Story and videos by Matt Stypulkoski - Shore Sports Network contributor

MIDDLETOWN –  Senior Dontae Strickland scored three touchdowns, including one on a scoop-and-score late in the first half, to power state-ranked South Brunswick past No. 7 Middletown South, 36-24, in a nonconference game on Friday night.

The Eagles (1-1) managed to contain the Syracuse-bound running back for most of the first half, limiting him to 53 yards on nine carries, but they could not prevent him from making an impact on the other side of the ball.

Fifteen seconds after South Brunswick quarterback Amir Johnson tied the game at 7-7 with a 16-yard run, Strickland picked up a fumble deep in Middletown South territory and carried it untouched into the end zone to give the Vikings a 14-10 lead.

“The touchdown got us going, but then to follow that up with the scoop-and-score,” Vikings coach Joe Goerge said, “I think that gave us a little impetus for the second half.”

The second half is also when Strickland really got going. On his first handoff of the half, the senior took off for a 76-yard score.

“Coach called a play – counter option short,” Strickland said. “Everything just went as expected, and I just saw grass and he just told me to run, and I took off.”

Strickland finished the night with 149 yards on 15 carries, in addition to one catch for 29 yards and a 46-yard pass on a trick play.

“You put him in that offense, he’s scary,” Middletown South coach Steve Antonucci said. “Any touch of the ball, you miss an assignment, and he makes you look silly.”

Despite losing by two scores, the Eagles made things tough on South Brunswick for much of the night. With just under five minutes left in the third quarter, the scoreboard read 27-17. Then a botched snap led to quarterback Matt Mosquera intentionally kicking the ball out of the back of his end zone to concede a safety, and the ensuing Vikings' drive resulted in Strickland’s third score of the night. Within three plays, the margin was stretched to 19.

Middletown South’s Cole Rogers did everything he could to keep his team in the game. The junior ran for 122 yards on 16 carries, including a touchdown with about 10 minutes remaining that put the Eagles within striking distance.

Ultimately, the late push fell short after a fourth-and-1 inside the South Brunswick 10 was stopped at the line of scrimmage. Mosquera added an 8-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Leandro and a 28-yard field goal in the loss.

The victory was South Brunswick’s fourth straight in season openers, but some first-game rust still showed. Thirteen penalties cost the Vikings 110 yards, and substitution mistakes in special teams situations led to repeated timeouts to prevent further flags.

“Could we get better?” Goerge said. “Yeah, that’s what football is about at the high school level. But that’s a great win. That’s a great win for us coming down here, that’s a tough opener.”

Still, 405 yards – 113 passing and 292 on the ground – was an impressive output for a team that hasn’t completely settled into the rhythm of the season.

As for Middletown South, the loss was cause for frustration, but also an opportunity to evaluate some shortcomings to correct in the coming weeks.

“We’ve got to be better under duress,” Antonucci said. “We’ve got to have better answers. I saw our kids, for the first time – through preseason or through a game – be in a situation where we had to play hard for four quarters. We’ve got to be able to finish games.”

Box score

South Brunswick 36, Middletown South 24

.                                 SB               MS

First downs                 15                12

Rushes-yards          51-292          25-127

Passing                   4-8-0              7-19-1

Passing yards           113                  113

Fumbles-lost            2-0                 2-1

Penalties                  13-110           6-48

South Brunswick (1-0, 0-0)  0  14  15 7 – 36

Middletown South (1-1, 1-0)   7 3 7 7 – 24

Scoring summary

M: Rogers 3-yard run (Mosquera kick).

S: Johnson 16-yard run (Golden kick).

S: Strickland 34-yard fumble return (Golden kick).

M: Moquera 28-yard field goal.

S: Johnson 4-yard run (PAT no good).

M: AJ Leandro 8-yard pass from Mosquera (Mosquera kick).

S: Strickland 76-yard run (Golden kick).

S: South Brunswick safety.

S: Strickland 24-yard run (Golden kick).

M: Rogers 1-yard run (Mosquera kick).

Individual statistics

Rushing – SB: Strickland 15-149, Johnson 18-77, Golden 7-23, Campbell 7-28, Mohamed 1-2, Wendell 3-13. MS: Rogers 16-122, McCarthy 7-11, Grant 1-2, Mosquera 1-(-8).

Passing – SB: Johnson 4-8-0 67, Strickland 1-1-0 46. MS: Moquera 7-19-1 113.

Receiving – SB: Jackson 1-46, Mohamed 1-10, Wendell 1-28, Strickland 1-29. MS: Rogers 1-9, Crowe 1-36, Leandro 1-36, Coffey 1-13, Marron 1-9, Timmins 1-32