Defense, special teams lead Point Beach to shutout win over Keansburg
With time running out in the first half, a Point Pleasant Beach team that had outplayed Keansburg could have felt flustered by a failure to have its efforts reflected on the scoreboard. At 1-0 heading into Week 1, the Gulls had already established themselves as a feelgood story in the Shore Conference following a winless season and were having to match the energy of a Keansburg Titans team opening their season.
With Point Beach in punt formation and under four minutes to play in the half, a scoreless tie through the first 24 minutes seemed likely on Friday night. That’s until yet another special teams play proved to be a game-changer for the Gulls in a 13-0 win over Keansburg on Friday night.
Following a prompt three-and out-from their own 10-yard line, Beach’s punt was muffed by Keansburg and recovered at the Gulls’ 45. Still with a long way to go, and far less time to work with, the Gulls wasted no time getting Jason Sherlock involved on a contested ball down the seam. Quarterback Jack Akins ripped the throw on a line for Sherlock to take it away from his defender and spark the only offensive scoring drive of the night.
Going back to the air on the next two plays, Point Beach’s aggression paid off when Beach drew consecutive pass interference penalties to set up a goal-to-go situation. Sherlock got behind the Keansburg coverage again, this time on an in-breaking route, timed to perfection with Akins floating the ball over the middle. Sherlock fell across the goal line to give Beach a 6-0 lead.
Keansburg was content to let the half run out with the ball in the hands of first-time starting quarterback Louis Chalmers. The junior was tormented by an electric Beach defense in the first half, sacked three times and fumbling once.
“I owe (Jeff) Bower a steak”, announced an always0smiling Point Beach head coach Joe Zaccone after the win, addressing the game plan from his defensive coordinator in Beach’s second straight home win. The Beach secondary closed windows in a flash against Chalmers, delivering punishing hits on any underneath throws while holding their own at the line of scrimmage.
Zaccone added that his defense is playing more man coverage than in years past, proving Point Beach has the athletes to match up in the National Division throughout the season.
A lackluster half that provided Beach some breathing room before regrouping in the locker room would prove all the Gulls needed to turn in a masterful second half on defense and clinch the shutout. Keansburg started three drives from well within Beach territory in the third quarter alone, but the Gulls held each time without allowing a point.
Brendan Flanzbaum returned the opening kickoff of the second half to the Beach 28, but after Chalmers picked up a fourth and one on the ground, his next fourth-down pass sailed incomplete.
Pairing a behemoth defensive line against an offensive line that features two converted running backs for Beach, the Keansburg defense continuously kept the action on the Gulls’ end of the field, to no avail from an offense that eventually turned to sophomore Mikal Braithwaite at quarterback.
On his final two drives, Chalmers was forced out of the pocket on another fourth down and threw an interception to Beach’s Kieran Nagle, followed by a sack from Liam Buday to bring up another Titans punt. A free spirit at the linebacker position, Buday did well to remain focused as a defensive leader for Beach, while attempting to keep their offense afloat at running back. Scoring three touchdowns in a Week O win over Manville, Buday had no such luck Friday but still left his mark on the game.
“Our defense was our offense tonight”, Sherlock said.
Sherlock brought an infectious energy to the field, keeping the Beach defense motivated to carry them throughout the night.
When Keansburg made the switch at quarterback, it came with a steady dose of Braithwaite using his speed and vision to finally create positive plays on the ground for the Titans. Being caught from behind on a dash up the middle across midfield, Braithwaite’s first drive ultimately stalled and created the turning point of the game.
First, Point Beach would shorten the game slightly when Aidan Conway cut towards his sideline and outraced the Keansburg secondary for a gain of nine on third-and-eight. Though Beach was eventually forced to punt, a booming kick that sent Flanzbaum back to his own endzone led to a fumble recovered by Mike Grauso for a touchdown and a 13-0 lead.
Not much about this game was pretty, but with the clock decisively a factor at this point, Beach had created the separation needed to start another party at the Gulls Nest. All that was left to do was keep the Titans off the scoreboard, something Grauso would take into his own hands again. Jumping on a dropped snap from Braithwaite, Beach forced a final turnover to frustrate Keansburg further in the first of two meetings between these teams in 2019.
The Gulls will travel to Keansburg for a rematch in Week 6.
It was truly a one-play-at-a-time mentality for Point Beach, having plenty to clean up ahead of their first road test next Friday at Pinelands. On this night, it was all about sustaining the energy needed to hold off Keansburg, something a Zaccone-led team should never be questioned on.
“When you play as a family and love each other it’s amazing to watch”, Zaccone said.
The Gulls faithful, almost all of whom remained outside the Beach locker room after the game, would echo this sentiment as Beach went from a team shut out five times through a winless 2018 campaign to pitching their own shutout en route to a 2-0 start.