Football – T.J. Fosque’s Big Night Sparks Long Branch to Opening-Night Win Over Manasquan
LONG BRANCH - Senior T.J. Fosque and most of his classmates on the Long Branch football remember being the junior-heavy team in a senior-heavy Shore Conference Class B North division last year and the results were not to their liking.
In their first game as a predominantly senior team in 2017 Friday night against defending NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II champion, it was Fosque who was the man among boys.
The 6-foot-4 wide receiver hauled in six catches for 178 and three touchdowns from quarterback and senior teammate Juwan Wilkins and the Long Branch defense held off the Warriors' comeback attempt to give the Green Wave a 28-19 win in the season-opener.
Of Fosque's six catches, three went for touchdowns, two gave Long Branch a first down on 3rd down and long, and the other was a 36-yard gain.
"It's a great feeling," Fosque said. "It's a feeling like no other. To come out here and win with the fellas - our senior class has taken a beating these last couple years - there's just no other feeling like it."
Fosque made his mark from the opening drive, catching an out-pattern for a 36-yard pick-up and capping the march downfield with a 26-yard touchdown in the back of the endzone between the hashes.
He later caught a 54-yard touchdown on a bootleg rollout pass from Wilkins in which he juked a Manasquan defensive back and strolled into the endzone to extend Long Branch's lead to 21-7 in the second quarter.
"He was telling me before our pep rally, 'You got my back, I got your back,'" Wilkins said. "I was like, "I'm going to use him today.' And he had a breakout game."
Fosque capped the Long Branch scoring by going up over a Manasquan defender to pull down his third touchdown on a 37-yard gain. That catch gave Long Branch a 28-13 lead with 28 seconds left in the third quarter.
"I saw Manasquan's corners creeping up because we had been running the ball a lot that drive," Fosque said. "I knew it was only a matter of time before we went back up top."
Prior to catching his third touchdown, Fosque kept that same drive alive with two first-down catches on 3rd down and long. Wilkins hit Fosque for a 13-yard gain on 3rd-and-12 from the 38 yard-line and again found his No. 1 target for 12 yards on 3rd-and-7 from the Warriors 48.
"What's his vertical, like 40 inches or something?," Wilkins said. "It's crazy. He should already be in the NFL."
With an unstoppable receiver at his disposal, Wilkins racked up an impressive statistical performance of his own. The senior quarterback was 11-for-17 for 227 yards and three touchdowns with completions to six different receivers. He did throw two interceptions, but one was on third down and pinned Manasquan at the Long Branch five yard-line and the other was tipped by senior Kaymar Mimes on a leaping attempt at a catch.
"It all started with the quarterback," Long Branch coach Dan George said. "He split time last year and he did everything he needed to do. He read everything, he gets rid of the ball really fast and he gives a lot of guys a chance to catch the ball."
Manasquan responded to each touchdown by Fosque and stayed in the game thanks to a methodical rushing attack that led to two big runs by senior quarterback Tommy Antonucci. The senior quarterback broke off touchdown runs of 83 and 51 and finished with 136 yards on seven carries.
Antonucci's first touchdown was his 83-yard scamper and it came on a quarterback sweep on 3rd-and-9. Manasquan had just taken over following an interception by junior James Pendergist on the Long Branch five and faced a potential punting situation inside its own 20.
Antonucci's second touchdown also came following a pick by Pendergist, this time on the following play. Pendergist snared a tipped pass from Wilkins at the Manasquan 49 and one play later, Antonucci found daylight on the right side of the formation and sprinted to the endzone to pull his team within 28-19 with 5:28 left.
Long Branch's defense dug in on the two-point attempt and stopped Manasquan senior running back Connor Morgan on his run to the right side. The Green Wave later came up with the second of two fourth-down stops in the second half, this one with 2:06 remaining.
Morgan picked up 76 yards and a touchdown on the ground, but needed 26 yards to do so and did not break a run longer than 13 yards.
Long Branch took the lead for good on a five-year touchdown run by sophomore tailback Jermaine Corbett with 8:48 left in the second quarter. In his varsity debut, Corbett - who is the younger brother of Shore Conference single-season rushing yardage leader and 2015 Long Branch graduate Dahmiere Willis - ran for 51 yards on 21 carries and also gained 31 yards on a screen pass on a 3rd-and-13 in the first quarter.
"A lot of people try to compare him to his brother and I just tell him, 'Be you,'" Fosque said. "'Do what you do. Have faith in the process and you're going to shine."
"I'm so glad that he came," Wilkins said of Corbett. "I had to get him on the field (last year). He was like, 'I don't want to play football, I just want to do basketball.' I was like, 'No, you're getting out on this field, you're going to represent Long Branch and we're going to ride you. We're going to get everything you have.'"
Corbett and classmate Jah'kwan Gordon had standout debuts to their varsity careers. Gordon rushed for 16 yards on six carries and was active from his middle linebacker spot. Gordon was in on a sack and two other tackles for losses.
"We started four sophomores today and I thought we got a lot out of them," George said. "I thought Jermaine Corbett and Jah'kwan Gordon both had outstanding games."
Seniors Elijah Sheridan and Mimes also helped lead the defense, with both picking up a pair of tackles in the backfield. Sheridan also combined with Gordon for the lone sack of the game, which came on a 3rd-and-12 from the Manasquan 30 early in the fourth quarter. Junior defensive tackle Kevin Cerruti also hulked up for two tackles in the backfield.
Manasquan subjected Long Branch's defense to a 12-play, 57-yard drive that ended with Morgan plunging into the endzone with seven seconds left in the first half. Although the touchdown came on a 2nd-and-goal from the 1 yard-line, it was a must-score situation for Manasquan with 12 seconds left because the Warriors were out of timeouts.
Long Branch then kicked off to start the second half and managed to get off the field with a stop on 3rd-and-16 from its own 46. The Green Wave offense then gave the defense a welcomed rest thanks to a 12-play drive of its own, this one covering 82 yards.
The opening-night win is a marked difference for Long Branch this year after beginning the 2016 season with a loss to the Warriors. The Green Wave went on to start 1-8 before winning its final game of the season.
"You've seen the script," George said. "Manasquan and Wall last year - their kids had been taking their lumps for a couple of years (and then won state championships). This senior class has taken their lumps. We took a little bit different approach. We're airing it out, we're attacking and I think we had (Manasquan) really off-balance."
"We've had tough seasons these last couple years," Fosque said. "It's good to be in the spotlight now, but then again, we wanted to take teams by surprise a little bit, I must admit. But it does feel good to get the attention."
Long Branch 28, Manasquan 19
|Manasquan (0-1, 0-1)||7||6||0||6||19|
|Long Branch (1-0, 1-0)||7||14||7||0||28|
LB - T.J. Fosque 26-yard pass from Juwan Wilkins (Paul Montague kick)
M - Tommy Antonucci 83-yard run (James Pendergist kick)
LB - Jermaine Corbett 5-yard run (Paul Montague kick)
LB - T.J. Fosque 54-yard pass from Juwan Wilkins (Paul Montague kick)
M - Connor Morgan 1-yard run (kick failed)
LB - T.J. Fosque 37-yard pass from Juwan Wilkins (Paul Montague kick)
M - Tommy Antonucci 51-yard run (run failed)
Rushing - M: Connor Morgan 26-76, Tommy Antonucci 7-136, Canyon Birch 8-21, James Pendergist 2-14; LB: Jermaine Corbett 21-51, Jah'kwan Gordon 6-16, Juwan Wilkins 3-14, Elijah Sheridan 1-(-1), La'Qym Morris 1-0.
Passing: M: Tommy Antonucci 3-11-1 31, Connor Morgan 0-1-0 0, Canyon Birch 0-1-0 0; LB: Juwan Wilkins 11-17-2 227
Receiving: M: James Pendergist 3-31; LB: T.J. Fosque 6-178, Jermaine Corbett 1-31, Matt Clark 1-3, Pasa Fields 1-5, Kaymar Mimes 1-6, Marc Dennis 1-4.
Interceptions-Return Yards: M: James Pendergist 2-0; LB: Pasa Fields 1-16