Football – No. 5 Middletown South Edges Toms River North for American Title
TOMS RIVER - Middletown South football coach Steve Antonucci told his players after they won the Shore Conference American Division championship Friday night that they did it with the brand of football that has made Middletown South the most successful team in the Shore Conference during Antonucci's 21-year tenure.
The stat sheet reveals Antonucci to be speaking the truth, but the veteran coach also admitted it took a few unconventional gambles to get past Toms River North on Friday.
Middletown South's offense controlled the ball in the second half, its defense routinely got off the field and senior quarterback Trevor Brey made a number of crucial plays in the first and fourth quarters in a hard-fought, 14-13 Eagles win over the Mariners to clinch a division title.
"I can be stubborn calling plays sometimes and a lot of times feels like we're trying to reinvent the wheel," Antonucci said. "You always come back home. We got back to what we do and we can be tough when we do what we do. Lesson learned."
While Middletown South exhibited its usual commitment to the run game and its veer offense by rushing 47 times for 225 yards, Antonucci made three calculated gambles - all of which paid off and all of them involved putting the ball in Brey's hands.
"We took some shots, and that's not us," Antonucci said. "That's not usually our brand, but it was an opportunity for us to take a shot."
On the first drive of the game, the Eagles went for a 4th-and-12 from the Toms River North 31 and Brey rewarded the decision by rolling to his right and hitting sophomore receiver Luke Albrecht on the run for 21 yards. Two plays later, Brey found senior Matt Tardy in the endzone for a four-yard touchdown pass and the game's first score.
"We don't have a plays in the playbook for a situation like that - it's a veer offense," Brey said. "I just knew that I had to get outside to give the play a chance to develop and have a chance to throw the ball. I saw there was nobody behind the cornerback and the other route was a snag. The other receiver is going in so I knew the post-corner would be wide open."
"Albrecht runs a great post-corner," Antonucci said. "He's one of our better guys out there and Trevor can get the ball out there to him. When you have a team crowding the line like that and you're pounding, pounding, pounding, eventually, you're going to have to try something over the top and fortunately, we hit it."
With Middletown South nursing a 14-13 lead late in the fourth quarter and facing a 3rd-and-9 from the Mariners 49, Brey again dialed up Tardy for a 29-yard catch that the senior made with a defender draped over him. Toms River North used its final timeout with 2:45 left after the completion and Middletown South ate up two minutes before turning the ball back over to Toms River North at its own 18 with 41 seconds left.
"It was a very tough call for coach. He didn't know what he wanted to do," Brey said. "We were all saying, 'Let's do it. We have been running the ball the entire drive, they are obviously going to bite.' And that's exactly what happened."
The Mariners gave themselves a shot to win the game, with quarterback Jake Kazanowsky scrambling out of bounds for 15 yards before hitting Kashawn Wilder for 33 on the next play.
With nine seconds left and the ball on the Middletown South 34, Kazanowsky's long pass to the front pylon on the left side was on target, but Aaron Craig could not hold on and appeared as tough he would have been down just short of the goal line with one second remaining. It did not matter anyway, because Toms River North was flagged for an illegal shift on the play and came up empty on the last play of the game to secure the Eagles victory.
Antonucci's third gamble that worked out was a decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 from Middletown South's own 29 yard-line trailing 13-7 early in the third quarter. The drive came up empty when Middletown South failed to convert a 4th-and-5 from the Mariners 25, but the Eagles gained an extra 46 yards of field position while keeping the Toms River North defense on the field.
Brey also made a key play with his legs on the winning drive on a play more consistent with Middletown South's offensive identity. On 2nd-and-9 from the Toms River North 43, Brey kept the ball on an option play and broke through the first level of defenders for a 29-yard gain up the right sideline, all the way to the Mariners 15.
"That's a play where I just have to read the defender," Brey said. "On that play, he stayed with the pitch man and I just got behind one of my linemen and kept trying to push the play outside."
Vinny Condito followed with a 14-yard run down to the one and Brey finished off the drive with a one-yard plunge.
Chris Caldrovis's go-ahead extra-point proved to be the difference on the scoreboard because Middletown South's special teams delivered a huge blocked extra point on Toms River North's second touchdown, which came on the first play from scrimmage of the third quarter.
Both of Toms River North's touchdowns came on long plays - the first a 74-yard run by running back Jarrod Pruitt and the second a 67-yard catch and run over the middle by Will Marsh.
Those two plays alone accounted for 141 of Toms River North's 249 total yards in the game. Middletown South held Pruitt to 41 yards on his 14 other carries in the game.
Toms River North also committed a crucial turnover on a 3rd-and-5 from the Middletown South 28, with a mishandled snap winding up in the grasp of Middletown South's Dylan Walling late in the second quarter.
The Mariners also had 2nd-and-2 near midfield midway through the second quarter and failed to convert both 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 against the Middletown South defense.
"We were worried all week about how athletic they are and about their guys getting into space," Antonucci said. "We're not the most athletic team and they have some guys who are able to run around, but we were able to pressure the quarterback. We have been a bend-but-don't-break defense. We're a solid defense and we're getting better week-to-week."
Middletown South's running game eventually wore down Toms River North's defense, but benefited two big plays by slot back Jamie Petrillo. The senior speedster cracked runs of 34 and 37 yards on his first two touches of the game, the first of which came on the opening drive of the game.
"They are stout with the size they have in the middle," Antonucci said. "They were throwing nine guys in the box and those are nine strong, fast bodies. We were able to hit the pitchman a couple times for big gains and maybe that softened them up a little bit and allowed us to go to work a little bit more."
From there, Brey and Condito got in gear in the second half. After picking up only 26 yards on nine carries (2.9 yards per carry) through the first three quarters, Condito rushed for 58 yards on 12 carries (4.8 YPC) in the fourth quarter to finish with 84 yards on 21 touches.
"It was the same thing (in a win over) Manalapan," Brey said. "They were stopping us early in the game and we just kept pounding them until the holes started to open. That's the way we play and that's what the veer does. It might not work right away but we know late in the game, it's going to be hard to keep stopping."
Brey had negative-five yards rushing on five carries at halftime and finished with 52 yards on 15 carries. He also went 6-for-12 for 93 yards through the air, with Tardy accounted for 62 of those yards on three receptions.
Middletown South's season started with a humbling, 62-14 loss to Pennsylvania powerhouse Coatesville, but has resulted in a tougher Eagles team that made its make within the program's legacy by adding another division championship to a decorated history.
"We played a powerhouse team in week one and they murdered us," Brey said. "I'm so glad we experienced that because it turned out to be the best thing for us. Nobody we have played since then has been anywhere close to that level and I think it prepared us to play teams that are closer to us in talent and showed us what it's going to take."
"I'm proud of the way the guys have worked - they were the underdog all along," Antonucci said of his current team. "The Coatesville game may have been the best thing we've ever done to this point. We got a look at something that we will probably never see again and right now it's helping us."
Middletown South 14, Toms River North 13
|Midd. South||TR North|
|Midd. South (5-1, 5-0)||7||0||0||7||14|
|TR North (3-2, 3-2)||7||0||6||0||13|
MS - Matt Tardy 4-yard pass from Trevor Brey (Chris Kaldrovis kick)
TRN - Jarrod Pruitt 74-yard run (Joe Romeo kick)
TRN - Will Marsh 67-yard pass from Jake Kazanowsky (kick blocked)
MS - Trevor Brey 1-yard run (Chris Kaldrovics kick)
Rushing - MS: Vinny Condito 21-84, Jamie Petrillo 5-74, Trevor Brey 15-52, Gavin Goldbaum 3-13, Chris Lotito 2-4, Luke Albrecht 1-(-2); TRN: Jarrod Pruitt 14-115, Jake Kazanowsky 2-13
Passing - MS: Trevor Brey 7-13-0 93; TRN: Jake Kazanowsky 6-13-0 121, Dominick Jacob 0-1-0 0
Receiving - MS: Matt Tardy 3-62, Luke Albrecht 1-21, Connor Ard 2-7, Matt Krellin 1-3; TRN: Will Marsh 1-67, Dashawn Wilder 4-44, Dominick Jacob 1-13