Gridiron Classic Notes: Matawan Wins 7-on-7 and More
BRICK - In what has been a positive omen for past winners, Matawan took home the Shore Conference 7-on-7 title before Thursday night's U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic with an 18-12 win over Brick at Keller Memorial Field.
Since the inception of the 7-on-7 tournament in 2010, every team that has won has made the playoffs in the fall, including Lacey going undefeated in 2010 and Barnegat reaching the South Jersey Group III final in 2013. The Huskies did it behind senior quarterback Jimmy Pierce, with freshman quarterback George "LC" Pearson, the nephew of former Dallas Cowboys great Drew Pearson, also seeing some snaps.
Makiya Caesar caught the game-winning touchdown pass to help defeat the Dragons, who are the defending Central Jersey Group IV champions and feature returning first-team All-Shore quarterback Carmen Sclafani.
The victory is a positive sign for the Huskies, who were the only winning team in the Shore Conference that didn't qualify for the playoffs in a 7-3 season last fall. While a standout defense that only allowed 8.9 points per game was their backbone, the offense struggled, averaging 18.2 points per game, but failing to score more than 13 points against playoff teams. With former Matawan great and NFL defensive back Jay Bellamy now coaching the quarterbacks, the Huskies hope to reverse their fortunes offensively this fall.
"The competition has really helped Jimmy step up, because Jimmy had a great 7-on-7 tournament,'' head coach John Kaye said.
Four new Hall of Famers
Former Middletown South and Raritan coach Bob Generelli, former Toms River North coach Bob Nani, former Asbury Park Press sports editor and columnist Joe Adelizzi, and Shore Sports Network's own Ed Sarluca were all enshrined in the Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Fame at halftime on Thursday night. (Read about their accomplishments here).
Adelizzi helped spearhead the creation of what was then known as the All-Shore Classic in 1978 with Asbury Park Press sports editor Dick Brinster. While reminiscing about the creation of the game, he remembered how late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner nearly ended up paying for the equipment at the inaugural game at Wall Stadium. Schools initially were hesitant to lend out their helmets and pads for the game because of insurance and other liability reasons, and Steinbrenner got wind of it and called Adelizzi. He was prepared to write a check to cover new equipment until the situation got straightened out and the players used their school equipment.
Adelizzi was a constant presence on the Shore Conference football scene for 40 years until his retirement in 2008. He is a big reason the All-Shore Gridiron Classic has become an institution in the Shore.
"We always knew the game would be successful because there was such great support for football in this area and there was such a built-in rivalry already between Monmouth and Ocean counties,'' he said.
Generelli coached some of the legendary teams in Shore Conference history, including the Middletown South squads with future NFL linemen Christian and Jason Peter in the early 1990s and the only undefeated Raritan team in history in 2004. Current Raritan head coach Anthony Petruzzi, who was the defensive coordinator under Generelli, was in attendance on Thursday night along with several other assistants and former players, including star quarterback Andrew Mandeville, who is now an assistant at Freehold Boro.
"It's just such an honor to be recognized like this,'' Generelli said. "To be part of Shore Conference football has just been so special for me."
Nani, whose teams won three NJSIAA titles and four division titles, reminisced about how football is a funny game because two of his best teams in 1995 and 2002 came up short of winning state titles. He has been a fixture in Toms River since 1979 and also coached in the All-Shore Gridiron Classic multiple times.
"I miss the kids and the camaraderie and all the fun we had,'' said Nani, who coached from 1989 until 2004. "We had some great teams, but it's the little things you miss."
Sarluca joked that he was coaching so far back that he wrote the "Win One for Gipper" speech for Knute Rockne. He was thankful to be honored by his peers and to be recognized for his long tenure as a defensive coordinator at multiple Shore programs in addition to his work as a sideline reporter and host with Shore Sports Network.
"This one is for the 'grunts,''' he said. "The assistant coaches put in a lot of work behind the scenes, so I'm happy this brings a little recognition to those guys, and I'm humbled to be honored for my work as a coach and in the media."
Keansburg defensive back Kason Preston and Southern linebacker Mason Fazekas were the Monmouth and Ocean recipients of the Sam Mills Award, respectively. The award is named after the late Long Branch legend, an undersized linebacker who became an NFL All-Pro with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers. The winners are selected by the coaching staffs, who pick a player who personifies the dedication, character and perseverance shown by Mills. Fazekas also was named Ocean County's defensive MVP in the win.
The captains for Ocean County were Fazekas, Lacey quarterback Tom Kelly, Jackson Memorial linebacker Ken Bradley, and Brick lineman Matt Ulufanua. The Monmouth County captains were Ocean linebacker Dan Loizos, Long Branch linebacker Deon Williams, Colts Neck lineman Ryan Wetzel and Manalapan defensive lineman/tight end RJ Krause.
Monmouth now leads the all-time series 20-16-1 after having its two-game win streak halted. No team has ever won more than three Classics in a row...The pregame coin toss was done by Sgt. Mike Hyle of the U.S. Army, who played for coach Lou Vircillo on Lacey's undefeated 2006 South Jersey Group III championship team...Former Monsignor Donovan linebacker Tommy Farrell, who was the Sam Mills Award winner for Ocean County at last year's game and now plays at Stonehill College, stepped in at the last minute and did a great job as the public address announcer for the game.