Egan Nelms Airs it Out, Defense Clamps Down to Lead Howell Past Wall Township
WALL TOWNSHIP -- Howell junior Egan Nelms celebrated his 17th birthday on Friday by securing his driver's license. Hours later, he was behind the wheel of the Rebels' offense to lead his team to an important road victory.
Nelms completed 24 of 40 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns, including a go-ahead 7-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Damian Padilla in the third quarter, as the Rebels rallied for a 24-14 Shore Conference nondivisional victory over host Wall Township. Senior wide receiver Jack Gartenstein caught eight passes for 117 yards and ran for a touchdown, junior wide receiver Kevin Maloney hauled in seven passes for 80 yards and a touchdown, and senior defensive back Dom Marino intercepted two passes to lead a stout defensive effort in the second half.
It all added up to produce a pivotal triumph at the midway point as Howell improved to 3-2 through the first five weeks of the season.
"It's nice when you get to win vs. teams like Wall," Gartenstein said. "They've been a powerhouse for the last few years and even though they were 0-3, it was 0-3 against three of the best teams in the entire Shore Conference (No. 1 Red Bank Catholic, No. 7 Rumson-Fair Haven, and No. 5 Middletown South). We came into this game knowing they weren't a real 0-3 team and we treated them like they were the Wall team that they've been. We came out and executed."
"It all starts in the film room and that's where we found our mismatches," Nelms said. "I'm blessed from God to have the receivers I do and the coaches I do, on and off the field. And I'm thankful to be out here healthy and playing."
Nelms got the ball out quick and with accuracy on the game's opening possession to stake Howell to a 7-0 lead. With the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Gartenstein on one side, Third Team All-Shore wide receiver Maloney on the other, and the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Padilla in the middle of the field, Nelms was able to find the open man quickly on each snap. He connected with Gartenstein for 34 yards on the second play of the game and picked apart Wall's defense with quick passes until finding Maloney for a 16-yard touchdown pass to cap the 12-play, 82-yard scoring drive.
"We looked at the matchups that we had an advantage on and tried to find a hole to throw it, and a lot of that was on short stuff," Gartenstein said. "We were also hitting them deep; the second play of the game I caught a (34-yard) pass and that set up a lot of the short passes."
Garteinstein, Maloney, and Padilla combined for 21 receptions for 251 yards and two touchdowns. Gartenstin played some quarterback last season and looked to be the starter heading into the summer, but Nelms' emergence allowed Gartenstein to move to receiver and made the Rebels' passing attack much more difficult to defend.
"They make my job a heck of a lot easier," Nelms said. "I know I can throw it anywhere and they will come down with it."
"We're long, so if you have short corners we're going to see if you can play," said Howell head coach Bill Hill. "With Jack, he's a big backside edge (receiver) and it's hard to match up with him. And then you have Kevin on the other side and Damian and Declan Flaherty in the middle. You need to run the ball some but you don't have to be overpowering because you're getting the linebackers flying out to help in the passing game. Jack is a good quarterback, but we're a better team with him at receiver and Egan at quarterback."
"This was our plan the entire summer," Gartenstein said. "We knew I could move between quarterback and receiver, we know Kevin is one of the best receivers in the Shore and Damian is one of the top tight ends in the Shore. We feel like we have an answer for everything."
Wall, however, was able to answer Howell's game-opening scoring drive with an impressive touchdown march of its own. The Crimson Knights started at their own 34-yard line and, after Anthony Gartz moved the chains to the midfield stripe, senior wide receiver John McCurry made an outstanding 46-yard catch on a pass from junior quarterback Andrew Olsen down to the Howell 4-yard line. Two plays later, Olsen rolled to his right and found senior fullback Keisun Sanders for a 5-yard touchdown that tied the score 7-7.
The teams traded fourth-down stops on the next two series, the latter of which allowed Howell to take over on downs at its own 22-yard line. An intentional grounding penalty on Nelms lost 15 yards on third down and forced the Rebels to point from their own 18-yard line. The Wall punt rush got in quickly and forced a shanked punt that actually lost three yards. The Crimson Knights were able to capitalize on their glorious field position when Olsen hit senior tight end Pat Donohue for an 18-yard touchdown on third-and-13. Olsen faked a quick screen to his left, pivoted to his right to fake another quick pass, and then spun back to the center of the field where he fired a strike to Donohue, who then lunged over the goal line for the touchdown.
Wall then looked like was going to have the chance to close the first half with more points before receiving the second-half kickoff. Sanders got to Nelms and recorded a strip-sack that senior linebacker Mike Fumarola recovered at the Wall 32-yard line. But on the very next play, Olsen's pass down the middle of the field into quadruple coverage was intercepted by Marino to return possession to the Rebels.
Howell made the most of its opportunity by driving inside the Wall 15-yard line to end the first half with points. Maloney had a 29-yard catch against double coverage that put the ball at the Wall 11-yard line and set up Adam Picado's 27-yard field goal on the final play of the half.
Howell's defense did not allow a touchdown and yielded just 55 yards in the second half, and it began with Marino's second interception on Wall's third offensive play of the third quarter. After a holding penalty during the return, the Rebels took over at their own 23-yard line and proceeded to drive 77 yards across eight plays to score the go-ahead touchdown.
Gartenstein had a 19-yard reception and then a 28-yard catch to quickly put the ball at Wall's 27-yard line. After some short gains and a pair of penalties on the Crimson Knights put the ball at the 7-yard line, Nelms was able to avoid a heavy rush and make an off-balance throw that Padilla snared for a 7-yard touchdown and a 17-14 Howell lead.
"It happened so fast," Nelms said. "I had pressure and I threw it up knowing Damian would come down with it. I was on the ground rolling over when he caught it and I didn't even see it, so I'm going to have to check it out on film."
Howell's defense was outstanding the rest of the second half, allowing only one first down. The Rebels stopped Wall twice on fourth down in the final quarter, including senior linebacker Sam Mele getting to Olsen and forcing an incomplete pass on fourth-and-3 from the Wall 23-yard line with 1:59 left. Howell took advantage of the short field and salted away the victory when Gartenstein broke free for a 23-yard touchdown run on third-and-10.
The Rebels are now 3-2 heading into a huge Week 6 game against district rival Colts Neck, which is ranked No. 9 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and has won four games in a row.
"It's a big win for us because last year we got to two wins (after an 0-3) start and then started going the other way," Hill said. "So to be 3-2 now is big for us."
View the video highlights below and scroll down to view the box score.
Howell 24, Wall 14
H — Kevin Maloney 16-yard pass from Egan Nelms (Adam Picado kick)
W — Keisun Sanders 5-yard pass from Andrew Olsen (Heath Reinhardt kick)
W — Pat Donohue 18-yard pass from Andrew Olsen (Heath Reinhardt kick)
H — Adam Picado 27-yard field goal
H — Damian Padilla 7-yard pass from Egan Nelms (Adam Picado kick)
H — Jack Gartenstein 23-yard run (Adam Picado kick)
RUSHING — H: Jack Gartenstein 5-29, Brandon Wright 4-3, Ray DeFrancesco 1-0, Egan Nelms 6-(-9); W: Anthony Gartz 17-75, Mason Adam 4-13, Andrew Olsen 1-2.
PASSING — H: Egan Nelms 24-40-0 262; W: Andrew Olsen 7-18-3 113.
RECEIVING — H: Jack Gartenstein 8-117, Kevin Maloney 7-80, Damian Padilla 6-54, Brandon Wright 2-12, Gavin Carr 1-1; W: John McCurry 1-46, Mason Adam 1-35, Pat Donohue 1-18, Nick Wonsala 2-10, Keisun Sanders 1-5, Anthony Gartz 1-(-1).
INTERCEPTIONS — H: Dom Marino, 2-0; Jack Gartenstein, 1-5.