Football – Dennis Captures MVP, Leads Monmouth to Gridiron Victory
LONG BRANCH - Long Branch quarterback Marc Dennis came into the All-Shore Gridiron Classic ready to turn the ball loose and set the tone by throwing to his favorite target from last fall.
It did not take him long to find a second option and take control of the his last game on his home field at Long Branch High School.
Dennis fed Long Branch teammate Matt Clarke for an early touchdown, hit Ocean Township receiver Alex Bryant for two more and racked up 177 passing yards in an MVP performance and a 21-6 Monmouth County win over Ocean Friday night.
Dennis completed 10 of his 16 pass attempts, with Clarke and Bryant combining for seven of the catches and 152 of the yards. Clarke grabbed three passes for 65 yards, opened the scoring with a nine-yard catch-and-run from Dennis in the first quarter and set up the second touchdown with a 47-yard catch over the middle.
"I told Matt if he had one-on-one coverage in the seam to just keep running and I'll throw it to him," Dennis said. "Of course, he said, 'Why couldn't you have done that all year long?' We have a connection and I told the coaches whenever we see an opening we're going to take it."
Following the long strike to Clarke, Dennis took the snap on the next play and flipped the ball to Bryant for a pass sweep. The Spartans speedster got around the right end and turned up for a touchdown and a 14-0 Monmouth lead after Freehold Township kicker Colin Taptich's extra point with 8:39 left in the first quarter.
After Monmouth County's next drive stalled out on Ocean 26 yard-line, the host team got back to scoring on its fourth drive. Dennis misfired on consecutive pass attempts after connecting on his first five and bounced right back on a 3rd-and-10 from midfield. He threw a quick pass to the flat to Bryant, who zoomed past the defense up the right sideline for a 50-yard touchdown reception. The extra point made the scored 21-0 with 9:13 still to play in the first half.
" had a great block from my boy Matt Krauss from Freehold," said Bryant, a Marist commit. "I saw green and I just kept going. It feels great to end my high school career like this and I have a lot to look forward to in the future."
Bryant added one more catch in the second half and finished with four grabs for a game-high 87 yards from scrimmage.
"During our week of practice, me and Marc Dennis got a good connection going," Bryant said. "I played with him in AYF and I feel like we got it back."
Dennis's MVP performance caps an All-Shore senior season in which the two-sport star led Long Branch to a 12-1 mark, including a second straight NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV title and a first ever bowl-game victory. He also scored his 1,000 career point in basketball.
"I couldn't have asked for a better ending," Dennis said. "I have just been so blessed. My family and friends have always stood by me and supported me and I was just grateful I could come out here and perform."
Dennis was also involved in a heated exchange in the first quarter when he lowered his shoulder to finish off a run against Brick defensive back Mike McGuigan, who held on to Dennis long after he went out of bounds. Dennis shoved him off and McGuigan responded in kind and the entire Monmouth County sideline came to Dennis's defense.
"You don't usually see something like that in an all-star game," Dennis said. "To see kids from Neptune, Manalapan, Howell have my back - that was really a great feeling. They were all telling me, 'I got your back no matter what,' and I'm really proud and grateful for that."
Monmouth County's defense bottled up Ocean County in the first half by holding it to total yards and three first downs before the break. Manalapan edge rusher Da'Shon Taylor earned the Defensive MVP of the game for Monmouth County, while Asbury Park safety and Red Bank Catholic linebacker Steve Cmielewski each came down with interceptions.
Offense was scarce in the second half, with Monmouth County turning to a run-heavy look. Dennis entered the second half on pace to shatter the single-game record of 240 passing yards with 159 of his own.
Monmouth was also hampered by the rule that gives the scoring team the ball if that team's deficit is greater than 13 points in the second half. Ocean County finally broke through on a 19-yard pass from Brick's Cole Groschel to Toms River North wide receiver Aaron Craig with 10:41 left in the game and got the ball right back thanks to the rule. The Ocean County squad also received the opening kickoff of both the first and second halves.
Groschel was named Offensive MVP for Ocean County while Manchester defensive end Eric Cowan took home his team's Defensive MVP. Red Bank Catholic wide receiver Jaden Key was recognized as Monmouth County's Sam Mills Award Winner while Central's Troy Warren earned the honor for Ocean County.
Monmouth 21, Ocean 6
M - Matt Clarke 9-yard pass from Marc Dennis (Colin Taptich kick)
M - Alex Bryant 9-yard pass from Marc Dennis (Colin Taptich kick)
M - Alex Bryant 50-yard pass from Marc Dennis (Colin Taptich kick)
O - Aaron Craig 19-yard pass from Cole Groschel (kick missed)
Rushing - O: Leo Shimonovich (Jackson Mem) 4-33, Sam Akinlolu (TR South) 10-30, Cole Groschel (Brick) 7-24, Charlie Cotton (Barnegat) 7-22, Evan Burton (Pinelands) 8-20, Garrett Brown (Pinelands) 1-(-9); M: Liam Riecks (Keansburg) 3-30, Devin Williams (Matawan) 2-14, Brandon Jones (Mater Dei) 3-13, Jack McCrae (Shore) 3-10, Gerard Urso (Howell) 3-10, Quadir Lawson (Asbury Park) 3-6, Marc Dennis (Long Branch) 5-5, Dean Gallo (Holmdel) 2-0, Matt Krauss (Freehold Boro) 1-(-9)
Passing - O: Garrett Brown 5-13-2 60, Cole Groschel 1-3-0 19; M: Marc Dennis 10-16-0 177
Receiving - O: Darius Martorano (Central) 3-27, Sam Akinlolu 1-23, Aaron Craig (TR North) 1-19, Eric Cowan (Manchester) 1-10; M: Alex Bryant (Ocean) 4-87, Matt Clarke (Long Branch) 3-65, Matt Krauss 2-20, Jack McCrae 1-5
Interceptions-Return Yards - M: Kharod Young 1-0, Steve Cmielewski 1-0