In the first season under head coach Cory Davies, Freehold Township reached the playoffs for just the second time in program history and first time in over a decade. Now the question is what can the Patriots do for an encore.

Davies and his ‘Air Raid’ pass-heavy offense brought excitement back to the program and saw the Patriots qualify for the Central Jersey Group V playoffs. Now the challenge is to build on the success of a memorable first season.

Freehold Township returns six starters on offense, including quarterback Charles Sabbagh. The senior saw playing time last year when Jack O’Brien was injured, so he has a good understanding of the offense.

Photo by Ray Richardson.

“It was huge getting that experience last year, and Jack was also a good mentor,” Sabbagh said. “I’m excited for the season.”

“The thing about Charles is he’s a student of the game,” said senior wide receiver Anthony Lotti. “He watches more film than anyone I know. He’s very accurate, poised and confident. We can do some good things with him.”

Sabbagh will have a deep group of receivers to throw to, led by Lotti, a University of Pennsylvania recruit. Adrian Rybaltowski and Tyrique Hall also return as starting receivers, and Rybaltowski coming off a year where he set the program record for receptions in a season with 44. Seniors Javier Rodriguez, Ryan Zyskowski and Jordan Jones, along with juniors Pat Laricy and Artie Bader will all see time at receiver.

Senior Max Nowak returns as the starting running back after leading the team in rushing last season. The 5-foot-11, 205-pounder gives the Patriots an inside presence on the ground and is also a reliable receiver out of the backfield. Junior Mike Cenname will be the backup with seniors D’Andre Sanders and Nick Coluccio potentially seeing some time.

Seniors Matt Cruz (6-foot-3, 265 pounds) and John Lucas (6-foot-3, 245 pounds) started at guard last season and will move out to tackle this year. Junior Jake White looks to be the starting center with senior Jon O’Brien backing up. Seniors Riley Crowley and James Latona will see time at guard with junior Zach Gonzalez and senior Andrew Higgins. Seniors Henry Gainey, Matt Simpson and Anthony Iacovino will fill in as backups.

The Patriots went from scoring 17 points per game in 2014 to 23.4 last year, so the new offense clearly made a difference. With all the players having one year in the system, the expectations have grown.

“Coach Davies is really known for his prolific offenses and having a Midas touch with the quarterbacks, and we saw that last year,” Lotti said. “We’re looking to build off that and we have the players to do it. I think this team is capable of doing great things.”

The x-factor for Davies’ teams over the years has been how well the defense plays. His offenses always put up points, and when the defense is solid his teams are usually among the best in the Shore. The Patriots were in the bottom third last season at 24.5 points per game, but they hope a better knowledge of the system along with some new tweaks will help bring that number down.

Seven starters are back with 11 total that saw considerable playing time in a 4-2-5 base that will use multiple alignments. Juniors Eric Quartey and Damian Rybaltowski will lead the way from their end positions while Jones, Crowley, Latona and seniors Matt Cruz and John Lucas will be in the mix at defensive tackle and defensive end.

Senior Mike Ferdinandi is a returning starter at middle linebacker with fellow senior Javier Castro. Nowak and senior Pablo Loza will also see time at inside linebacker. Cenname and Gonzalez are also in the mix. The outside linebacker/strong safety hybrids are Sanders, a returning starter, and Coluccio, who started one game before suffering a season-ending injury. Adrian Rybaltowski and senior Shawn Poole will also play plenty of snaps, while senior Gabe Goldsmith and junior Kyle Melone will battle for playing time.

Lotti returns as the starting safety and is a four-year starter in the secondary. Poole and senior Mike McCormick will also see time. Laricy and Hall also started games last year in the secondary. Junior Kevin Doherty will be one of the starting cornerbacks with Bader and junior Richie Norton battling at the other cornerback spot.

“We’re going to be different defensively this year because of personnel,” Davies said.  “We’re not that big up front, so we’ll go back and fourth between a three- and four-man line and use our team speed more.”

On special teams, Poole, Adrian Rybaltowski and senior Tyler Schulman are competing for the kicking and punting jobs. Lotti, Hall, Rybaltowski, Laricy and Sanders are the kick and punt returners and O’Brien is the long snapper.

Since last season, the Patriots have rallied around their “Seven More Yards” mantra. They were seven yards short of the end zone in a 21-14 playoff loss to New Brunswick. It serves as a reminder to go the extra mile to avoid a similar disappointing feeling.

“When we think of ‘Seven More Yards’ we think of how close we were,” Lotti said. “It teaches us to finish every single play and to work hard in practice and in the weight room.”

“Knowing how close you were, you never want that feeling again,” Sabbagh said. “It makes us work that much harder.”

RELATED: Freehold Township 2016 football schedule

Head Coach: Cory Davies, second season (23rd overall).

Career Record: 94-121.

Coaching staff: Derek Reichenbecher (def. coord./LB); Gene Blanco (DB); Bill Dague (OL); Dan Shine (DL); Mark Migliori (WR); Andrew Jones (FB); Tom Mandese (WR); Mike Burlew, Kevin Popek (freshmen); Ed Von Nessen (def. asst.); Ryan Davies (off. quality control); Mike Verrochi (special asst.); Tom Martin (DL); Cindy Carter (athletic trainer); Adam Brusotti (S.E.C.A.)

2015 Record: 4-6 (2-4).

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Charles Sabbagh, Sr., QB

He saw some time last season, but he is now the full-time starter taking over for Jack O’Brien, who threw for over 2,000 yards last season.

X-FACTOR: Defense

The Patriots’ offense made a big jump last season, and if the defense can do the same this year they have a great chance of getting back to the playoffs.

GLUE GUY: Anthony Lotti, Sr., WR/DB

A four-year starter on defense and a returning starter at wide receiver, Lotti, a UPenn recruit, is an integral player on both sides of the ball.


Laricy is a returning starter on defense, but it’s on offense where he has the potential to be a breakout receiver.

PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 9 vs. Freehold

The Patriots open their season against the rival Colonials in a Class A North game, eager to avenge a loss from last season.


Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.