UNION TWP. - No team wants to drag into the halftime locker room trailing by two touchdowns, but the Point Pleasant Beach football team welcomed that challenge during its surprise run to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I final.

The Garnet Gulls faced a two-score halftime deficit one more time, but Saturday's sectional championship game against Middlesex marked the end of Point Beach's comeback magic.

Senior quarterback John Kressbach made two critical plays that led to both of Middlesex's second-half touchdowns and the Blue Jays denied Point Beach's comeback attempt, 33-21, to win the program's fifth sectional championship and first since 1984.

"We had to play our A-game today," Point Beach coach John Wagner said. "They do some very talented things. We got out-manned in a couple of spots as far as foot speed, and that showed.

"We told the kids after the game, 'At this time of year, you're either going to go home happy or go home sad. There's no tomorrow, there's not advancing - it's over. It's disappointing, but my hat's off to our seniors. They played great."

Kressbach attempted only two passes in the entire game, but he completed both for a total of 87 yards. The big one was a 60-yard deep ball to senior Zach Godfrey on 3rd-and-6 that put the Blue Jays ahead, 25-14, with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

"I saw their cornerback back and it looked like he was playing the comeback route," Kressenbach said. "When I saw that I figured I would just throw (Godfrey) open and he went and got it."

Senior Anthony Mason ran in the two-point conversion to make it 27-14 and cap a drive that nearly stalled out due to a holding penalty on Godley that negated a long run by sophomore slot back Josh Ramirez. Instead, the senior wideout got a step on his man and Kressbach laid in a perfect ball - one that looked like it came out of the hand of a quarterback that has attempted more than the 37 passes that Kressbach has on the season.

"The bomb pass killed us," Wagner said. "That's not their game - to throw the ball. (Kressbach) threw a ball right on the button, so you've got to give him credit for that."

"I know I can make that throw because I work on it all the time," Kressbach said. "We just don't show it much in the game because the run works for us. We knew they were going to fight back and they weren't going to give in."

Point Beach responded to the touchdown pass by engineering a 17-play, 63-yard drive to pull back within one touchdown. Senior John Nista ended the drive with a four-yard touchdown run, but the key play was a pass interference call on Middlesex on a 4th-and-4 that would have ended the Garnet Gulls drive. Point Beach was 3-for-4 on third down on the drive.

The Garnet Gulls were on the brink of getting the defensive stop they needed with five minutes to play and Middlesex facing a 4th-and-3 from the Point Beach 35. Kressbach, however, again came through with a key play, this time pitching the ball to Ramirez on a perfectly-timed option play that gave the speedy sophomore the corner and  28-yard pick-up.

"We knew that was a make-or-break play," Kressbach said. "We just had to bear down and execute the call and we did."

Ramirez racked up 81 yards on only five attempts, including a 21-yard touchdown run on a similar option play 34 seconds before halftime to make it 19-7.

Following Ramirez's fourth-down run in the fourth, senior fullback Tom Rau capped the drive with a five-yard touchdown plunge that put Middlesex ahead, 33-21 with 3:45 left in the game.

The Blue Jays stopped Point Beach in four plays on the ensuing drive and after giving the Garnet Gulls the ball back with less than a minute on the clock, senior Devin Lanza intercepted Point Beach quarterback Luke Frauenheim on the final play of the game to cap the championship victory.

Frauenheim hit on eight of his first 11 passing attempts and finished 11-for-20 with 114 yards and a touchdown. He faced a heavy rush on a fourth-down play from the 4 yard-line and threw a jump ball into the endzone that senior Josh Yates hauled in for a touchdown, cutting the Middlesex lead to 19-14 with 7:13 left in the third quarter.

The 21-yard touchdown by Ramirez just before the half was a big blow to Point Beach. Middlesex took over possession with 2:58 left in the half on its own 36 and marched 64 yards despite throwing the ball only once. That one throw, however, was a 27-yard completion from Kressbach to Godfrey on 2nd-and-5, and with Point Beach now thinking about the pass, the Blue Jays came back with the option play to Rodriguez for the touchdown.

"They have the heavy guys going up inside and then they've got the pitch guys going outside," Wagner said. "We lost our angles because of their speed. We thought we had the angle when we lined up, but they were fast enough to outrun it."

The two teams opened the game by trading touchdowns, Middlesex on a 35-yard run by senior fullback Anthony Mason and Point Beach on a 16-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown run by Frauenheim on 4th-and-goal. The fourth-down conversion was the second during the drive by Point Beach, which kept its drive alive on a 12-yard reception by Yates over the middle.

Middlesex regained the lead on a one-yard keeping by Kressbach, set up by a 25-yard run by Rau down to the Point Beach 11. Middlesex's defense ignited that scoring opportunity by stuffing Point Beach on 4th-and-inches at the Garnet Gulls 41.

Point Beach's comeback attempt took a hit early in the fourth quarter, when senior running back Chris Webber went left the game with a broken collarbone, according to Wagner. Webber, who finished with 27 yards running on 11 carries and one catch for 16 yards, also missed multiple games during the regular season due to injury.

Nista led Point Beach with 65 yards on 20 carries, including a touchdown. He also grabbed two passes for 21 yards and completed a halfback pass to Yates for a 41-yard gain to set up Frauenheim's touchdown pass to Yates in the third quarter. Yates finished with eight catches for 92 yards.

Point Beach entered the state tournament one game over .500 and trailed by two touchdowns at halftime in both of their prior playoff wins over No. 2 Manville and No. 3 Bound Brook. The Garnet Gulls began the season 3-0 before enduring a three-game skid and also lost versatile senior Sean Gould to a season-ending injury.

Their 19-7 halftime deficit on Saturday was identical to their deficit in the sectional semifinals against Bound Brook, a game Point Beach won, 22-19.

This group of Middlesex seniors is also no stranger to bouncing back. As juniors last year, they went 1-9, losing the first nine games of the season before winning a consolation game against Dunellen to finish off the year. This year, they lost to South River, 26-20 in week two and finished the year by winning 10 in a row. One of those games was a 28-12 win at Point Beach on Sept. 29.

"It was awesome," Kressbach said. "I realized we were going to win with about 30 seconds left and it couldn't have felt any better."


Box Score

Middlesex 33, Point Beach 21

Pt. BeachMiddlesex
First Downs1814
Passing Yards15587


Point Beach (7-5)077721
Middlesex (11-1)7128633


Scoring Summary

M - Anthony Mason 35-yard run (Matt Semon kick)

PB - Luke Frauenheim 2-yard run (Jeff Wall kick)

M - John Kressbach 1-yard run (kick failed)

M - Josh Ramirez 21-yard run (run failed)

PB - Josh Yates 4-yard pass from Luke Frauenheim (Jeff Wall kick)

M - Zach Godfrey 60-yard pass from John Kressbach (Anthony Mason run)

PB - John Nista 4-yard run (Jeff Wall kick)

M - Tom Rau 5-yard run (run failed)


Individual Statistics

Rushing - PB: John Nista 20-65, Chris Webber 11-27, Luke Fruenheim 8-23, Brad Parry 1-5; M: Tom Rau 13-61, John Kressbach 9-21, Devin Lanza 6-29, Josh Ramirez 5-81, Anthony Mason 4-44

Passing - PB: Luke Frauenheim 11-20-1 114, John Nista 1-1-0 41; M: John Kressbach 2-2-0 87

Receiving - PB: Josh Yates 8-92, John Nista 2-21, Brad Parry 1-20, Chris Webber 1-16; M: Zach Godfrey 2-87

Interceptions-Return Yards - M: Devin Lanza 1-36


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