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MIDDLETOWN - As is often the case in his team's games, Sha'Kim Shuler had the ball in his hands for most of the biggest plays in Freehold Boro's Friday night match-up with Middletown North.

With the game on the line and the clock nearing all zeroes, however, Colonials coach Dave Ellis had to take the ball out of the hands of his best play maker and lay it on the left foot of his kicker.

Junior Kayden Hutchinson kicked the game-tying and game-winning field goals - the latter of which was from 36 yards with five seconds left - to secure a 40-37 win for Freehold in a back-and-forth barn-burner against the host Lions.

"It felt amazing," Hutchinson said. "To come back like that, to have 10 seconds left on the clock and put it through the uprights, it felt amazing."

Shuler was instrumental in getting the game to that point, not only with his 385 combined rushing (259) and passing (126) yards and three touchdowns accounted-for, but also with his three giveaways to Middletown North and two takeaways from the Lions.

The senior signal-caller for the Colonials committed three key turnovers in the game - two fumbles and an interception - that led to 14 Middletown North points, but created two Lions takeaways at pivotal junctures. With under a minute to play in the first half, Middletown North senior receiver D.J. Willis pulled in a 58-yard reception, but fumbled the ball, allowing Shuler to pounce on it for a turnover in Colonials territory and preserve a 28-21 Freehold Boro halftime lead.

"Sha'Kim's a great player but he knows we have to be more careful with the football," Ellis said. "When you play a good team like we were tonight and you give the ball away, all of a sudden they are marching down the field with a chance to beat us. That's something we have to clean up. He does make a lot of plays for us, but I don't want to give the other team more opportunities."

Shuler's second takeaway was even bigger. Middletown North junior Tom Giannone completed passes of 36 and 11 yards to senior Alex Perez and junior Brian Haddow on consecutive plays to move the ball to the Freehold 33 yard-line. Giannone dropped back on first down and fired just above the reach of his intended target and right into the arms of Shuler, who returned the interception 36 yards to the Middletown North 49 to set the Colonials up with 1:50 left and two timeouts.

"Coach told us somebody had to make a play," Shuler said. "I was happy I was the one to make it. Coach always tells me to be calm in the chaos. That's all we know."

Freehold Boro marched inside the 20 but stalled out before using its final timeout with 10 seconds left and the ball on the 19. With the game tied at 37-37, Ellis sent out Hutchinson to attempt the winning kick exactly three minutes after he tied the game with a 21-yard field goal.

"We were trying to score a touchdown," Ellis said. "We got down inside the 20 and on the last play, we tried to score, we saw some pressure and Sha'Kim pulled it down and got us a couple extra yards. At that point, we had to use our last timeout, so we pretty much had to go with the field goal there and we felt pretty good about giving Hutchinson a chance at a spot on the field where he could make the kick."

The junior kicker ripped a booming kick comfortably through the uprights and the Colonials sideline erupted with five seconds still remaining on the clock.

"I just had to clear my mind, silence the crowd, follow my steps and kick the ball," Hutchinson said. "Right through the uprights and we win the game."

"He has done a great job for us on kickoffs and extra points for us all year," Ellis said of Hutchinson. "I think those were only the second and third field goal attempts we have had as a team this year and he made both of them, which was a huge part of our win."

Middletown North's attempt at returning the kickoff, which included multiple laterals, did not get far and the Colonials officially closed out the win.

Freehold Boro raced out to a 14-0 lead on touchdown runs of 15 and two yards by Shuler and went up 21-7 before the end of the first quarter on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Shuler to junior tight end Tyler Ochojski on 4th-and-7.

"We always know we can move the ball," Shuler said. "We have too much speed. There is no way teams can contain us for a whole game."

Middletown North had cut its deficit in half with a 65-yard touchdown strike from Giannone to Perez before Freehold quickly answered with a 40-yard drive aided by a personal foul penalty against the Lions on the kickoff return.

The Lions continued to fight back in the second quarter and got an early break when Shuler fumbled a punt to set Middletown North up at the Colonials 10 yard-line. Freehold's defense held, however, with the drive ending on a fourth-down interception on the goal-line by junior Kamore Gill.

Middletown North's defense forced a three-and-out and again got help from Freehold in the form of a 12-yard punt to start the next Lions offensive drive at the Freehold 23. The Lions found themselves in a 3rd-and-10 and called a reverse for Willis that the senior wideout took up the left sideline for a 23-yard touchdown.

Shuler then fumbled the ball on Freehold's next play from scrimmage and Dominic Scerbo's recovery gave Middletown North the ball back on the Colonials 42. Giannone broke loose for a 32-yard run to start the drive and capped it with a seven-yard shovel pass to junior fullback Lucas Cerbo for the game-tying touchdown.

Freehold Boro would surge back in front, 28-21, before halftime by driving 68 yards on seven plays, capped by a five-yard touchdown run by junior running back YahSin Calhoun.

Middletown North re-tied the game on a 64-yard draw play to junior Eaghan Kieff on the team's first offensive play of the second half. Haddow set up the touchdown by making an acrobatic interception over the middle on a pass from Shuler.

The see-saw swung back in Freehold's favor when senior Noah Evans stripped Haddow and recovered the fumble on the Middletown North 27, which set up a 27-yard touchdown run by Shuler on the very next play. A fumbled exchange on the extra point left the score, 34-28, in favor of the Colonials with 4:35 left in the third.

Before the game turned to the fourth quarter, Middletown North pinned Freehold Boro back at its own one yard-line and on 2nd-and-8, junior Zac Searight plowed through the line and tackled Shuler in the endzone for a safety to pull the Lions within 34-30.

Middletown North's offense got the ball after the safety and authored its longest drive of the game to give the Lions their first and only lead. Haddow started the drive with only one yard on nine carries, but led the 12-play, 69-yard drive by carrying nine times for 53 yards to set up Cerbo's two-yard, go-ahead dive into the endzone.

Senior Jason Lee's kick return set Freehold up at midfield for the next Colonials possession and, despite a holding penalty mixed in, Shuler marched his team down to the 20 with three runs and a 15-yard completion to Calhoun. Freehold encountered a 4th-and-3 from the four yard-line and turned the drive over to Hutchinson, who hooked the 21-yard attempt from the left hash through the uprights with 3:05 left to play.

Shuler's interception halted Middletown North's next drive and the senior quarterback drove his team within Hutchinson's field-goal range to set the stage for the junior's clutch kick.

Friday's game completes a 5-1 regular-season for Freehold Boro, which will now turn its attention to the postseason. The Colonials are currently scheduled for pod play over the next two weekends, starting with a Nov. 14 showdown with Southern Regional in Freehold.

Middletown North, meanwhile, is 1-5 with four losses to teams ranked in the Shore Sports Network Top 10: No. 3 Red Bank Catholic, No. 4 Mater Dei Prep, No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven and No. 7 Freehold Boro. The other loss was to rival Middletown South and the one win was over Long Branch.

"It's a chance to play more games," Ellis said. "We're happy we're to this point in the season considering what we were up against. I want to win and I just want us to play better football. At the end of the day, I want us to play better and that will help us compete in our pod.

"It is unique. It's not like going into the playoffs, where if you lose, your season is over. We know we have two weeks left. We'd like to get two wins, but there are a lot of things that have to go right for that to happen."

 

Box Score

Freehold Boro 40, Middletown North 37

FreeholdMidd. North
First Downs2415
Rushes-Yards49-32325-164
Passing12-21-214-24-2
Passing Yards126238
Fumbles-Lost6-24-2
Penalties-Yards5-435-46

 

1234F
Freehold (5-1)2176640
Midd. North (1-5)7149737

 

Scoring Summary

F - Sha'Kim Shuler 15-yard run (Kayden Hutchinson kick)

F - Sha'Kim Shuler 2-yard run (Kayden Hutchinson kick)

MN - Alex Perez 65-yard pass from Tom Gionnone (Alex Perez kick)

F - Tyler Ochojski 10-yard pass from Sha'kim Shuler (Kayden Hutchinson kick)

MN - D.J. Willis 23-yard run (Alex Perez kick)

MN - Lucas Cerbo 7-yard pass from Tom Giannone (Alex Perez kick)

F - YahSin Calhoun 5-yard run (Kayden Hutichinson kick)

MN - Eaghan Kieff 64-yard run (Alex Perez kick)

F - Sha'Kim Shuler 27-yard run (kick failed)

MN - Safety: Sha'Kim Shuler tackled in endzone by Zac Searight

MN - Lucas Cerbo 2-yard run (Alex Perez kick)

F - Kayden Hutchinson 21-yard field goal

F - Kayden Hutchinson 36-yard field goal

 

Individual Stats

Rushing - F: Sha'Kim Shuler 38-259, YahSin Calhoun 9-62, Kamore Gill 2-2; MN: Eaghan Kieff 1-64, Brian Haddow 17-54, D.J. Willis 1-23, Tom Giannone 4-18, Alex Perez 1-3, Lucas Cerbo 1-2

Passing - F: Sha'Kim Shuler 12-20-1 126, Kamore Gill 0-1-1; MN: Tom Giannone 14-24-2 238

Receiving - F: YahSin Calhoun 5-51, Tyler Ochojski 4-30, Jason Lee 2-28, Kamore Gill 1-17; MN: Alex Perez 6-135, D.J. Willis 1-58, Lucas Cerbo 5-28, Brian Haddow 1-11, Anthony Soto 1-6

Interceptions-Return Yards - F: Kamore Gill 1-2, Sha'Kim Shuler 1-36; M: Brian Haddow 2-0