Football – Toms River North Falls Short of Unbeaten Season, Loses to Millville
GLASSBORO - Saturday was, by design, to be the final step for this year's Toms River North football team in staking its claim as the best team in school history as well as one of the best the Shore has ever seen.
As coach Dave Oizerowitz told his players, they deserve to be champions based on their performance this season, but they had to earn it on the field at Rowan University Saturday against Millville. Instead, the Mariners' opponent earned one of the NJSIAA Playoffs' biggest upsets and a historic win for the program.
The Thunderbolts raced out to a 20-point halftime lead and stifled a Toms River North rally to beat the previously unbeaten Mariners, 22-16, for Millville's first football sectional title since 1975.
"I told the kids before we left the field house, 'You guys are deserving of a state championship but nothing's giving to you - you've got to earn it,'" Oizerowitz said. "Millville was going to make us earn it. That much I knew. With that kind of team speed, it's totally unlike the other teams we've played over the last two years. And it's a hungry football team. Our kids just didn't execute good enough tonight. It happens sometimes, you just wish it didn't happen tonight."
Toms River North entered Saturday as the defending sectional champion with a 21-game winning streak, bidding for a 12-0 season and had a chance to becoming the highest scoring team over the course of a season in Shore Conference history. The Mariners needed 27 points to match Red Bank Catholic's 2014 team and came up 11 shy.
"I said to the team and the staff, as well as (Millville coach Dennis Thomas), 'We didn't deserve to win tonight. You guys played better than us,'" Oizerowitz said. "Even then, we still had a chance to do something late."
The Shore's foremost offensive juggernaut stumbled during the first half. Millville limited Toms River North to 34 total yards of offense and two first downs during a scoreless first half and dominated the time of possession during the second quarter.
"They did a great job with their speed on the perimeter and their pass rush taking away our ability to throw the ball," Oizerowitz said. "That's really been why we've been so good this year. We could always run the ball, but the fact that we could get the ball down the field in a hurry and we didn't have that opportunity today."
After going into halftime trailing 20-0, Toms River North cut Millville's lead to 20-14 and drove to the Thunderbolts nine yard-line midway through the fourth quarter thanks to a 42-yard run by senior running back Parker Day. The Mariners set up a 2nd-and-goal from the three after a Millville penalty, but lost a yard on second down, were called for a false start on third down and ran an incomplete pass on the next play. A wide-receiver pass on fourth down resulted in a 10-yard loss and Millville took over at the 18 yard-line with 5:40 left.
After consecutive false start penalties on fourth down, Millville elected to take a safety rather than punt the ball out of the end zone, making the score 20-16 with 3:12 left. Punter Zack Douglas then pinned Toms River North at its own 20 on the ensuing free kick, but the Mariners threatened by driving to the Millville 45 on a 31-yard pass from quarterback Mike Husni to receiver Bryce Watts.
The game unravelled for Toms River North on the next play, when the snap flew past Husni and resulted in a 27-yard loss. The Mariners would not recover: they turned the ball over on downs with 1:14 left and did not get the ball back until there were only seven seconds left on the clock and began the drive at the four yard-line. The game's final play ended with a safety for Millville.
Jermer Downing and Darius Porter each picked off Husni in the first quarter, with Porter returning his 60 yards for a touchdown to put Millville ahead, 12-0, with 3:06 remaining. Downing returned his interception 29 yards to the 18 yard line and Bruce Williams punched in a three-yard score to open the scoring with 5:04 left.
Millville running back Clayton Scott led the Millville offense with 133 yards on 31 carries. He also scored on a two-point conversion attempt that gave the Thunderbolts a 20-0 lead after a one-yard sneak for a touchdown by Marcial Ramos with 49 seconds left in the first half.
During a nearly nine-minute drive that spanned the end of the first and most of the second quarter, Scott touched the ball on all 12 players prior to a 59-yard punt by Douglas that Millville downed inside the one yard-line.
"They got two picks, one of them was for a pick six, but I thought the punt was huge" Oizerwitz said. "We didn't field the punt, it rolls down to the one, we can't get out of our own end and we came a little bit unglued there, offensively.
"That was a lot to overcome, but I'll tell ya, we almost did it."
The two interceptions and the punting game helped Millville overcome a Toms River North defense that held up its end. The Mariners defense limited Millville to 139 total yards and the Thunderbolts scored eight points on the defensive side while their two touchdown drives were 18 and 28 yards.
Millville's longest drive - the 13-play drive during the first and second quarters - was only 36 yards and ended in a punt. The only time the Millville offense crossed midfield Saturday was when the drive began on the Toms River North side of the field.
Day finished with 102 yards on 12 carries, including a 22-yard touchdown run on the first drive of the third quarter to get Toms River North on the board. Husni rushed for 78 yards on 23 carries with the other Toms River North touchdown - a two-yard plunge that made it a one-score game with 30 seconds left in the third.
Husni finished his senior season with 44 combined touchdowns, which ties Mater Dei's Christian Palmer for the single-season Shore Conference record. He also finished the game 4-for-14 passing with 50 yards.
"There's not much you can say (after the loss) except that you love them," Oizerowitz said. "We'll be here for the kids forever. I think this game is going to sting for a while but eventually, time will heal it a little bit. They had some of the best careers in the history of the school."
Millville 22, Toms River North 16
|TR North (11-1)||0||0||14||2||16|
M - Bruce Williams 3-yard run (run failed)
M - Darius Porter 60-yard interception return (pass failed)
M - Marcial Ramos 1-yard run (Clayton Scott run)
TRN - Parker Day 22-yard run (Kyle Bayha kick)
TRN - Mike Husni 2-yard run (Kyle Bayha kick)
TRN - Safety
M - Safety
Rushing - M: Clayton Scott 31-133, Bruce Williams 1-3, Darius Porter 1-0, Marcial Ramos 2-(-5), Tristan Harris 3-(-11); TRN: Parker Day 12-102, Mike Husni 23-78, Daryn Blackwell 1-9, Bryce Watts 1-(-2)
Passing - M: Tristan Harris 3-6-0 19; TRN: Mike Husni 4-14-2 50, Bryce Watts 1-1-0 (-10)
Receiving - M: Clayton Scott 2-11, Darius Porter 1-8; TRN: Bryce Watts 3-32, Darrion Carrington 1-18, Mike Husni 1-(-10)
Interceptions-Return Yards - M: Jermer Downing 1-29, Darius Porter 1-60