By Scott Clayton - Shore Sports Network contributor

BARNEGAT – Cross one off the bucket list.

For a team that came into the season with division and sectional title aspirations, motivation for a mid-season nondivisional game may be hard to come by. However, that was not the case Friday night for Barnegat as Manasquan, the long-time Shore Conference standard-bearer for small-school success, came to town.

“Coach (Rob) Davis told us before the game that he had a bucket list,” Barnegat senior quarterback Cinjun Erskine said, “And all that was left on that list was to win a state title and beat Manasquan.”

Barnegat quarterback Cinjun Erskine had an 85-yard touchdown pass to help the Bengals knock off Manasquan. (Photo by Scott Clayton)

Barnegat found the end zone on three big plays and held off the visiting Warriors, 24-14, to make a small piece of program history. Just the state title remains uncrossed for last year’s South Jersey Group III runners-up.

“That’s a great program,” Davis said of Manasquan (3-2). “We stole a lot of stuff from those guys. They are a class program, and we try to resemble them. One game is not going to make us like them but it shows our kids what class, tradition and pride and all that is.”

The game was tied 7-7 and nearly 10 minutes of game time had elapsed before Barnegat ran its first offensive play, but it was worth the wait as Erskine dropped back and fired deep, connecting with junior Paul Wickwire for an 85-yard touchdown that was nearly picked off by Manasquan defensive back Luke O’Shaughnessy as the Warriors had Wickwire bracketed in double coverage. After the touchdown made it 14-7, Barnegat would never relinquish the lead.

“I saw him coming and I was going to just knock it down,” Wickwire said, “but I just didn’t take my eyes of the ball and just grabbed it.”

“We finally got the ball and I just wanted to take a shot,” Erskine said. “I just wanted to get the dagger in the first half. I probably shouldn’t have taken that shot, but, hey, it worked out in our favor.”

On the game’s sixth play from scrimmage, Barnegat linebacker Kyle Morris stepped in front of a pass from Manasquan quarterback Liam Grieb in the right flat and returned the interception 50 yards down the sideline for a touchdown. The Warriors atoned with a 10-play, 67-yard drive that matched the score when John Morris scored on an 11-yard pass from Grieb.

“Any time they throw to my side, I expect to make a play like that,” Morris said. “He ran an out route, and I just read it the whole way.”

The Bengals (4-1), who have won three straight, capped a four-minute second quarter drive with a Connor Lustenberger field goal from 33 yards out. Barnegat stopped Manasquan’s ensuing possession deep in Bengals territory when junior Nick Camarato picked off a Grieb pass attempt at the Barnegat 14.

“We got them out of their comfort zone,” Penn State-bound Barnegat senior linebacker Manny Bowen said. “They wanted to run the ball down on us, but we wouldn’t let them do that. We made them throw the ball and we got some turnovers.”

“We just didn’t take care of the football,” Manasquan head coach Jay Price said. “They were kind of stacking the box on us. We were trying to work on extending the field a little bit.”

The Bucknell-bound Erskine finished 8-of-9 for 165 yards passing in the win.

However, it was on the ground that the Bengals sealed the victory. The final 15 Barnegat plays of the game were all on the ground and included a 76-yard touchdown from Bowen, who had 111 yards rushing, and a seven-minute, 51-second drive that ran out the clock. The Bowen score brought Barnegat’s advantage to 24-7, but Grieb (14-19, 235 yards) connected with Matt Paturzo for a 10-yard touchdown with 7:51 to play. Manasquan would not run another offensive play.

Box score

BARNEGAT 24, MANASQUAN 14

Manasquan (3-2) 7 0 0 7 - 14
Barnegat (4-1) 14 3 0 7 - 24

B – Morris 50 Int Return (Lustenberger kick)
M – Morris 11 pass from Grieb (Sabins kick)
B – Wickwire 85 pass from Erskine (Lustenberger kick)
B – Lustenberger 33 FG
B – M. Bowen 76 run (Lustenberger kick)
M – Paturzo 10 pass from Grieb (Sabins kick)

Team Stats Manasquan Barnegat
First Downs 12 12
Rushes-Yards 27-80 18-131
Passing 14-20-2 8-9-0
Passing Yards 225 165
Fumbles-Recovered 0-0 1-1
Punts-Avg 4-32.5 3-45.3
Penalties 1-15 3-20

Individual Stats
Rushing: (M) McAlary 14-49, Morris 6-10, Gleason 5-12, Grieb 2-9. (B) McGuinness 10-76, M. Bowen 8-111, Erskine 7-23, Wickwire 2-(-2), Podinker 1-(-1).
Passing: (M) Grieb 14-19-2 225, Tantum 0-1-0 0. (B) Erskine 8-9-0 165.
Receiving: (M) Hawkins 5-79, Paturzzo 3-94, Morris 3-13, Macalary 2-35, Carrithers 1-4. (B) Gerena 3-47, Bowen 2-15, J. Bowen 2-18, Wickwire 1-85.
Interceptions: (B) Morris 1-48, Camarato 1-4.