Football – Morales to Brantley Connection Sends No. 5 Howell Past No. 10 Middletown North
FARMINGDALE – For all the points Howell’s offense has scored and will score this season, the methodical nature in which the Rebels closed out an important victory Saturday night was more impressive to head coach Luke Sinkhorn.
Junior running back Gerard Urso led the way on a swarming stop of a two-point conversion attempt by Middletown North before Howell’s offense chewed up the final 5:10 of clock with a grinding eight-play drive to secure a pivotal 28-26 Shore Conference nondivisional victory for the No. 5 Rebels.
A 6-yard touchdown run by Connor Robbins pulled No. 10 Middletown North to within two points, but on the two-point conversion attempt - a direct-snap run by bruising tight end Austin Dewise - Urso made the initial hit before his teammates combined to stop Dewise two yards short of the end zone.
Howell’s offense had not punted all game to that point, scoring on four of five drives, so Middletown North worried it may not get the ball back even with over five minutes left. The Lions attempted an onside kick, but senior Naseim Brantley recovered for Howell at the Rebels’ 46-yard line. From there Howell ran eight straight running plays, including chain-moving gains by quarterback Eddie Morales, Urso and running back Braedon Baldwin, to put the game away and improve to 3-0.
“That last drive was awesome,” Sinkhorn said. “We have the offense and we can score big, but in those situations, it’s about getting a first down and taking time off the clock. To be able to run the clock down the whole way like that, that’s what we have to be able to do.”
Morales was sensational for Howell in throwing for 245 yards and four touchdowns on 20 of 23 passing, while also rushing for a team-high 52 yards. Two of his incompletions were drops. Brantley, as usual, was his favorite target with eight receptions for 116 yards and three touchdowns. Brantley had touchdown catches of 24, 12 and 5 yards while senior wideout Brandon Wilson added a 19-yard touchdown grab.
Robbins had 52 yards and three rushing touchdowns for Middletown North, which fell to 1-2 with its second straight defeat at the hands of a top-5 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10. Senior running back Connor Welsh ran for a game-high 96 yards, junior quarterback Sean Glenn threw for 162 yards and Dewise had a 15-yard touchdown run.
“This is the turning point of the season for us,” Morales said. “The past two years we went 2-0 and then started going downhill, so we knew we had to get this win to keep us going where we want to go. Last year Middletown North was one of the biggest games of the season. They were in a fight last week with Red Bank Catholic and we knew it was going to be a tough game coming in.”
“This was a complete win for us,” Brantley said. “We stopped them on defense on that 2-point conversion and then we got first down after first down to run the clock out.”
Middletown North began the game with a 12-play, 80-yard drive to take a 6-0 lead on Robbins’ 2-yard touchdown run. Dewise had the biggest gain in the march, a 25-yard reception where he steamrolled a Howell defender to move the ball to the Rebels’ 16-yard line. The hold was not clean on the extra-point attempt, however, and the resulting 2-point conversion pass fell incomplete.
Howell responded with an eight-play, 72-yard drive to take the lead for good and start a stretch of four straight possessions with a touchdown. Pat Handy had a 17-yard catch and Nick Chambers had an 11-yard run to move the ball across midfield. On first down from the 19-yard line, Morales scrambled to buy enough time for Wilson to find himself wide-open in the left-front corner of the end zone.
“That was big,” Morales said. “We knew from the start Middletown North could get up and down the field and score. We had to punch back.”
On the ensuing drive Middletown North moved to the Howell 13-yard line thanks to a 35-yard catch by Aidan Campbell, but on third down Glenn was sacked for a 13-yard loss by Howell senior defensive lineman Matt Mazauskas. On fourth-and-16, Glenn’s pass fell incomplete and the Lions turned the ball over on downs.
Upon taking over at their own 26-yard line, Howell went 74 yards in eight plays to take a 14-6 lead. Brantley had catches of 13 and 11 yards to move the ball to the 24-yard line, and on a third-and-7 Morales connected with Brantley over the middle for a 24-yard touchdown.
Middletown North would come right back with a 10-play, 76-yard scoring drive. Glenn had completions to Campbell, Anthony Soto and Campbell again to get the ball across midfield to the Howell 42-yard line. Four straight runs by Welsh moved the chains to the Howell 19-yard line, where Dewise took a direct snap and converted a third-and-3 with a four-yard gain. Middletown North went back to the same play and Dewise plowed in for the touchdown from 15 yards out. Down by two, Middletown North went for the 2-point conversion, but the pass from Glenn was dropped.
There was just 52.2 seconds remaining in the first half after Dewise’s touchdown, but that didn’t stop Howell from putting in a crucial touchdown to take a two-score lead into the locker room. Morales connected with senior Ryan Mazik for 38 yards on first down, and two plays later Brantley escaped a tackle on a short pass for a 20-yard gain down to the Middletown North 12-yard line. Morales went right back to Brantley on the next play, lofting a pass that Brantley snared despite being surrounded by three Middletown North defenders. Howell led 21-12 at halftime.
“The kid can catch it against anybody,” Morales said. “It’s just the chemistry and trust we have. I know he’s going to come down with it every time.”
Howell opened the second half with a 10-play, 67-yard drive to take a 28-12 lead on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Morales to Brantley. Wilson had a 13-yard reception and Chambers had a key 14-yard gain on third down to put the ball at the Middletown North 9-yard line. Two plays later, Morales hit Brantley on a quick out in the right flat for the touchdown.
Once again, Middletown North responded with a score, and this time punched in the 2-point conversion to make it a one-score game. A 27-yard catch by Nick Dewise on the first play moved the ball into Howell territory and Robbins’ finished off the drive with a 1-yard plunge. Robbins then ran in the two-point conversion to make it 28-20 with 2:30 left in the third quarter.
Howell’s next drive stalled at midfield when Morales was sacked on fourth down by senior Anthony Canova, and that set up Middletown North with great field position at its own 47-yard line. A 10-yard run by Robbins moved the ball to the Howell 21-yard line, and three plays later Robbins crashed in from six yards out to make it 28-26. Middletown North went to the powerful Dewise again on the 2-point conversion attempt, but this time Howell was there for the critical stop.
From there, Howell proved it has what it takes to close out a game on the ground. A physical defense and a running game that can produce when it’s needed most are two tenets Sinkhorn preaches loudly, so for Howell to win an important game in that manner showed him his team is moving in the right direction.
“Some games you’re not going to have the big plays and guys are going to be a little off,” Sinkhorn said. “If we’re able to get a short passing game and runs to grind it out, then that’s awesome.”
No. 5 Howell 28, No. 10 Middletown North 26
Middletown North (1-2) 6 6 8 6 – 26
Howell (3-0) 7 14 7 0 – 28
MN – Connor Robbins 2-yard run (pass failed)
H – Eddie Morales 19-yard pass to Brandon Wilson (Pat Handy kick)
H – Eddie Morales 24-yard pass to Naseim Brantley (Pat Handy kick)
MN – Austin Dewise 15-yard run (pass failed)
H – Eddie Morales 12-yard pass to Naseim Brantley (Pat Handy kick)
H – Eddie Morales 5-yard pass to Naseim Brantley (Pat Handy kick)
MN – Connor Robbins 1-yard run (Connor Robbins run)
MN – Connor Robbins 6-yard run (run failed)
RUSHING – MN: Connor Welsh 21-96, Connor Robbins 9-52, Austin Dewise 2-19, Aidan Campbell 1-8, Anthony Soto 1-(-4), Sean Glenn 2-(-9); H: Eddie Morales 12-52, Nick Chambers 7-44, Braedon Baldwin 7-30, Gerard Urso 3-16, Team 2-(-4).
PASSING – MN: Sean Glenn 12-14-0 162; H: Eddie Morales 20-23-0 245.
RECEIVING – MN: Aidan Campbell 3-56, Anthony Soto 4-39, Nick Dewise 2-33, Austin Dewise 2-29, Connor Welsh 1-5; H: Naseim Brantley 8-116, Ryan Mazik 3-58, Brandon Wilson 3-34, Nick Chambers 3-27, Pat Handy 3-10.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.