Football – Middletown South Edges Manasquan in Emotional Father-Son Battle
MIDDLETOWN – With a classic defensive performance on an emotional night for its head coach, Middletown South earned a critical victory to steer its season back in the right direction.
Led by senior linebacker Jake Krellin, the Eagles held Manasquan to 181 yards of offense and zero offensive touchdowns, while senior quarterback Ben Kinsella had a touchdown run and Chris Kaldrovics kicked a field goal in a 10-7 Shore Conference Class B North victory on Friday night at “The Swamp”.
Kinsella’s 50-yard touchdown run in the third quarter stood up as the game-winning score, and junior defensive back Matt Cruz came down with an interception with under a minute left to halt Manasquan’s drive at the Middletown South 38-yard line and clinch the victory.
Senior Tommy Antonucci had a 28-yard fumble return touchdown for Manasquan’s only points.
For the second time, the Antonucci family was pitted against itself as Middletown South head coach Steve Antonucci battled Manasquan and his son, Tommy, who plays quarterback and defensive back. It was a difficult task all week and an emotional confrontation on Friday night.
“I’m just glad it’s over, now I can go back to being dad,” Steve Antonucci said. “It wasn’t as bad (as last year) and we had a little more communication, but it was not great by any means.”
“It’s 100 percent relief,” Tommy Antonucci said. “I’m so excited I don’t ever have to do this again.”
Krellin led Middletown South (2-1, 2-1) with three tackles for a loss, while junior linebacker Matt Tardy had two hits for a loss in his season debut. Tardy’s return helped balance Middletown South’s defensive front and prevented teams from constantly running plays away from where Krellin was lined up.
“I felt like the first couple of weeks [teams] were running away from me,” Krellin said. “We get Tardy back and he makes a presence on the other side, and then they have to come to my side sooner or later. When they do I’m going to make that play.”
“To have [Tardy] and Krellin tonight you saw what they can do, the two of those guys, they can be havoc to people,” Steve Antonucci said. “To play without him early in the season was tough so to have him back; he’s a huge player for us.”
After a scoreless first half where both teams had under 100 yards of offense, Middletown South cracked the scoreboard first on a 33-yard field goal by Kaldrovics. The scoring drive came as a result of outstanding field position thanks to Middletown South’s defense, which nearly had a safety on the first possession of the second half and forced Manasquan to punt from inside its 1-yard line. Despite the drive stalling, Kaldrovics blasted a left-footed kick through the uprights to put the Eagles ahead, 3-0.
Krellin dropped Manasquan running back Connor Morgan for a 2-yard loss on third down to force a punt on the ensuing drive, and Middletown South took over at its own 35-yard line. On the third play of the drive, Kinsella executed a great fake on a zone-read keeper and took it 50 yards to the end zone to open up a 10-0 advantage midway through the third quarter.
“From the beginning of the game we were right there; one block away, one read away,” Kinsella said. “The O-line was there the whole game and when we came out in the second half, 0-0, we knew we had to take momentum.”
Middletown South’s defense came up with a turnover on the next possession as senior defensive lineman Jack Hardzewicz recovered a fumble at the Middletown South 17-yard line. It was a tough blow for Manasquan, which had driven to inside the Eagles 20-yard line, but the Warriors’ defense came up with a big play of its own to get right back in the game. A fumble on a running play bounced right into the hands of Tommy Antonucci at the 28-yard line, and he was able to return it the rest of the way for a touchdown to make it 10-7 with 5:06 left in the third quarter.
“That was big,” Tommy Antonucci said. “I was getting pretty down on myself for my rough day at quarterback throwing the ball, but once I saw that I’m sure my eyes got real big.” That’s been a dream of mine, to score here on this field. That brought life to us. They had started to stop our offense, so we needed that.”
Manasquan’s defense was able to force Middletown South to punt with 5:30 left in the game, and the Warriors regained possession with 5:22 on the clock. The punt was muffed, however, so Manasquan was in the shadow of the goal posts at its 2-yard line. After two straight incompletions brought up a dangerous third-and-10, Antonucci was able to scramble for 18-yards to get the ball out to the 20-yard line and give Manasquan some breathing room.
Manasquan would move into Middletown South territory by converting three third-and-short plays for first downs, but on first down from the 48-yard line Antonucci’s pass caromed off the hands of the intended receiver and into the clutches of a diving Cruz. The interception with 45 seconds to play was the final clutch play for an Eagles’ defense that was in control from start to finish.
“We knew going in we had to stop the run, obviously that’s what they do very well,” Steve Antonucci said. “We stacked the box a little bit and tried to put pressure on them, and we were able to do that. We’re starting to get to the point where we’re playing the kind of football we’re capable of. We’re still young and we’re still going to make mistakes, but I see progress every week.”
For the Antonuccis, Friday night’s game was the end of a two-game saga both Steve and Tommy knew they would eventually have to face. Tommy grew up around the Middletown South program as it morphed, under his father, into a state powerhouse. Tommy had designs of playing for the Eagles and his father, but the Middletown School District does not offer professional courtesy to allow the children of its employees to attend if they live outside the district. By eighth grade Tommy knew he would instead play his high school football at a different legendary Shore Conference program.
“In the beginning of the week I didn’t think it would be as hard, but then I’m thinking I have to come up here and play here, which I dreamed of growing up as a kid, but being in that [Middletown South] uniform,” Tommy Antonucci said. “Once I got to eighth grade I knew that wasn’t going to happen, so I changed my mindset and knew I was going to go to Manasquan. I had to figure out a way to start my own legacy, and I think I’ve done that, but it was hard to walk down that hill for the one time I’ll ever do it. I don’t think I got the full experience because there was no national anthem, no “Hell’s Bells” because the power went out, but it was pretty surreal.”
“It was so difficult,” Steve Antonucci said. “You’re looking at it and trying to treat it like he’s not someone you know. He had a job do to and I had a job to do. It’s not the fairest thing but we did a good job and they did a good job. I’m just glad it’s over.”
Tommy had tears rolling down his face following the game, and Steve was equally as caught up in the moment. Nearly every Middletown South player offered a heartfelt embrace to Tommy in the handshake line, and if that is the lasting image Steve has from having to coach against his son, he knows they did it the right way.
“Practically all our team knows Tommy as a good friend,” Kinsella said. “Coach going against his own son, that’s got to be tough for any parent. I don’t know how he does it.
“That made me proud,” Steve Antonucci said. “They know how much he means to me, and he loves this program, too. He loves where he’s at in Manasquan, but he’s been such a huge part of [Middletown South] in terms of being here and being around it, and our kids understand that. That’s why I love where I’m at. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Middletown South 10, Manasquan 7
Manasquan (1-2, 0-2) 0 0 7 0 – 7
Midd. South (2-1, 2-1) 0 0 10 0 – 10
MS – Chris Kaldrovics 33-yard field goal
MS – Ben Kinsella 50-yard run (Chris Kaldrovics kick)
M – Tommy Antonucci 28-yard fumble return (James Pendergist kick)
RUSHING – M: Connor Morgan 18-46, Tommy Antonucci 10-35, Canyon Birch 8-16, James Pendergist 1-1, James Mele 1-1; MS: Ben Kinsella 8-65, Chaz Alessi 19-50, Rob Zega 1-2.
PASSING – M: Tommy Antonucci 3-13-1 48, Rashid Tuddles 1-1-0 35; MS: Ben Kinsella 8-17-0 61;
RECEIVING – M: James Pendergist 3-75, John Kinneally 1-8; MS: Jamie Petrillo 4-23, Rob Zega 2-18, Christopher Fleming 1-13, Connor Ard 1-7.
INTERCEPTIONS – MS: Matt Cruz 1-0.
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