Giant Killers: Toms River South forces five turnovers, upsets No. 3 Southern
STAFFORD TOWNSHIP – After a lopsided loss in Week 3 and another top-five opponent waiting in the wings for Week 4, Toms River South was facing the crossroad of its season on Friday night at Emmert Stadium.
Coming off a 43-point loss to Donovan Catholic and with third-ranked and undefeated Southern on the docket, the Indians had a question to answer. Would they retreat or respond?
An 80-yard fumble return for a touchdown by junior defensive back Elijah Metellus in the third quarter was one of five turnovers forced by Toms River South and stood up as the winning points as the Indians upended No. 3 Southern, 15-12, for their second win over a top-three opponent this season.
“The message was ‘we’re only as good as our last game, and is that who we are?’,” said Toms River South head coach Ron Signorino Jr. “These kids were having none of that. I could just feel it throughout the week.”
The Rams, ranked third in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, outgained the Indians 350-220 and produced several chunk plays, but Toms River South’s equalizer was a defense that forced and recovered two fumbles, intercepted three passes and prevented Southern junior running back Jaiden Brown from taking over the game. Senior defensive back Tyler Madeo had two interceptions, including a game-clinching pick at the 5-yard line with seven seconds left, senior linebacker Ryan Robin had an interception and senior defensive back Domenick Cats also recovered a fumble. Brown, who was coming off a career-high 240-yard performance in a win over Toms River North, ran for 121 yards and two touchdowns but fumbled twice.
“The defensive staff had a great gameplan and the kids executed it as well as they could have,” Signorino said. “We wanted to keep pinching down inside and keep our overhang as the force player because we know they want to keep running in between the tackles. That’s where (Brown) makes his money but of course, he can bump it outside at any time. He’s the real deal and that’s a hell of a football team we just beat.”
Senior running back Travis Squire ran for 52 yards on eight carries to lead a balanced Toms River South (3-1) rushing attack. Sophomore running back Devon Bond ran for 45 yards on 11 carries and senior quarterback Jack Huber threw for 89 yards and ran for 24 yards and a touchdown.
In addition to Brown’s 121 yards on the ground, senior wide receiver Xavier Hendricks caught eight passes for 149 yards and senior quarterback Taylor Munt completed 11 of 16 passes for 205 yards but was intercepted three times.
The victory was Toms River South’s second this season over a top-three team. On opening night, the Indians shocked then-No. 2 Toms River North, 28-21.
“We knew it was going to be a tough football game against a senior-dominated team,” said Southern head coach Chuck Donohue Sr. “The South kids are tough kids and they had a lot of incentive to come down here and beat us. I thought we made some plays tonight and did some good things, but was also did some bad things and the bad things got us beat.”
Oddly enough, the Indians faced their first bit of adversity after a great opening drive. Toms River South took the opening kickoff and marched from its own 37-yard line down to Southern’s 1-yard line with a clock-draining 16-play drive. The Indians converted one third down and two fourth downs and looked poised to find the end zone, but on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Huber tried the right side but was stopped by JP Ricciardi at the 1-yard line where the ball knocked free by Hank Gallacher and recovered by Nate Committee.
Toms River South forced a three-and-out and got the ball back at midfield with 3:35 left in the first quarter. Runs of 14 and nine yards by Squire moved the ball to the Southern 27-yard line and a 12-yard catch by Gerry Ferrigno on third-and-9 pushed the ball to the 23-yard line. But on a fourth-and-3 from the 16-yard line, Huber’s pass to the end zone was broken up by Hendricks as Southern’s defense forced a turnover on downs.
The Rams then went to work on a seven-play, 84-yard scoring drive to strike first. A 44-yard pass from Munt to Hendricks on the first play was followed by a 21-yard run by Brown, and the Rams were quickly down to the Toms River South 19-yard line. Five straight runs by Brown followed, capped by a 5-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. Hendricks, the holder on the extra point, picked it up and ran with it as a Toms River South defender was bearing down to block the kick but he was stopped short of the goal line on the 2-point try.
Toms River South answered with a seven-play, 64-yard scoring drive to take a 7-6 lead. Huber connected with Wyatt Sternberg for 29 yards to the Southern 37-yard line and, two plays later, Squire found a crease and scooted 27 yards down to the Southern 1-yard line. Three plays later on third-and-goal, Huber pushed toward the end zone and fumbled but recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown. Camren Stein’s extra point gave the Indians a one-point lead with 5:12 left in the first half.
Southern wasted little time getting back in the end zone with two more big plays to set up a short touchdown run by Brown. Munt hit Hendricks on a corner route for 37 yards down to the South 21-yard line and on third-and-19, Hendricks took a wide receiver screen pass and turned it into a 29-yard gain down to the 1-yard line. Brown muscled across the goal line on the next play for a 12-7 lead. The Rams went for the 2-point conversion but the pass fell incomplete.
Southern tried to mount a quick drive at the end of the first half but Madeo intercepted Munt at the 10-yard line on the final play.
Southern had to punt on the first series of the third quarter but got the ball right back when Ricciardi picked off Huber at the 17-yard line. The Rams had great field position, but the game would turn on the very next play when Brown was stripped after a short gain and Metellus scooped up the ball, made one man miss and was off to the races for an 80-yard touchdown. Huber then tossed the two-point conversion pass to Madeo for a 15-12 lead.
“The ball popped out and it was right there,” Metellus said. “It was just me and the quarterback so I had to make a move and get to the end zone.”
Southern once again looked as if it was going to find the end zone on its next series. Brown ran for 20 yards on first down to move the ball to midfield and the Rams pushed the ball to the Toms River South 35-yard line. On third-and-9, Committee took a fullback screen pass and weaved his way down to the 7-yard line to bring up a first-and-goal. But on the next play, Toms River South forced another fumble and Cats recovered at the 5-yard line.
Southern had another chance at points in the fourth quarter but a 35-yard field goal attempt by Gallacher missed wide to the left.
Tobin squashed Southern’s next drive when he picked off Munt on a fourth-and-9 near midfield. Southern was able to force a punt thanks to a sack by Gallacher on third down to get the ball back at their own 30-yard line with 1:02 left in the game. A 14-yard run by Hendricks was followed by a 13-yard catch by Hendricks and a 7-yard run by Committee, but on second down from the 36-yard line, Munt’s pass intended for Alex Rainone in the end zone was intercepted by Madeo.
“I read that all the way,” Madeo said. “He was running a post all game so I was playing it deep and knew he was going to throw it into the end zone. Right spot, right time, I guess.”
“We beat North because we responded on every play, so we knew we had the ability to do that,” Signorino said. “This our senior group and they’re not reacting to a bad play or a good play, they’re responding.”
Toms River South 15, No. 3 Southern 12
|Toms River South||Southern|
|TR South (3-1)||0||7||8||0||15|
SR – Jaiden Brown 5-yard run (run failed()
TRS – Jack Huber 1-yard run (Camren Stein kick)
SR – Jaiden Brown 1-yard run (pass failed)
TRS – Elijah Metellus 80-yard fumble return (Jack Huber pass to Tyler Madeo)
RUSHING – TRS: Travis Squire 8-52, Devon Bond 11-45, Jack Huber 9-24, Gerry Ferrigno 4-10; SR: Jaiden Brown 24-121, Nate Committee 5-25, Nick Fabrizzio 1-1, Taylor Munt 5-(-2).
PASSING – TRS: Jack Huber 6-11-1 89; SR: Taylor Munt 11-16-3 205.
RECEIVING – TRS: Gavin Migliori 3-43, Wyatt Sternberg 1-29, Gerry Ferrigno 1-12, Tyler Madeo 1-5; SR: Xavier Hendricks 8-149, Nate Committee 1-28, Jaiden Brown 1-14, Alex Rainone 1-14.
INTERCEPTIONS – TRS: Tyler Madeo 2-0, Ryan Robin 1-15; SR: JP Ricciardi 1-0.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.