Dominating Defense Leads Southern to Crucial Win over Lacey
LACEY -- If there’s one thing Chuck Donohue Sr. knows about his football team, it’s that his players respond well to adversity. Saturday’s key Class A South game with Lacey just gave him more proof.
In a game that held Southern’s playoff and divisional fates, the Rams turned in a throwback performance with a 21-7 Shore Conference Class A South victory over previously undefeated and third-ranked Lacey. Senior running back Rob Yaiser ran for a career-high 158 yards and a touchdown, caught a touchdown pass and became the program’s all-time leading scorer, while senior quarterback Logan Sheehan fired a pair of touchdown passes, one to Penn State recruit Mike Gesicki.
“They gave themselves second life to make (the playoffs), and now who knows what’s going to happen in this (division),” Donohue said. “Our kids are very tough and they’re very resilient.”
“We all wanted it and knew what it meant to us,” said senior outside linebacker Mason Fazekas, who finished with 2 1/2 sacks. “It was playoffs or no playoffs.”
Fazekas was part of a defensive unit that controlled the line of scrimmage and the clock. The Rams (3-2, 2-2) held Lacey to a mind-boggling minus-7 rushing yards and limited the Lions to running just 34 plays, including 12 in the second half. Junior Clay Robinson and senior Justin Ruppert also had sacks, and Gesicki had an interception. Aside from Christian Tutela’s 74-yard touchdown pass on a trick play in the second quarter, Southern allowed under 50 total yards to the No. 3 team in the Shore and snapped their 15-game conference winning streak.
“(Defensive coordinator Matt) Abbato and the defensive coaches are phenomenal,” said Gesicki, who also had a tackle for a loss on defense. “Defense is what we pride ourselves on. We did some different things in the secondary against that passing attack with all the weapons they have. It was a very hard-nosed, defensive game. In the second half our offense started to click and we got into a rhythm.”
Tutela got Lacey on the board midway through the second quarter when the Lions (5-1, 3-1) dipped into co-offensive coordinator Cory Davies’ back of tricks. Tutela took a pitch on a double-reverse, but pulled up to fire a pass to a wide-open Mike Bocchini, who ran the rest of the way for a 74-yard touchdown. Pat Davis’s extra point made it 7-0 with 6:08 left in the first half.
Southern responded immediately with an 8-play, 76-yard drive to close the gap to 7-6. Two passes and three runs moved the ball to the Lacey 31 before a pair of incompletions brought up fourth down and nine. That’s when Sheehan made arguably the biggest play of the game, lofting a gorgeous touch pass over the linebacker to hit Yaiser in stride for a 31-yard touchdown. The Rams went for the two-point conversion and didn’t get it, but they had trimmed Lacey’s lead to 7-6 heading into halftime.
“That was a big momentum swing,” Yaiser said. “It boosted everyone’s confidence. We knew going into the second half we were right in it.”
“We like that play a lot,” Donohue said. “Once they doubled Gesicki on the corner route, we had the linebacker on Yaiser.”
Southern came out in the second half looking to pound the ball on the ground even more, and put together a 12-play, 62-yard drive. Yaiser was unable to connect on a 25-yard field, but it was a sign of things to come as the Rams took 5:30 off the clock. Lacey then went three-and-out, and the Rams got the ball back to take the lead for good.
After moving the ball from their own 44 to the Lions’ 20-yard line, Sheehan found Gesicki down the visiting sideline, and the senior made an acrobatic catch to put the Rams in front. Sheehan then rolled out and found Gesicki for the two-point conversion to put Southern up 14-7.
Two consecutive possessions without a first down for Lacey gave Southern the ball at its own 25 with 7:51 to play. Four plays later, Yaiser put the finishing touches on the victory with a 60-yard touchdown run for a 21-7 lead. Yaiser then kicked the extra point for his 141st career point to pass Abe Gonzalez and T.J. Bellissimo, both of whom had 138, as the program’s all-time leading scorer.
“It was an inside run that I bounced outside,” Yaiser said. “I put a little move to the outside to get the corner.”
The win pushed Southern to 3-2 and kept the Rams alive for a spot in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group V playoffs, a bracket in which they reached the final last season. This weekend began with three teams - Lacey, Brick and Jackson Memorial - undefeated in A South play. All three lost, so the division race has opened up. Southern, Brick Memorial and Toms River South are all one game back with head-to-head matchups coming in the next few weeks. Southern knew without a win against Lacey it would be on the outside looking in.
“This was our state championship because if we don’t win today there is no playoffs,” Gesicki said. “We really prepared well for this game, and it showed.”
The win by Southern also denied Lacey head coach Lou Vircillo his 264th career win, which would have moved him past Vic Kubu and into second place behind Warren Wolf in coaching victories in Shore Conference history.
Southern 21, No. 3 Lacey 7
Southern (3-2, 2-2) 0 6 8 7 – 21
Lacey (5-1, 3-1) 0 7 0 0 – 7
L – Christian Tutela 74-yard pass to Mike Bocchini (Pat Davis kick)
S – Logan Sheehan 31-yard pass to Rob Yaiser (pass failed)
S – Logan Sheehan 20-yard pass to Mike Gesicki (Logan Sheehan pass to Mike Gesicki)
S – Rob Yaiser 60-yard run (Rob Yaiser kick)
Rushing – S: Rob Yaiser 26-158, Logan Sheehan 13-30, Ryan Jensen 5-18; Lacey: Chris Jensen 6-23, Christian Tutela 2-3, Tommy Kelly 7-(-33).
Passing – S: Logan Sheehan 10-17-1 143; L: Tommy Kelly 10-19-1 56, Christian Tutela 1-1-0 74.
Receiving – S: Mike Gesicki 6-87, Rob Yaiser 3-43, Bailey Bellissimo 1-13.
Interceptions – S: Mike Gesicki 1-0; L: Christian Tutela 1-12.