, ripped the ball right out of his hands, and returned it to the Manasquan 20-yard line.

Seven plays later, senior quarterback Billy DeMato scored on a 2-yard keeper on a zone read play to cut it to 14-7 with 6:21 left in the third quarter. DeMato finished the day with 325 total yards, 74 on the ground on 11 carries and 251 through the air on 16-for-36 passing, one year after throwing six touchdowns in the comeback win over the Warriors.

After McAlary answered DeMato's touchdown with his 28-yard score, the Lancers went three-and-out. However, their defense then came up with a fumble recovery at their own 47-yard line. Five plays later, keyed by a 26-yard strike from DeMato to P.J. Braccia, they cut the lead to 21-14 when DeMato hit senior wideout Julanee Prince for a 14-yard touchdown with 8:06 left in the game.

"It was not 'Here we go again,' it was more, 'We can't let this happen again,''' Forst said. "When you get backed into a corner, you're either going to get punched or give the punch, and we had to start punching again."

Manasquan's ensuing drive stalled, and the Warriors avoided potential disaster thanks to a great play by senior punter Cody Carrithers. He was filling in for Murphy, who is the starting punter but left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury. On a snap that skipped on the ground multiple times, Carrithers was able to gather it up and somehow get off a punt with two Lancers right in his face.

It forced St. John Vianney to have to start the drive at its own 28 rather than potentially inside the Manasquan 30 if the block was not returned for a touchdown. The defense stood strong one last time, ending with McAlary's pass break-up.

The victory vanquished the demons of last season's loss to the Lancers, and also gave Manasquan some momentum as it faces a top-five team in Middletown South in a tough nondivisional game next week.

"We've got mountains on our schedule, and this is a game we had to win,'' Price said. "We had to be 3-1. We know what we're up against next week."

Box score

Manasquan 21, St. John Vianney 14

.                                      M                 S

First downs                14                 18

Rushes-yards         34-221          22-78

Passing                    7-14-0        17-37-1

Passing yards           114              274

Penalties                  4-30              6-50

Fumbles-lost              2-2                1-0

SJ Vianney (1-3, 0-3)   0 0 7 7 - 14

Manasquan (3-1, 2-1)  0 14 7 0 - 21

Scoring summary

M: Murphy 1-yard run (Perez kick).

M: McAlary 45-yard run (Perez kick).

S: DeMato 2-yard run (Fitzpatrick kick).

M: McAlary 28-yard run (Perez kick).

S: Prince 14-yard pass from DeMato (Fitzpatrick kick).

Individual statistics

Rushing - M: Murphy 16-82, Fittin 2-14, McAlary 9-92, Bianco 7-33. S: Hopkinson 7-(-2), DeMato 11-74, Brown 1-0, Bonavitacola 2-5, Ruiz 1-1.

Passing - M: Caccavale 7-14-0 114. S: DeMato 16-36-1 251, Brown 1-1-0 23.

Receiving - M: Murphy 1-5, Preston 3-58, Paturzo 1-14, Fittin 1-31, Morris 1-6. S: Prince 6-79, Hopkinson 2-9, Braccia 2-83, Hyman 2-34, Ruiz 3-53, Bonavitacola 2-16.

Interceptions - M: Morris 1-10.