Going Out On Top: 2023 Middletown South Football Preview
Middletown South’s football team enters every year expecting to compete for division and state championships, and those goals remain the same heading into the 2023 season.
Coming off consecutive 9-2 campaigns and with multiple starters back on both sides of the ball, the Eagles should once again be in the thick of the races for the American Division and Group 4 titles as one of the Shore Conference’s flagship programs.
The Eagles began last season 2-0 with victories over Long Branch and Manalapan before a loss to Red Bank Catholic in Week 3. Middletown South then put together a six-game winning streak that included key wins over Rumson-Fair Haven and Donovan Catholic. The Eagles’ playoff run ended with a 34-24 loss to Mainland in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 4 sectional final before they concluded their season with a win over Middletown North on Thanksgiving.
Middletown South has reached two consecutive sectional finals as they attempt to win the program’s 11th championship, which would tie Manasquan for the most in Shore Conference history. The Eagles, led by Hall of Fame head coach Steve Antonucci since 1998, have been a fixture in the upper half of the Shore Conference Top 10 for the better part of the last 35 years. That trend hasn’t ended regardless of who graduates because of the winning tradition that has been established, but this season does represent the final chance for a standout senior class to raise another banner.
Seven starters return, plus two more who saw plenty of playing time, in Middletown South’s spread offense that averaged 24.2 points per game last season (12th in the Shore). Senior Jake Czwakiel is a seasoned veteran entering his second year as the Eagles’ starting quarterback, his third year as a starting defensive back, and his fourth as the team’s kicker and punter. He was a Shore Sports Network First Team All-Shore selection last season when he threw for 935 yards and four touchdowns, ran for 633 yards and nine touchdowns, and had a great year on defense and special teams.
Czwakiel will be re-joined by three backfield mates, two wide receivers, and three linemen who all either started or saw significant playing time last year. Senior running back Donovan Summey ran for 707 yards and totaled 10 touchdowns last season en route to Second Team All-Shore honors while senior Colin Gallagher added 522 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. Junior fullback Liam Curley also returns. Czwakiel’s primary targets in the passing game will be senior Owen Richter and junior Brendan Sliva with senior Aaron Colleli also in the mix.
While the offensive line lost two standout seniors to graduation – First Team All-Shore selection Tommy Whyte and Third Team All-Shore pick Tyler Addonisio – three starters are back up front to pave the way for all the returning skill players. Senior Joe DeMarco is the right guard, junior Mike Toth is the right tackle, and junior Ryan Harden is the left guard. Senior Jack Eastmond steps in as the starting center and junior Gio Massagli will start at left tackle.
An elite-level defense has been a hallmark of Middletown South’s football teams throughout its history. Last season, the Eagles allowed 14.5 points per game to finish seventh in the Shore, all the more impressive considering their schedule within the American Division. They held four opponents to one touchdown or less, including one shutout. Three players earned All-Shore honors on the defensive side, although standout edge Luke Wafle has since transferred to The Hun School and reclassified to the class of 2026.
Leading a cast of six returning starters in Middletown South’s 3-4 base defense is Gallagher, the reigning Shore Sports Network Defensive Player of the Year. After an impressive sophomore season in which he led the Shore with 12 sacks and earned Second Team All-Shore distinction, Gallagher put together a fantastic junior season that resulted in his DPOY award. He finished second in the conference with 149 tackles, including 27 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
Gallagher, who lines up at inside linebacker, is one of three returning starters at linebacker with Curley and Richter (59 tackles). Senior Dante Farrell-Brown steps in to play outside linebacker.
The secondary also has three returning starters with Czwakiel at free safety, Sliva at strong safety, and senior Anthony Puccio at cornerback. Sophomore James Pirozzi will start at the opposite cornerback spot. Czwakiel made 36 tackles and tied for fourth in the Shore with four interceptions last season, while Sliva posted 50 tackles.
All three down linemen are new starters with Massagli and junior Chase Ponik at defensive end and Toth at defensive tackle.
On special teams, Czwakiel returns as one of the Shore’s best kickers and will be starting there for the fourth straight year. He converted 32 of 34 extra points last season and connected on five field goals with a long of 37 yards to finish third in scoring among kickers. He is also the team’s punter.
Playing in the American Division against the likes of Toms River North, Red Bank Catholic, Rumson-Fair Haven, Donovan Catholic, and Wall along with nondivisional games against Raritan and Colts Neck means Middletown South will be challenged every week. This isn’t anything new for the Eagles, and with proven players returning and some newcomers eager to contribute, Middletown South should be a team making headlines deep into the fall.
At a Glance
Head coach: Steve Antonucci, 26th season
Career record: 215-63
2022 record: 9-2
Coaching staff: Joe Trezza (Offensive Coordinator); Marc Tomo (Defensive Coordinator); Steve Roberts (Special Teams Coordinator/LB); Al Bigos (OL); Adam Schreck (WR); Matt Walsh (QB); Rod Murchie (DB); Jeremy Balina (DB); Jake Krellin (LB/Special Teams); Tim Heaney (DL); Sam Dokus (DL); Tom Antonucci (Quality Control); Jeff Martin (Head Freshmen Coach); Tuck Isherwood (Freshmen); Tom Nicholes (Freshmen); Stacy White (Athletic Trainer).
Circle the Date: Week 0 - Friday, Aug. 25 vs. Rumson-Fair Haven
Middletown South begins the season with a doozy of a game against fellow state power Rumson-Fair Haven at The Swamp. The two teams have played some great games over the past several years and each will be looking to start the season strong on Opening Day.
Player to Watch: Colin Gallagher, Sr., LB/RB
Gallagher was the SSN Defensive Player of the Year last season and is a two-time All-Shore selection. He also made a major impact as a running back with over 500 yards rushing and nine touchdowns as the Eagles’ No. 2 back behind Donovan Summey.
Impact Newcomer: Gio Massagli, Jr., OL/DL
Massagli earned a starting role on both sides of the ball as the team’s left tackle and as a defensive end.
Did you Know?
Middletown South has made 33 postseason appearances since the NJSIAA playoffs began in 1974 and has been one of the most successful public schools in New Jersey during that span, winning 10 sectional titles, reaching a total of 23 sectional championship games, and compiling a 53-23 playoff record.
|@Toms River North
|@Red Bank Catholic