Crown of Horns: Southern tops Middletown North to clinch Constitution Division championship
STAFFORD TOWNSHIP – For a program that has hovered around .500 for the better part of the last 10 years, Friday night’s game at Ron Emmert Field was something different for Southern Regional: a chance to accomplish a rare feat and earn a tangible reward in what has been a resurgent season.
A 6-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Cole Robinson to senior wide receiver Kieran Lang with 2:50 left in regulation snapped a 14-all tie and Robinson came down with an interception one minute later to clinch the victory as the Rams, ranked No. 9 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, outlasted Middletown North, 21-14, in a Shore Conference Constitution Division game.
The victory initially gave Southern (5-1, 4-0) at least a share of the division title, but while the Rams were still on the field celebrating, news came in that Marlboro had held on for a win over Freehold Township. The Rams had just clinched the outright division championship, the program’s third in history and first since winning the A South title in 2011.
“Coming into the season we knew we didn’t have a big senior class and we lost a lot of starters (to graduation),” Robinson said. “We knew the underclassmen would have to step up but we knew the talent we had and if we came together we could do something big.”
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” said senior two-way lineman Colby Saxton. “Every day this team has worked for it. We came in since last season and just worked extremely hard to get to this point.”
Sophomore running back Jaiden Brown was again the catalyst for Southern’s offense with 156 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries against a front that routinely featured eight or more defenders. Robinson was an efficient 11 of 16 for 105 yards and two touchdowns, also connecting with senior Will Devane on a 4-yard score.
Brown started as a freshman for Jackson Liberty last season and rushed for over 900 yards before he and his family moved to Stafford Township. He has been a difference-maker for Southern and one of the best players in the Shore Conference this season with 898 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.
“Having (Brown) come in, we had no who he was at first but then we learned,” Robinson said. “He’s been such a big help. Without him, we wouldn’t be where we are. He really brings us down the field and carries this offense.”
“He is everything they said he was as a person and he’s way ahead of most sophomores as far as football knowledge,” said Southern head coach Chuck Donohue Sr. “The kids believe in him and he’s so genuine and hardworking; is a good blocker and tackler. He just fits our team. He came in here and it was like he’s been here his whole life.”
Southern’s defense was outstanding in holding Middletown North (3-3, 2-2) to just 110 yards of offense, including a scant total of 18 yards rushing on 16 carries. Saxton led the way with 2.5 sacks, junior linebacker Hank Gallacher had one sack, sophomore defensive end Nate Committee had half a sack and Robinson and Devane had interceptions. The Rams held the Lions to 0-for-7 on third down.
“Everybody was fired up and we knew exactly what plays they were running,” Saxton said. “We studied this team all week and came out prepared for what was going to happen.”
“(Middletown North) they’re tough dudes,” Donohue said.. “They play hard, they’re very well-coached, they’re disciplined. We feel we beat a good football team tonight.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Southern struck first with an assist from a short field. Starting from the Middletown North 43-yard line after a 20-yard punt, the Rams methodically marched into the red zone where Robinson polished off the short drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Devane on third-and-3.
Southern’s defense forced its third straight three-and-out to start the game and then appeared to have taken a two-score lead on a 42-yard touchdown run by Brown on fourth-and-1, but a holding penalty negated the score. On the second fourth-and-1 attempt, Middletown North stopped Brown for no gain.
The Lions turned around and put together a scoring drive of their own, going 58 yards in just five plays to tie the score at seven. Senior quarterback Nick Ferreira hit senior tight end Travis Thompson for 18 yards and then found junior wide receiver Quentin Soler for 14 yards down to the Southern 23-yard line. Two plays later, Ferreira hit Soler again with a short pass that turned into a 17-yard touchdown reception.
The score remained 7-7 through halftime before both teams opened the third quarter with scoring drives. Southern received the second-half kickoff and went 63 yards across nine plays to take a 14-7 lead. Committee had a 12-yard catch to convert a second-and-12 and Brown broke free on a 33-yard run, his longest of the night, to put the ball at the Middletown North 18-yard line. On fourth-and-six from the 14-yard line, Robinson found Devane for 13 yards and a huge conversion to keep the drive going. On the next play, Brown powered in for a 1-yard touchdown.
Middletown North had a quick response thanks to a long gain on a gadget play plus a facemask penalty. On the first play of a drive that began at the 27-yard line, senior wide receiver Matt Spencer connected with Soler for 35 yards on a wide receiver reverse pass. On the next play, Southern was called for a 15-yard facemask penalty, putting the ball at the Rams’ 22-yard line. A 9-yard run by sophomore running back Brian Haddow brought up a goal-to-go situation and on second down Ferreira hit Thompson for an 8-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 14.
Southern looked poised to answer back and was driving close to midfield after a 22-yard completion to senior tight end JT Cornelius, but Middletown North punched the ball free and recovered the fumble at the 40-yard line. The Lions had momentum on their side now, but Southern’s defense put together its best series of the game to snatch it right back.
A combined sack by Saxton and Committee on first down resulted in an eight-yard loss and another sack by Gallacher on second down pushed the Lions back seven more yards. On third and 25, Ferreira’s pass over the middle was intercepted by Devane and returned to the Middletown North 33-yard line.
“We knew after the fumble we had to get a stop,” Robinson said. “That was going to be the game.”
“It’s just the heart,” Saxton said. “Inside we never feel like we’re down and we never give up.”
The great field position did not result in points for Southern, however, as the Rams turned the ball over on downs at the 27-yard line. But the Rams’ defense once again came through and stopped Middletown North on three straight downs, including a sack by Saxton on third down.
Southern embarked on the go-ahead scoring drive from its own 43-yard line with 8:57 on the clock. A 14-yard reception by Xavier Hendricks moved the chains on third-and-5 and five straight runs by Brown moved the ball to the 4-yard line. Two plays later on third-and-goal from the six, Robinson rolled to his right and found Lang for the go-ahead touchdown with under three minutes left.
“It was third down and coach said just don’t do anything stupid,” Robinson said. “I rolled out and was thinking about running but Kieran popped and I just gave him the ball.”
Robinson then effectively clinched the game with an interception on third down as Middletown North was trying to push the ball down the field. A pass over the middle was tipped by Devane and Robinson corralled the interception from his knees
Middletown North had one final play with two seconds on the clock, but Southern stopped the Lions’ attempts to lateral the ball and make their way down the field.
The Rams are 5-1 and poised to win their most games since going 9-3 and reaching the South Jersey Group 5 final in 2012. Southern was seventh in the South Jersey Group 5 playoff picture entering the week.
“We definitely feel we can keep this going,” Robinson said. “We’re not done yet. We want to make the playoffs and go far. We’re going to keep this rolling.”
No. 9 Southern 21, Middletown North 14
|Midd. North (3-3, 2-2)||0||7||7||0||14|
|Southern (5-1, 4-0)||0||7||7||7||21|
S – Will Devane 4-yard pass from Cole Robinson (Hank Gallacher kick)
MN – Quentin Soler 17-yard pass from Nick Ferreira (Logan Halloran kick)
S – Jaiden Brown 1-yard run (Hank Gallacher kick)
MN – Travis Thompson 8-yard pass from Nick Ferreira (Logan Halloran kick)
S – Kieran Lang 6-yard pass from Cole Robinson (Hank Gallacher kick)
RUSHING – MN: Brian Haddow 8-27, Quentin Soler 2-3, Nick Ferreira 6-(-12); S: Jaiden Brown 31-156, Nate Committee 5-26, Will Devane 2-10, Cole Robinson 4-(-13).
PASSING – MN: Nick Ferreira 8-15-2 57, Matt Spencer 1-1-0 35; S: Cole Robinson 11-16-0 105.
RECEIVING – MN: Quentin Soler 4-68, Travis Thompson 2-26, Matt Spencer 2-(-2), Brian Haddow 1-0; S: Will Devane 4-40, JT Cornelius 1-22, Jaiden Brown 2-15, Xavier Hendricks 2-12, Nate Committee 1-10, Kieran Lang 1-6.
INTERCEPTIONS – S: Will Devane 1-17, Cole Robinson 1-0.