By Tyler Calvaruso - SSN Contributor 

ABERDEEN – The 2017 season has been a year of firsts for the Monmouth Regional football team, and on Friday night in Matawan, they kept adding to that list.

Led by a stellar second-half performance by senior Ian Fitzgerald, the Falcons (4-0) were able to hang on and defeat a pesky Matawan (1-2) team that refused to go away, 14-13, in a Shore Conference Class A Central game.

The win marks the first time that Monmouth has been 4-0 since the 2006 season and the first time the Falcons have defeated Matawan since 1963, snapping a 21-game losing streak to the Huskies.

History was not easy to come by, however, as Matawan got on the board first after forcing a Monmouth three-and-out to start the game.

On Matawan’s first play from scrimmage, running back Davonte Spann, who finished with 126 rushing yards, hit senior wide receiver Ishmael Brown on a 40-yard halfback pass to get the Huskies into the Monmouth red zone. Five plays later, Ryan Rodriguez found Noah Colleton for a 7-yard touchdown pass to give Matawan an early 7-0 lead.

Monmouth wasted no time getting back into the game on its ensuing drive, as Dayshawn Porter made the most of a second-and-30 situation, rolling to his right and hitting senior wide receiver Devon Johnson for a 93-yard touchdown pass to even things up at seven.

The Falcons caught a break when Matawan fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving Monmouth the ball at Matawan’s 26-yard line. Monmouth looked primed to take the lead until Dominic Allen was able to get to Porter on third-and-eight, forcing a fumble that Allen himself recovered.

Neither team was able to get much going as the second quarter progressed until Monmouth’s Nayson Brown picked off a Rodriguez pass at midfield. This led to a Monmouth drive deep into Matawan territory, but the Falcons botched the snap on third-and-four from the 12-yard line and the Huskies recovered, keeping the score tied at seven going into halftime.

The beginning of the second half marked the return of Fitzgerald, who did not play in the first half. After a couple of runs that went for negative yardage, Fitzgerald broke off a 40-yard run into Matawan territory. The Falcons were not able to finish the drive with points after an interception from Spann, but Fitzgerald’s run seemed to get him going, as he gave the Matawan defense problems from that point on, rushing for 102 yards on 11 carries.

“We said if we could be tied at halftime without him, we could have a great second half,” Nikola said. “He was fresh, they weren’t. That worked good for us.”

Spann’s interception and long return set the stage for Matawan to take back the lead and Rodriguez punched it in on a quarterback sneak to give Matawan a 13-7 lead with 2:06 remaining in the third quarter.

It would remain 13-7 at the end of three, but Fitzgerald led Monmouth down the field on their next drive and finished what he started with a 2-yard touchdown run to give Monmouth a 14-13 lead with 8:34 left in the game.

The Monmouth defense came up big on Matawan’s next drive, forcing a strip-sack on fourth and three from their own 25-yard line to get the ball back with 4:37 remaining.

Matawan was able to force a Monmouth three-and-out, giving themselves a chance to win the game with 1:49 left.

A 20-yard screen pass from Rodriguez to Spann and an 18-yard reception by Brown on fourth down moved the Huskies down the field, but Monmouth defensive coordinator Charlie Diskin got creative, bringing pressure on Rodriguez, which forced him into making rushed decisions that led to two straight incomplete passes.

“He’s the absolute most knowledgeable football coach I’ve met in 30 years,” Nikola said of Diskin. “I’ve seen a lot of good coaches, but he’s special.”

The two incomplete passes led Matawan to try a 36-yard field goal, but the kick came up well short and Monmouth took a knee to conclude a hard-fought victory.

Next up for Monmouth will be an undefeated Point Boro team that Nikola thinks his group will be ready for thanks to their fast start to the season.

“The guys believe they’re going to win now,” Nikola said. “They’re buying into it and now we have a tough Point Boro team coming up.”

For a team that has not endured much success lately, a 4-0 start has been a pleasant surprise for Monmouth. Nikola’s end goal is to win a state championship, and the start that his team has gotten off to is certainly a step in the right direction.

“The kids have bought in and they’re doing such a great job,” Nikola said. “For the fans, the administration, this is nice for us.”


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