Closing Time: Toms River East sinks Colts Neck with late drive to move to 4-0
COLTS NECK – Toms River East is a completely different team from a year ago. Its undefeated record says as much, and so does the way it closed out a pivotal win over Colts Neck on Saturday afternoon.
Colts Neck was driving deep in Raiders territory and appeared poised to take the lead, but a bad exchange on a handoff was fumbled and recovered by East’s Anthony Kontogiannis. An opportunity missed, sure, but not the nail in the coffin for the Cougars. Not with nearly eight minutes left in the game, right? Wrong.
Taking over at their own 14-yard line holding a four-point lead with 7:40 left in the game, Toms River East never let Colts Neck go back on offense with a 14-play, 85-yard drive that chewed off the remaining time and clinched a 24-20 Shore Conference Freedom Division victory. For the first time since 2009, the Raiders are 4-0.
“The O-line stepped up at the end and played hard the entire time,” said senior quarterback Mike Goodall. “We wanted it and we got it.”
“We’ve been there before with (Toms River) South. I told our kids once we got on offense, now that we have the ball back let’s keep it in our hands,” said Toms River East head coach Kyle Sandberg. “That’s a huge win against a really good team.”
Three years ago, Toms River East was winless. Two years ago the Raiders won two games. They bumped it up to three wins last season. They wouldn’t have won games as they did on Saturday during those years, but this year’s version has the confidence it lacked during the building process. The 2020 class were freshmen when Sandberg took over and vowed to make things different during their careers. Four games into their senior years they’ve done exactly that.
Colts Neck sophomore John Manos blocked a punt and then recovered it in the end zone in the third quarter to give Colts a 20-17 lead, its first of the game. It was a game-changing play, the type that can deflate a team used to being deflated. But that didn’t happen. The Raiders mounted a comeback and took the lead for good when Goodall ran for a 31-yard touchdown on the final play of the third quarter.
“We’re a different East team,” Sandberg said. “Two things I talk about a lot, the first being adversity: how are you going to answer? In year’s past, we crumbled, but that’s not the case anymore.”
“We have one mentality and it’s to win,” Goodall said. “Win every play and you’ll win the battle.”
Following Goodall’s go-ahead touchdown run, Colts Neck started the ensuing possession at its own 31-yard line with basically the entire fourth quarter remaining. Senior running back Romeo Thomas ran for 21 yards on first down to move the ball across midfield and, two plays later, sophomore quarterback Tommy Fallon ran for 18 yards to the Raiders’ 27-yard line. A holding penalty on first down pushed the Cougars back to the 40-yard line but a 10-yard reception by junior wideout Matt Scully helped them manage the next two downs, which included an 11-yard catch by Scully on third-and-9 to move the chains. However, on second-and-6 from the Toms River East 11-yard line, the handoff exchange did not mesh and the ball fell to the dusty turf where Kontogiannis pounced on it.
From there, the Raiders put together a championship drive to end the game and pick up their biggest win in a decade. Toms River East gained five first downs on the drive, converting twice on third-and-1, once on fourth-and-1 and finally on fourth-and-2 on the game’s final offensive play. Goodall converted two of the key first downs and drew Colts Neck offsides to gain another. Junior Yusuf Ahmed, a defensive playmaker, was thrust into more of an offensive role with senior Frankie Giannetti battling an injury throughout the game, and he came through when called upon with a game-clinching 19-yard run on fourth-and-2 from the 20-yard line.
“Two weeks ago we had a 10-play drive to win the game and coach said to be a championship team we have to run out the clock and win,” Ahmed said. “It was tough but we knew it was what we had to do. This was like a playoff game for us. We had to man up and do it.”
“I always tell the offense if you want to be a championship team you have to get a yard, whether it was third-and-1 with Mike G running it or fourth and 1 with Yusuf on the last (play),” Sandberg said. “If we are to be the team we want to become we have to win those grit plays, and this team showed a lot of grit.”
Toms River East began the game with a promising drive that short-circuited with a turnover inside Colts Neck’s 10-yard line. Goodall scrambled and hit Riley Engelhard for 35 yards to move the ball to the Colts Neck 25-yard line, but a negative play and a holding penalty put the Raiders behind the sticks. On fourth-and-9, Goodall’s pass was intercepted by Scully at the 5-yard line and returned out to the 30.
The Raiders defense forced a three-and-out and got the ball back at the 36-yard line where they began a six-play, 64-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead. A chunk play of 39 yards came when Nick Totten connected with Justin Deem on a wide receiver reverse pass down to the Colts Neck 24-yard line. Three plays later, Giannetti took a pitch, cut it back up the middle and scored on a 14-yard run.
Colts Neck answered immediately when Joe Barsky returned a squib kick to the Toms River East 45-yard line. The good field position paved the way for a six-play scoring drive that featured a 15-yard catch by Scully, a 15-yard run by Fallon and was capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Thomas.
A big special teams play by Alex Smith helped the Raiders quickly re-take the lead. Smith returned the ensuing kickoff 60 yards to the Colts Neck 20-yard line and in two plays Ahmed was in the end zone on a rugged 10-yard scoring run.
After forcing Colts Neck to punt, Toms River East started a drive from its own 45-yard line and came away with three points to take a 17-7 lead. A facemask penalty following an 18-yard run by Gino Gallo put the ball at the 25-yard line. A 15-yard penalty on Toms River East pushed the ball back, seemingly out of field goal range, but a six-yard run by Goodall on third-and-17 was enough to get into range for Nick Costa, who boomed a 43-yard field goal to give the Raiders’ a 10-point cushion.
Colts Neck closed the first half strong with a 10-play, 69-yard drive to make it a one-score game. It was a methodical drive with only one play of 10 or more yards, Fallon’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Scully. Ahmed blocked the extra point to make it 17-13 at halftime.
Five minutes into the third quarter with Toms River East punting from its own 23-yard line, Manos knifed through the protection and blocked the punt before finding the loose ball and diving on it just across the goal line to give Colts Neck a 20-17 lead.
The Raiders then responded on both sides of the ball to leave with a critical road victory. They are now in first place in the Freedom Division, a spot they haven’t occupied in some time.
“It feels great,” Ahmed said. “We put in the work in the offseason and this game was won with that work all year.”
Toms River East 24, Colts Neck 20
|Toms River East||Colts Neck|
|Toms River East (4-0, 3-0)||7||10||7||0||24|
|Colts Neck (3-1, 1-1)||0||13||7||0||20|
TRE – Frankie Giannetti 14-yard run (Nick Costa kick)
CN – Romeo Thomas 1-yard run (Christian Monteforte kick)
TRE – Yusuf Ahmed 10-yard run (Nick Costa kick)
TRE – Nick Costa 43-yard field goal
CN – Matt Scully 11-yard pass from Tommy Fallon (kick blocked)
CN – John Manos blocked punt recovery in the end zone (Christian Monteforte kick)
TRE – Mike Goodall 31-yard run (Nick Costa kick)
RUSHING – TRE: Mike Goodall 19-95, Yusuf Ahmed 14-59, Gino Gallo 4-51, Frankie Giannetti 7-24, Nick Totten 2-15, Alex Smith 1-7, Mike Madera 1-2; CN: Romeo Thomas 15-92, Tommy Fallon 4-42, John Manos 1-4, Matt Scully 1-(-10), Team 3-(-15).
PASSING – TRE: Mike Goodall 1-3-1 35, Nick Totten 1-1-0 39; CN: Tommy Fallon 10-17-0 74.
RECEIVING – TRE: Justin Deem 1-39, Riley Engelhard 1-35; CN: Matt Scully 6-53, Romeo Thomas 3-13, Chris Montefusco 1-8.
INTERCEPTIONS – CN: Matt Scully 1-25.
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.