Football: Anthony Brown and Shutdown Defense Lead SJV Past Matawan
HOLMDEL — With a standout defensive performance and a strong showing from its potentially explosive offense, St. John Vianney began its first season under Mark Ciccotelli looking right on schedule.
Junior quarterback Anthony Brown spearheaded a balanced offensive attack while the Lancers’ defensive unit stymied its biggest rival as St. John Vianney opened the season by upending Matawan, ranked No. 9 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, 31-10 in a Shore Conference Class A Central game on Friday night.
Brown threw for 194 yards and a pair of touchdowns, senior wide receiver P.J. Braccia caught six passes for 150 yards and senior running back Aaron Mora ran for a pair of scores. The Lancers’ held the Huskies to 96 yards of total offense, including minus-6 rushing yards while also forcing three turnovers, to give Ciccotelli his first win as Lancers’ head coach.
“We’re always looking forward to (playing Matawan), and this has been what we’ve been preparing for the whole offseason,” Braccia said. “It’s great to come out and get the offense going and have the defense play great to give us the win.”
Brown showcased his dual-threat ability early and often by making big plays in the passing game. He threw for nearly 200 yards on just eight completions, hitting four passes for at least 20 yards each. Mora led a group effort at running back with 52 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.
Matawan hurt itself by turning the ball over three times and committing 11 penalties for 105 yards, and its running game could never get going thanks to the play of the Lancers’ front seven. Except for pair of productive drives by Matawan in the third quarter, St. John Vianney dominated on both sides of the ball to begin its new era.
It started well from the beginning for St. John Vianney when Matawan transfer Khalil Haskins returned the opening kickoff 67 yards to the Huskies’ 21-yard line. The Lancers (1-0, 1-0) had to settle for a field goal attempt that missed wide, but it set the tone for what ended up being a lop-sided victory. On St. John Vianney’s second drive, Brown got the ball rolling by finding Braccia for a 53-yard gain on third-and-13, putting the ball at Matawan’s 10-yard line. Four plays later, Mora carried a pile of would-be tacklers into the end zone from four yards out to give the Lancers a quick 7-0 lead.
Brown continued to gain chunks of yards through the air, hitting Dan Calabro, a Colts Neck transfer, for 30 yards on the next drive. The Huskies kept St. John Vianney out of the end zone on that drive, however, and did so on a following drive as well when Austin Santana-Simmons recovered a fumble at his own 11-yard line one play after Brown and Braccia hooked up for a 28-yard gain.
The Lancers wouldn’t be kept out of the end zone for long, however. On a drive that began near midfield with 5:14 left the second quarter, St. John Vianney took just six plays to take a two-touchdown lead. A pair of 10-yard runs by Haskins moved the Lancers inside the Matawan 25, and on third-and-6 Brown scrambled to his left before finding Braccia for a 24-yard touchdown.
“I felt very comfortable,” Brown said. “Their defense brings a lot of pressure, but when you do that you leave holes open.”
“(Matawan) did some things defensively we didn’t see in the preseason,” Ciccotelli said. “Fortunately we were able to take some shots and convert on them.”
“Anthony has the ability to make plays and keep them alive with his feet,” Ciccotelli added. “The savvy in the passing situations to find people open - that stuff you can’t teach. He’s a special talent.”
The lead was extended to 17-0 at halftime when junior Joseph Rice kicked a 40-yard field goal with no time left to cap a quick four-play drive over the final 48 seconds of the half. Rice had actually missed a 45-yard attempt short with four seconds left, but a running-into-the-kicker penalty on Matawan gave him a second chance.
After two quarters, St. John Vianney’s offense had flashed its game-breaking ability, but it was the defense making the most noise by holding the Huskies to minus-10 rushing yards and just six total yards at halftime. Sophomore linebacker Tyler Tedeschi had three sacks and a fumble recovery, and junior linebacker Calvin Beaty, another Matawan transfer, played a strong all-around game to lead the way.
“Our defensive coordinator Noel Kavanagh does an outstanding job of preparing the kids, and they really came out and executed the game plan,” Ciccotelli said.
“The defense was amazing tonight,” Braccia said. “They really only gave up three points tonight. When we were in trouble they picked it up.”
The Lancers were never in danger throughout the game, but during a slow patch on offense in the third quarter their defense clamped down to keep them in front. Matawan senior quarterback James Pierce came out throwing to start the second half and connected with Justin Ferrara for 36 yards and then 13 yards to move the ball to the Lancers’ 36-yard line. The Lancers forced a fumble later on the drive, however, which Tedeschi recovered at the 15.
The Huskies (0-1, 0-1) would get their only touchdown of the game on the very next play when Mora fumbled and the ball bounced right into the hands of Ferrara, who ran it into the end zone from 21 yards out. A long punt return and a penalty at the end of the run gave Matawan the ball at St. John Vianney’s 14 to start its next drive, but a sack pushed the Huskies back and forced them to settle for a 37-yard field goal attempt by junior Adam Elliot. His kick bounced off and over the crossbar to pull Matawan within 17-10 with 4:39 left in the third quarter.
St. John Vianney would put the game away early in the fourth quarter when Nicholas DeBold recovered a fumble on a muffed punt that led to Brown finding Calabro for a 14-yard touchdown and a 24-10 lead. Brown had connected with Braccia on a 16-yard pass to set up Calabro’s third-down score.
“He emerged today,” Ciccotelli said of Braccia’s 6-catch, 150-yard game. “But we knew all along he was going to do special things for us.”
Mora’s second four-yard touchdown run with 2:19 left capped the scoring and put the finishing touches on the beginning of a new era at the Holmdel school. After knocking off a top-10 team at home to start the season, the Lancers have announced their presence as a potential division title contender.
“This win makes us feel great, but we need to keep working hard,” Brown said. “We can’t sleep on anybody."
St. John Vianney 31, No. 9 Matawan 10
|Matawan||St. John Vianney|
Matawan (0-1, 0-1) 0 0 10 0 – 10
St. John Vianney (1-0, 1-0) 7 10 0 14 – 31
SJV – Mora 4-yard run (Rice kick)
SJV – Brown 24-yard pass to Braccia (Rice kick)
SJV – Rice 40-yard field goal
M – Ferrara 21-yard fumble return (Elliot kick)
M – Elliot 37-yard field goal
SJV – Brown 14-yard pass to Calabro (Rice kick)
SJV – Mora 4-yard run (Rice kick)
Rushing – M: Devon Spann 8-40, George Pearson 3-(-21), James Pierce 13-(-25); SJV: Khalil Haskins 8-65, Aaron Mora 13-52, Calvin Beaty 8-29, Anthony Brown 13-20.
Passing – M: James Pierce 4-10-1 76, George Pearson 3-5-0 26; SJV: Anthony Brown 8-17-0 194.
Receiving – M: Justin Ferrara 3-75, DeJohn Rogers 2-11, Shawn Ramcheran 1-10, Makiya Caesar 1-6; SJV: P.J. Braccia 6-150, Dan Calabro 2-44.
Interceptions – SJV: Khalil Haskins 1-8.