Football – Second-Half Surge Boosts Long Branch to 1st Sectional Final in 10 Years
LONG BRANCH - Most of the players on this year's Long Branch football team have been a part of the previous two seasons, during which the Green Wave won a combined five games and had plenty of chances to break under the weight of losing in a rough-and-tumble division.
Instead, they rallied to author a redemption season in 2017 and when the Jackson Memorial offense bent Long Branch's defense during the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV semifinals on Friday night at Long Branch High School, it should come as no surprise that the Green Wave never broke.
Long Branch's defense delivered two critical goal-line stands, recovered two fumbles and enabled the offense to break open a tight game in the second half on the way to a 28-3 win over the seventh-seeded Jaguars.
The No. 3 seed in the bracket, Long Branch will head to a sectional championship game for the first time since 2007 and will look to win its first sectional championship since 1999 when the Green Wave take on No. 8 Freehold Boro in two weeks.
"We just felt it in the air," senior defensive end Kaymar Mimes, who recorded one of Long Branch's six quarterback sacks in the game. "We knew we were in a special place with a special opportunity and we didn't want to waste this. We put ourselves in a state of mind where we knew we had to come out here and get it and give it our all."
The turning point in Friday's game came with a little more than seven minutes left in the third quarter and Jackson Memorial driving for a potential go-ahead score. On three consecutive plays, the Jaguars moved the ball from their own 32 to Long Branch's 3 yard line. Senior quarterback A.J. Tolmachewich found senior tight end Brandon Hirsch for a 37-yard completion, followed by runs of 19 and nine yards by senior fullback Tom Pellone.
That was when Long Branch's defense dug in. The Green Wave stuffed Pellone for no gain on 2nd-and-1 from the 3 and Tolmachewich misfired on a timing pass on third down. On 4th-and-1, junior tailback Leo Shimonovich tried the right side, but was met by a host of Green Wave defenders two yards behind the line of scrimmage.
"Nick Tranchina and his defensive staff are doing a great job and we have players," Long Branch coach Dan George said. "The Bill Belichick line, 'Do your job' applies to this group because when we have 11 guys doing what they're supposed to be doing, we're tough to deal with in any situation and I think it really shows when you have to make a play and get a stop."
"We put ourselves in situations like that in practice and when you perfect it in practice, you perform in the game," Mimes said.
Long Branch's ensuing drive got off to a shaky start with a false start on the first play, but after that, sophomore tailback Jermaine Corbett and the running game finally found their rhythm. Corbett carried the ball five straight times to push the Green Wave from its own 2 yard line to its own 45 to set up a 2nd-and-7.
The Green Wave changed things up with a pass on the second-down play and senior quarterback Juwan Wilkins hit Pasa Fields for a 30-yard gain over the middle.
After a seven-yard run by junior fullback La'Qym Morris, Corbett finished off the drive with a 12-yard run down to the Jackson Memorial 6 and a six-yard run to cap the drive and give the Green Wave a 14-3 lead with 1:39 left in the third following Paul Montague's extra-point.
Corbett labored for 19 yards on eight carries against Jackson Memorial's defense in the first half, but piled up 61 yards on seven carries on Long Branch's second scoring drive alone. The sophomore back finished with 97 yards on 19 carries.
"There were some nerves in the first half," George said. "Guys were missing on some good looks and we just decided, backed up against our goal line, we're going to go old school. We're going put two backs in the backfield, come off the football and see if you can stop us. We kind of willed it the way we willed it defensively."
The Green Wave put the game away with its other sophomore running back. Jah'kwan Gordon sliced into the endzone from nine yards out on his first carry of the game and put the game away when he broke off a 50-yard touchdown run up the right sideline with 5:03 left to play.
As a team, Long Branch rushed for 175 yards on 28 attempts, with 165 yards coming on 19 second-half carries.
During the first half, Long Branch used a pair of fumbles by Jackson Memorial sophomore tailback Stephen Rodriguez to take control of a defensive battle. On the first play of the second quarter, junior La'Qym Morris stripped Rodriguez and classmate Hunter Metzler recovered on the Long Branch 36 yard-line to end a Jackson Memorial threat.
On the very next play, senior quarterback Juwan Wilkins aired out a deep pass down the middle for senior receiver T.J. Fosque, who bolted past the coverage, ran down the pass, and took it 64 yards for the first score of the game.
Senior Kevin Porch recovered another Rodriguez fumble on the second play of the ensuing possession, setting up Long Branch on the Jaguars 23 yard line. Jackson Memorial, however, held firm and turned the Green Wave over on downs.
Long Branch turned in its first defensive stand at the end of the final possession of the half, as Jackson Memorial ate up the nearly all of the remaining five minutes and change while advancing the ball from its own 14 to the red zone. A 23-yard catch by sophomore Jake McKown set the Jaguars up at the Wave 11 yard line with 59 seconds left.
With no timeouts left, Jackson Memorial lined up for a 21-yard field goal on 3rd-and-3 from the 4 yard line with 13 seconds left. Long Branch, however, jumped offsides and the Jaguars decided to go for the touchdown from the 2 yard line. Jackson, though, committed a false start penalty, which prompted the Jaguars to once again settle for the field goal with seven seconds left in the half.
Jackson Memorial authored three drives that took the Jaguars into Green Wave territory, but came up with only three points because of the two fumbles and the two Long Branch stands inside the 5 yard line. The Jaguars ran 11 more plays in the game, but the Green Wave still outgained them 290-184.
Tolmachewich completed his first four passes and seven of his first nine against Long Branch's defense, but the Green Wave pass rush disrupted the Jaguars passing game. Junior linebacker Luke Arnold led the effort with 2 1/2 sacks.
"There is a hunger out there when we're on defense," Mimes said. "We're so close (to a championship) and we have to push to the limit to get to the championship. That has been the dream from all the way back in the summer and we've been grinding ever since. The dream is still alive and it's up to us to execute."
George guided Long Branch to a Central Jersey Group III championship in his third year as head coach of the Green Wave, but the second championship has eluded him and his program over the subsequent years. Long Branch lost to Moorestown in the Central Jersey Group III final in 2007 and has since reached the sectional semifinals three times.
"It's a long time coming, honestly," Mimes said. "We all grinded together and it's just a long time coming. I'm grateful we made it."
Long Branch's most recent trip to the sectional semifinals was in Central Jersey Group III in 2014, when the Green Wave fell to Carteret. The Green Wave have since moved up to Group IV and took down traditional Shore powers Middletown South and Jackson Memorial in its first two playoff games, outscoring the two by a combined margin of 48-3.
"That's the beauty when you do end up in this playoff bracket," George said. "When you get wins like this against a team like that, it's just so gratifying. These kids did everything we asked them to do and now they're in the finals."
The Central Jersey Group IV championship will present a different challenge for Long Branch, which will have to contend with Freehold Boro and record-setting dual-threat quarterback Ashante Worthy. The two teams met in the final regular-season game of the season and Worthy led the Colonials to a 27-20 win over the Green Wave by rushing for 253 yards and throwing for another 353, including the game-winning 20-yard touchdown pass in the final two minutes.
"He's going to touch it 73 times like he did the last time," George said of Worthy. "We know who's getting the ball, we just have to try to stop him this time."
"I wanted that rematch from the night that we lost, so I can't wait," Mimes said. "It's going to be a great game."
Long Branch 28, Jackson Memorial 3
|Jackson Mem. (6-5)||0||3||0||0||3|
|Long Branch (8-2)||0||7||7||14||28|
LB - T.J. Fosque 64-yard pass from Juwan Wilkins (Paul Montague kick)
JM - Justin Burkert 24-yard field goal
LB - Jermaine Corbett 6-yard run (Paul Montague kick)
LB - Jah'kwan Gordon 9-yard run (Paul Montague kick)
LB - Jah'kwan Gordon 50-yard run (Paul Montague kick)
Rushing - JM: Tom Pellone 17-61, Justin Martin-Culet 6-22, Leo Shimonovich 7-18, Stephen Rodriguez 3-10, A.J. Tolmachewich 9-(-34); LB: Jermaine Corbett 19-97, Jah'kwan Gordon 3-60, La'Qym Morris 3-20, Nick Reilly 2-(-3), Juwan Wilkins 1-(-9)
Passing - JM: A.J. Tolmachewich 7-12-0 107; LB: Juwan Wilkins 6-10-1 115
Receiving - JM: Jake McKown 3-43, Joe Maffei 2-21, Brandon Hirsch 1-37, Tom Pellone 1-6; LB: Pasa Fields 3-41, T.J. Fosque 1-64, Marc Dennis 1-12, Jermaine Corbett 1-(-2)
Interceptions-Return Yards - JM: Matt D'Amore 1-15