Football – Rodriguez, Fraser Spark Long Branch Comeback at the Swamp On Opening Night
MIDDLETOWN - Long Branch junior Christian Rodriguez had never started a varsity football game at quarterback prior to Friday night and his first time came on the road against a revered opponent and with an abbreviated offseason of work to prepare him.
Fortunately for Rodriguez and his Green Wave team, his ability to ad-lib and his friendship with Long Branch's top receiver made up for any time lost.
Rodriguez connected with senior Ba-Sean Fraser for three huge passes and added a crucial interception on defense to spark Long Branch to a 14-10 opening-night win at the Swamp over Middletown South - the No. 9 team in the Shore Sports Network Preseason Top 10.
"This is my road dog since we were seven years old," Fraser said, referring to Rodriguez. "He always had my back and I always have his. There is always tough times but when it comes down to it, I got his back and I know he's got mine.
"All week, all I heard was we can't win in the Swamp. Look what we did."
Fraser hauled in seven passes for 91 yards in all and it was three connections from Rodriguez, in particular, that were the difference for the Green Wave. Fraser stretched out for a 46-yard reception on a fly pattern that set up a Rodriguez touchdown pass to senior Bobby Lawrence from three yards out, which cut the Middletown South lead to 10-7 with 2:03 left in the first half.
"We were struggling for first downs and we settled in with the huge play," Long Branch coach Dan George said. "Ba-Sean makes a ridiculous catch and gets us right back into it."
Fraser's junior season ended prematurely due to a knee injury and regardless of the restrictions and uncertainty during the summer, he made sure he was ready for whenever he could return to the field with his Green Wave teammates.
"I'm so glad the season is happening because I just came out and gave it my all - through the surgery and everything," Fraser said. "I worked my ass off in the offseason and just kept working and this right here is a statement win for all of us."
Long Branch took its first lead with a 15-play, 71-yard that spanned the parts of the third and fourth quarters and included two fourth-down conversions. Rodriguez hit Fraser for a five-yard gain to the Middletown South 24 yard-line on 4th-and-5 and later connected with Jyshon Presley for nine yards on 4th-and-9 from the 23.
Long Branch again faced a difficult conversion on 3rd-and-11 from the 15 and after dropping back to pass, Rodriguez got caught in the clutches of Eagles defensive end Joe Stanzione. The junior signal-caller slipped away from Stanzione and hit Fraser, who dove into the endzone just inside the pylon with 8:19 left.
"I was just thinking we had to get as many yards as I can and be happy with it," Rodriguez said. "Hopefully we could run another play. Thankfully, my linemen helped me out, they helped me get out of that sack and I saw (Fraser) downfield, I was able to make a play to him and he made a better play."
"We work on the scramble play in practice and that's just something (Rodriguez) does," Fraser said. "He's a mobile quarterback and he has a big arm, so when I see him roll out and throw it, I just had to catch it, make a move and then dive for the endzone."
Two plays after the ensuing kickoff, Rodriguez picked off Middletown South quarterback Thomas Schork to give Long Branch the ball back with under seven minutes to play. Schork intercepted Rodriguez in the first quarter to set up a 27-yard field goal by Mike D'Amato to open the scoring.
"Interceptions are going to happen, you just got to bounce back," Rodriguez said. "It did feel pretty good to get him back."
Long Branch failed to score on its next possession but burned the clock down to inside four minutes and Jack Friedman pinned Middletown South deep with a punt that went out of bounds at the six yard-line.
Middletown South converted one fourth down but Long Branch held after that to seal the victory.
Rodriguez started the game 1-for-4 with an interception but responded by connecting on nine straight attempts and finishing 16-for-22 for 129 yards and two touchdowns.
"Beginning of the game, it was a rough start," Rodriguez said. "We came out sloppy and that's on me because I'm the quarterback. In the second half, I just had to trust myself, trust my instincts and not think too much."
While Rodriguez had a hand in Long Branch's biggest plays of the game, the Green Wave defense was the driving force in the win at the Swamp. The defensive unit held Middletown South to 127 total yards - 40 of which came on Austin Ruzicki's 40-yard touchdown run to make the score 10-0 in the second quarter - and just five first downs for the entire game.
"As many plays as we made offensively, it really comes down to the defense," George said. "We hit and we were extremely physical tonight. We were caught out of position a few times and they will do that to you with that option offense but we hit, we were really physical and I thought we got better as the game went on."
"We came out and played lights-out defense and we're just going to keep shocking the Shore," Fraser said. "This was just the first taste for y'all. We're not done. We're going to get back in the lab and keep working."
Long Branch 14, Middletown South 10
|Long Branch (1-0)||0||7||0||7||14|
|Midd. South (0-1)||3||7||0||0||10|
MS - Mike D'Amato 27-yard field goal
MS - Austin Ruziecki 40-yard run (D'Amato kick)
LB - Bobby Lawrence 3-yard pass from Christian Rodriguez (Santiago Cortes kick)
LB - Ba-Sean Fraser 15-yard pass from Rodriguez (Cortes kick)
Rushing - LB: Bobby Lawrence 10-38, Sekou Kamau 12-24, Christian Rodriguez 10-8, Jack Friedman 1-(-16); MS: Austin Ruziecki 3-43, Nick Altilio 6-20, Matt Mauro 4-11, Thomas Schork 10-10, Dan Primiano 4-9, Jake Czwakiel 1-(-10)
Passing - LB: Christian Rodriguez 16-22-2 129; MS: Thomas Schork 7-15-1 44
Receiving - LB: Ba-Sean Fraser 7-91, Jyshon Presley 3-15, Jayden Farmer 2-11, Sekou Kamau 2-10, Bobby Lawrence 1-3, Michael Hall 1-0; MS: Francis Brown 2-20, Luke Albrecht 2-11, Matt Grab 1-10, Matt Mauro 1-4, Austin Ruziecki 1-(-1)
Interceptions-Return Yards - LB: Christian Rodriguez 1-2; MS: Thomas Schork 1-50; Luke Albrecht 1-0