With some key returning starters on both sides of the ball, Barnegat is looking to make a playoff push one year after finishing out of the postseason by one power point.

The Bengals will lean on a defense that returns seven starters in its 4-3 base alignment from a unit that was 23rd in the Shore allowing 21.5 points per game. Six starters return in the front seven to set a tone for what the Bengals hope to accomplish.

“We’re very high on the front seven, and hopefully the run game on both sides of the ball,” said Barnegat head coach Rob Davis. “Physicality is what we’re trying to instill in our kids.”

Seniors Levin Musawa and Juan Abraham and junior Brian Ewan all had big performances last year and form the core of Barnegat’s defense. Musawa is back at defensive end after recording 64 tackles with 5.5 sacks last season. He’ll be joined along the line by junior nose guard Anthony Grimes, senior tackle John Pannone and junior Sean Morris at defensive end.

Ewan made 96 tackles last season and returns as the starting middle linebacker. He’ll be flanked by Abraham, who finished with 70 tackles, and senior Dillon Muratovic, a transfer from Nutley.

Senior speedster Nico Adorno is the lone returning starter in the secondary and will play safety. The cornerbacks are juniors Dillon Balas and Charlie Cotton and the other safety is junior Sean Madej. Junior Tristan Porcelli will also see playing time at safety.

Photo by Paula Lopez/PAL Images
Left to right: Brian Ewan, Juan Abraham,Sean Morris, Levin Musawa. (Photo by Paula Lopez/PAL Images).

“We’re a different team,” Davis said. “We’re going to be physical and play to our defense, that’s what we’re counting on.”

“To have all those players back is huge,” Abraham said. “Last year we pushed each other and competed, and it made us all better.”

Barnegat will still run a multiple spread offense, but will be much more of a run-oriented team. Abraham is the starting running back after receiving a handful of carries last season. The Bengals also have Cotton and Muratovic working in at tailback. Ewan is the returning starter at fullback.

Adorno is a returning starter at wide receiver and will be joined by seniors Elijah Chesney and Thomas Krey. Senior Joe Herod and sophomores Matt Scott and Devyn DeFilipo will also see time at wide receiver.

Standout 6-foot-4, 225-pound junior Sean Morris will be the Bengals’ tight end.

“He’s super athletic for his size,” Davis said of Morris. “He can run like a wide receiver and catch like a smaller skill player, and he’s 6-foot-4, 225 pounds. He’s a good one.”

Senior right tackle Steve Pitiak is the only returning starter on the offensive line and will be joined by junior Tim Lauterbach at right guard, sophomore Griffin Jackstadt at center, junior Phil Gogarty at left guard and senior Brandon Andrews at left tackle.

Taking over for the graduated Connor Lustenberger at quarterback is junior Brian Finucan.

“One thing we always talk about is our tempo,” Adorno said. “We want everything to always be moving and constantly flowing.”

On special teams, the kicker will be junior Dominick Guiro and the punter will be Madej.

After going 5-5 last year and narrowly missing out on a playoff appearance, Barnegat’s players know every game and every play carries significance. The same holds true for a division race that always seems to be a little more wide-open than the rest of the Shore.

“The bottom teams are better than in the past, so you’re not getting those gimme games anymore,” Davis said. “There isn’t that far a gap between the team that finishes third and the team that finishes last. Everyone presents a problem in our division.”

At a Glance

Head coach: Rob Davis, 12th season.

Career record: 60-54.

Coaching staff: Kevin Smith (def. coord.); Mike DeTroia (OL); Zac Brebner (RB); Andrew Villiez (WR); Andrew Petruzzi (QB); Vinny Casale (DL); Paul Covine (LB); Mike Burke (TE); Ralph Adorno, Wayne Jackson (gameday volunteers); Dave Smith, Greg Oravets (freshmen); Lauren Tribley (athletic trainer).

2016 record: 5-5 (4-3).

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Brian Finucan, Jr., QB and Dominick Guiro, Jr., K

Finucan takes over at quarterback for two-year starter Connor Lustenberger, who threw for 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns. Lustenberger was also a standout kicker with three field goals, including a long of 37.

X-FACTOR: Staying healthy

The Bengals don’t have a lot of depth, especially on offense, so an injury or two could really put them behind the eight ball.

GLUE GUY: Nico Adorno, Sr., WR/DB

A returning starter on both sides of the ball, Adorno is a big-time weapon on the perimeter and a key member of the Bengals’ experienced defense.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Dillon Muratovic, Sr., RB/LB

A transfer from Nutley, Muratovic will see time at tailback and will start at outside linebacker.

PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 22 at Manchester

Barnegat has won the last five meetings versus the Hawks and will look to keep that streak going in Week 3.


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.


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