Story and video by Matt Stypulkoski - Shore Sports Network contributor

JACKSON – For the first time in 20 years, the Central Regional Golden Eagles can call themselves champions.

Behind three touchdowns each from sophomore running back Mike Bickford and junior quarterback Mike Miserendino on Friday night, Central defeated Class B South rival Jackson Liberty 46-21 to clinch no worse than a tie for its first divisional crown since 1994.

“These kids believed and they’ve been working since the beginning of June,” Central coach Willie Jacobs said. “We’re building something here. It’s special.”

Central quarterback Mike Miserendino ran for 133 yards and three touchdowns to help the Golden Eagles clinch at least a tie for their first division title since 1994. (Photo by Bill Normile)

The Golden Eagles (6-2, 6-1) got on the board early when Bickford broke off a 90-yard touchdown run. Central then recovered the ensuing squib kick and made sure to capitalize. Six plays later, Miserendino scored from 10 yards out to open a 14-0 lead.

“When you cause turnovers and you’re running the ball well, good things happen,” Jacobs said.

Running the ball was certainly Central’s strength on the night. Of its 447 total yards, 433 came on the ground. Nearly 400 of those yards came from the duo of Bickford and Miserendino, who finished with 263 and 133 yards, respectively.

For Bickford, the performance was enough to eclipse the 1,500-yard mark on the season.

“He means a lot,” Jacobs said. “He’s not a diva. What you see is what you get. I’m not bragging, I’m not boasting – people know what we’re going to run and it’s hard to stop. The kid is strong and he’s tough. And he’s a sophomore.”

“They trust me, and I’ve just got to keep running the ball,” Bickford said. “Just keep fighting. Pulling guards make huge holes for me. We’ve got two fullbacks – Denis Corbin and Alex Fernandez – and they make huge holes.”

Early in the second quarter, Miserendino added a 55-yard touchdown run to give Central a 20-0 lead.

At that point, it seemed as though the Golden Eagles would win with ease, but the Lions (4-5, 4-3) had other ideas. Three touchdown passes from Ryan Van Wickle to Brett Ribellino made the Golden Eagles work to secure the victory.

But ultimately, the Bickford-Miserendino combination – plus a 29-yard score by Jordan Hardy on a reverse – proved insurmountable.

Entering the night, a win guaranteed Central at least a share of the division title. Barnegat can still tie the Golden Eagles for the division title with a win over Pinelands in their Thanksgiving game.

Central’s championship is made more impressive by the fact that it was forced to play every game this season on the road while the school installs a new turf field on its Bayville campus.

“As a sophomore, it’s huge,” Bickford said. “I might not get an opportunity like this again. But hopefully more good things are to come.”

That’s the mindset for Central as the focus turns toward the state playoffs. The Golden Eagles look to be battling Bridgeton for the No. 3 seed in South Jersey Group III and have guaranteed themselves a first-round home game.

“To do well in the states, you’ve got to be playing your best ball at the end,” Jacobs said. “You’ve got to be injury-free and you’ve got to be lucky. We’re playing with house money right now. We achieved one goal – that was to win the conference. The next goal is to win at least one game and see what happens. Take baby steps.”

Box score

Central 46, Jackson Liberty 21

.                                 C                  JL

First downs                9                  8

Rushes-yards          35-433         20-49

Passing                    1-3-0          10-19-3

Passing yards            14              120

Fumbles-lost             0-0              4-2

Penalties                  6-60             2-16

Central (6-2, 6-1)  20  12  0  14 – 46

Jackson Liberty (4-5, 4-3) 0  7  0  14 – 21

Scoring summary

C: Bickford 90-yard run (kick blocked).

C: Miserendino 10-yard run (Bickford run).

C: Miserendino 55-yard run (kick failed).

J: Ribellino 19-yard catch (Yorke kick).

C: Miserendino 28-yard run (run failed).

C: Hardy 29-yard run (kick failed).

C: Bickford 17-yard run (PAT good).

J: Ribellino 16-yard catch (Yorke kick).

C: Bickford 52-yard run (PAT good).

J: Ribellino 10-yard catch (Yorke kick).

Individual statistics

Rushing – C: Bickford 21-263, Miserendino 10-133, Hardy 1-29, Singleton 1-7, Kelly 1-3, Powell 1-(-2). JL: Regina 9-56, Ribellino 3-12, Barbato 1-3, Pommerencke 1-2, Pinto 1-0, Miller 1-(-4), Van Wickle 4-(-20).

Passing – C: Miserendino 1-3-0 14. JL: Van Wickle 10-19-3 120.

Receiving – C: Hardy 1-14. JL: Ribellino 6-71, Regina 3-28, Stout 1-21.

Interceptions – C: Hardy 1-0.