Connor Dietz sets career rushing mark, leads No. 10 Brick Memorial to first 5-0 start since 2012
BRICK TOWNSHIP – Despite returning one of the best players in the Shore Conference, there were a few question marks surrounding Brick Memorial entering the 2023 season. Week by week the Mustangs have answered those questions, including on Friday night when their offensive line showed how it has transformed from potential weakness into a formidable unit.
Senior quarterback Connor Dietz ran into the Brick Memorial record book with 276 yards rushing and three touchdowns and junior running back Kevin Andrews ran for 114 yards and two touchdowns as the horses up front paved the way for 388 yards rushing in the No. 10 Mustangs’ 40-26 victory over No. 15 Freehold Township in a key Shore Conference Independence Division matchup at DiFabio Field.
The Mustangs’ averaged 9.7 yards per carry with Dietz rushing for the second-highest single-game total in his career. On a 36-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, Dietz passed Vinnie Falkiewicz (2006) to become the Mustangs’ all-time leading rusher with 4,265 yards and counting. He scored on runs of 11, 36, and 78 yards to help the Mustangs pull away in the fourth quarter.
Brick Memorial is now 5-0 for the first time since 2012 and, coupled with Brick’s Week 4 loss to Matawan, holds sole possession of first place in the Independence Division.
Play along the offensive and defensive lines can make or break a team, and Brick Memorial had plenty to prove entering the season with senior center Eric Melillo as the only returning starter along the offensive line. The unit up front that includes Melillo, senior Darren Aponte, and juniors Joe Cunningham, Aiden Crawford, and Austin Edwards has helped ensure Brick Memorial’s offense hasn’t missed a beat. The Mustangs are averaging 39 points per game through the first five games of the season.
“Coming into this season everyone doubted our O-line,” Melillo said. “Not that good, only one returning starter; what’s going to happen, will they play well? Now, we’re proving it. Personally, I think we might have one of the best offensive lines in the Shore.
For Dietz, he took out the red pen and made another edit to the Brick Memorial record book that now features his name atop most of the team’s offensive categories. He set single-season records for points, rushing touchdowns, passing yards, rushing yards, passing completions and attempts, and career points last season. He is now the school’s all-time leading rusher and is 640 yards away from passing former Monmouth University standout Brian Boland as the program’s all-time leading passer.
“It means a lot,” Dietz said. “Falkiewicz was a championship guy and the record’s stood for a while. First, props to him. It feels good to hold the record but it’s not just me, it’s the offensive line, the coaches, everyone involved.”
“He’s such a good football player and I’m honored to be his coach and to be this team’s coach,” said Brick Memorial head coach Walt Currie. “Connor is a guy that gets a lot of the headlines, and rightfully so, but he has a good offensive line in front of him and weapons around him and we’re playing better on defense. It’s just an honor to be the head coach at Brick Memorial.”
A theme for Brick Memorial this season has been the Mustangs’ doing things they weren’t able to consistently do last season. The defense is improved, statistically, after allowing 27.5 points per game last season. Intangibly, Brick Memorial has done a superb job responding to adversity and coming through with clutch plays in the second half. Combine that with an explosive and dynamic offense and you have one of the Shore Conference’s seven remaining undefeated teams.
“It comes down to coaching and the way the seniors act,” Dietz said. “Our first thing is to lead by example. If we keep our heads up everybody else will. We have to fight every down and have that next-play mentality.”
“We talk about winning the next play; you can’t do anything about what already happened,” Currie said. “What gave them the confidence to do that (this year) was the Neptune win in overtime last year. We don’t have to play perfect, we just have to bounce back from mistakes and we’ll be okay.”
Their gumption was tested early after Freehold Township and junior quarterback Nick Cardone marched right down the field on the game’s opening possession with a six-play, 73-yard drive to take a quick 7-0 lead on a 30-yard touchdown reception by senior Nick Carnevale. After a holding penalty negated a first down and forced Brick Memorial to punt, the Mustangs were quickly in a situation where their defense faced a crucial series. They responded by forcing a three-and-out and getting the ball back for their offense at its own 30-yard line.
Dietz and company took it from there with a 10-play, 70-yard scoring drive to cut Freehold Township’s lead to 7-6. A 31-yard run by Dietz moved the ball inside Patriots’ territory and the Mustangs were able to shrug off another untimely holding penalty to find the end zone. Facing second-and-20 from the 28-yard line, Dietz had carries of 5, 12, and 11 yards, the latter of which reached the end zone on a fourth-and-3.
A whipping wind made for difficult kicking conditions and the extra point was unsuccessful. Freehold Township remained on top, but the Mustangs took the lead on their next possession and never trailed the rest of the way. Starting from their own 14-yard line with 10:37 left in the second quarter, Andrews broke free for a 26-yard run and a late hit penalty tacked on 15 more yards and moved the ball to the Freehold Township 45-yard line. Three plays later, Dietz tried the left side and found room for a 36-yard touchdown run that gave Brick Memorial the lead and moved him past Falkiewicz as the program’s all-time leading rusher.
Freehold Township answered on a leaping 27-yard touchdown catch by senior wideout GianPaul Cortes that was set up by a 33-yard pass from Cardone to junior Jaylden Gill-Anderson earlier on the drive. Bobby Loff’s extra point was good to knot the game at 13 with 6:43 left in the first half.
Brick Memorial went back in front, 20-13, when Andrews scored on a 21-yard run to cap a nine-play, 55-yard drive with 2:50 left in the half. Brick Memorial got the ball right back when 6-foot-7 defensive lineman Ben Szuba swatted a pass at the line of scrimmage and sophomore linebacker Trey Tallmadge corralled the carom for the interception. The Mustangs moved to the Patriots’ 32-yard line but a last-ditch pass to the end zone by Dietz as time expired was picked off by Carnevale.
The teams traded turnovers early in the third quarter with Brick Memorial eventually converting one of them into six points. Junior Braden Larkin forced a Brick Memorial fumble that Loff jumped on two plays into the third quarter. Two plays after that, Dietz picked off Cardone and returned it to the Freehold Township 48-yard line. The drive resulted in a punt, but on the second play of Freehold Township’s next series sophomore defensive back Nyzier Matthews intercepted Cardone and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown and a 26-13 Brick Memorial lead.
Freehold Township kept punching back, however, and closed the gap to 26-20 when Carnevale got behind the defense to haul in a 69-yard touchdown with 5:04 left in the third quarter.
Brick Memorial responded yet again with a 13-play, 79-yard drive that put the Mustangs up 34-20 with 9:56 left in the game. It was a steady jaunt in which the longest play was a 15-yard run by Andrews that moved the ball to the 6-yard line. Andrews scored from the 1-yard line and Dietz tossed the 2-point conversion pass to Whittaker.
Dietz put the game away for good when, after Brick Memorial stopped Freehold Township on downs at the Mustangs’ 22-yard line, he cracked open the defense for a 78-yard touchdown run and a 40-20 lead.
Freehold Township scored on a 3-yard run by Cardone with 2:40 left but Brick Memorial was able to run out the clock and secure the victory.
“It’s nice to be 5-0,” Dietz said. “This is where we knew we could be, we just had to prove it to everybody.”
No. 10 Brick Memorial 40, No. 15 Freehold Township 26
|Freehold Township||Brick Memorial|
|Freehold Twp. (3-2, 2-1)||7||6||7||6||26|
|Brick Memorial (5-0, 3-0)||6||14||6||14||40|
FT – Nick Carnevale 30-yard pass from Nick Cardone (Bobby Loff kick)
BM – Connor Dietz 11-yard run (kick failed)
BM – Connor Dietz 36-yard run (Jack Marrotta kick)
FT – GianPaul Cortes 27-yard pass from Nick Cardone (run failed)
BM – Kevin Andrews 21-yard run (Jack Marrotta kick)
BM – Nyzier Matthews 39-yard interception return (kick failed)
FT – Nick Carnevale 69-yard pass from Nick Cardone (Bobby Loff kick)
BM – Kevin Andrews 1-yard run (Connor Dietz pass to Jasaan Whittaker)
BM – Connor Dietz 78-yard run (pass failed)
FT – Nick Cardone 3-yard run (kick failed)
RUSHING – FT: Nick Cardone 9-63, Nick Whisten 6-25, Sebastian Andujar 2-3, GianPaul Cortes 1-(-9). BM: Connor Dietz 27-276, Kevin Andrews 12-114, Ny’zier Whittaker 1-(-2).
PASSING – FT: Nick Cardone 14-30-3, 276; BM: Connor Dietz 9-13-1, 84.
RECEIVING – FT: Nick Carnevale 3-120, Jaylen Gill-Anderson 4-64, GianPaul Cortes 4-61, Nick Whisten 1-15, Noah Cancela, 1-11, Sebastian Andujar 1-5; BM: Jasaan Whittaker 3-21, Nyzier Matthews 2-21, Trey Tallmadge 2-21, Johnny Poukish 2-14.
INTERCEPTIONS – FT: Nick Carnevale 1-28; BM: Nyzier Matthews 1-39, Connor Dietz 1-20, Trey Tallmadge 1-0.