Craft Show: Long Branch’s Da’Von Craft Rushes for 171 Yards to Lead Win Over Southern
LONG BRANCH – Da’Von Craft smiled when asked to describe his running style.
“I would say Marshawn (Lynch),” he said. “I always watched Marshawn.”
The Long Branch senior went beast mode on Friday the 13th, smashing through tacklers on his way to 171 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns to power a 31-2 win over Southern in a nondivisional game at Bresett Stadium.
“He’s a powerful runner,” Long Branch head coach Chad King said. “Beast mode. He's very similar. He runs below his pads, he can make you miss, he can run you over and he can outrun you.”
The 5-foot-9, 200-pound senior even had his own mini Beast Quake moment in the fourth quarter when he crushed an oncoming tackler and ran through multiple other defenders on a highlight-reel 47-yard run that set up his eventual 2-yard touchdown run.
“It was a big one,” Craft said.
“It's funny because we told him to go down,” King said. “The one play before he goes down, and then after that he breaks off a 50-yard run or something like that.”
It also speaks to the all-around impact the Neptune transfer has made in his one season at Long Branch that he was also named homecoming king for the senior class at halftime.
His addition to an offense that also features two other talented runners, seniors Zaheem Brown and Earnest Reevey, has helped make the Green Wave (4-3), ranked No. 13 in the Shore Sports Network Shore 16, a threat heading into the postseason.
“It's been a great addition,” Reevey said. “We've got two great backs, 'Heem and Da'Von, and they just kill. They both run hard.”
While Craft and Reevey combined for four touchdowns to headline an offense that churned out 280 yards rushing and 352 total yards, the Green Wave defense was also dominant.
They registered a shutout, as Southern’s only points came when Craft was tackled in the end zone for a safety in the second quarter. Long Branch held the Rams (3-5) to 105 total yards in the win.
Senior defensive lineman Ryan Bennett had a fumble recovery, junior defensive back Aulander Daniels grabbed an interception, and senior defensive lineman Justin Sunnerville had a sack for a 9-yard loss to lead the way.
“We had two weeks to prepare because of the bye week, so it was all about just staying disciplined and focused,” King said. “We worked on tackling, getting aligned properly and just doing our job.”
Long Branch’s season took a dramatic twist in a season-opening win over Piscataway when Reevey, a standout quarterback, broke his throwing hand when he braced himself while being tackled. He had exploded for 210 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the victory, but he was reduced to only being able to play linebacker on defense for the next four games with a cast on his right hand.
“I thought I wasn't going to be able to play at all, but then my doctor was like, 'We got you. You're going to be able to play defense,’” Reevey said. “That was the best news I got all year.”
The Green Wave lost three of their next four against a tough schedule while Reevey was limited to only one side of the ball. Craft was not yet eligible because he had to sit out 30 days via the transfer rule after coming from Neptune.
Starting with a win over St. John Vianney two weeks ago, Reevey occasionally lines up in the shotgun at quarterback to run the ball, but still has the cast on his arm. Sophomore Quinton Fisher has stepped in as the regular quarterback and flashed playmaking ability.
“At first it was difficult (not being able to play quarterback), but it became easy once my guys made me realize they got my back,” Reevey said. “The quarterback right now, Quinton, he's a savage. He's getting better every day.”
“There’s a silver lining in every dark cloud,” King said about Reevey’s injury. “We got some young guys ready early. We took our lumps early because our schedule is pretty strong. We were just trying to stay afloat. We knew about Zaheem, we knew about Da'Von, we found out about Quinton, we found out about our receivers. We were going to lean on our offensive line coming into the season, and we've been able to do that throughout the season.”
It was Reevey who found the end zone first on Friday night when he scored on a 5-yard run to conclude a monster 13-play, 91-yard drive that took 7:36 off the clock and gave Long Branch a 7-0 lead with 47 seconds left in the first quarter.
On Long Branch’s next possession, Southern scored its only points when a host of tacklers took down Craft in the end zone for a safety with 10:11 left in the half.
The Green Wave snuck in three more points before halftime thanks to an interception by Daniels at Southern’s 30-yard line. That set up a 32-yard field goal by junior Wes Garcia with 25 seconds left in the half for a 10-2 lead at the break.
Long Branch then opened the second half with a 9-play, 65-yard drive that ended with Fisher lofting a 28-yard touchdown pass to Reevey on third-and-16 for a 17-2 lead. Reevey was able to haul it in despite essentially only having one good arm.
“I just concentrated on the ball,” he said. “We've been practicing it for weeks.”
“It wasn't surprising,” Craft said. “I knew he could do it. In practice, he's catching them all the time.”
Once the defense came up with another stop, Long Branch marched 70 yards in 12 plays, taking a 24-2 lead on a 5-yard touchdown run by Craft. Reevey made a key 21-yard catch on a throw by Fisher on fourth-and-12 to keep the drive alive.
At one point in the drive, the Green Wave had second-and-goal from the 27-yard line due to penalties and negative plays, but Craft rattled off a 22-yard run and then followed that by finding the end zone.
The senior running back then added the exclamation point when he leaped into the end zone for a 2-yard score with 1:52 left in the game for the final margin. That came three plays after he electrified the crowd with his 47-yard run.
“I'm just playing my heart out,” Craft said. “Trying to play the best I can and help the team get as many dubs as we can from here on out.”
Long Branch entered the night firmly in the playoff picture at No. 7 in the United Power Ranking in the South Group 4 region. Next up is a huge Colonial Division game against Colts Neck, which sat at No. 11 in the UPR in South Group 4 behind Long Branch entering this week. The Cougars also need to win to be able to potentially tie Point Boro for the Colonial Division title if the Panthers beat Raritan, so the Green Wave will be looking to play spoiler.
It will also be a matchup of two rugged running backs between Craft and Colts Neck dynamo Chris Scully, one of the Shore’s best and most physical backs.
“I feel like the momentum is high right now,” Reevey said. “We’re just going to practice hard.”
Reevey said there’s no timeline for when he may get the cast off, and he may have to wear it for the remainder of the season. If he is able to return at quarterback full time, that could make Long Branch a dangerous playoff team with multiple playmakers in the backfield.
“We're trying to get healthy,” King said. “We'd like to have all three of those guys on the field at the same time. We're looking forward to it, and hopefully it happens pretty soon.”
Long Branch 31, Southern 2
. L S
First downs 19 8
Rushes-yards 45-280 24-62
Passing 5-9-0 6-14-1
Passing yards 72 43
Penalties 6-35 2-15
Fumbles-lost 0-0 2-1
Southern (3-5) 0 2 0 0 – 2
Long Branch (4-3) 7 3 7 14 – 31
L: Reevey 5-yard run (Garcia kick).
S: Craft tackled in end zone for safety.
L: Garcia 32-yard field goal.
L: Reevey 28-yard pass from Fisher (Garcia kick).
L: Craft 5-yard run (Garcia kick).
L: Craft 2-yard run (Garcia kick).
Rushing – L: Craft 27-171, Reevey 6-42, Brown 5-23, Fisher 3-20, Gonzalez 4-24. S: Halm 15-60, An. Sanchez 1-4, Dempsey 2-(-11), Oravets 1-(-2), Silva 2-6, Markoski 3-5.
Passing – L: Fisher 4-8-0 71, Reevey 1-1-0 1. S: Dempsey 4-8-1 34, Oravets 2-5-0 9, Zecena 0-1-0 0.
Receiving – L: Reevey 2-49, Brown 1-1, Gonzalez 1-17, Snerling 1-5. S: An. Sanchez 5-47, Plenge 1-(-4).
Interceptions – L: Daniels 1-2.