Gridiron Classic – Ocean County’s Defense Leads the Way in 14-7 Win
BERKELEY TOWNSHIP -- Ocean County's defense was hyped throughout the week as having the potential to take over the 39th U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic, and the unit did exactly that to extend the county's winning streak and close the gap in the all-time series.
Jackson Memorial defensive end Tyler Towns had a crucial stop on fourth-and-1 early in the fourth quarter on his way to be named Ocean County's defensive MVP and Central quarterback Mike Miserendino threw a touchdown pass to Southern's Pat Walker soon after for the go-ahead score to give Ocean County a 14-7 victory over Monmouth County on Thursday night at Joseph J. Boyd Memorial Field.
"My dad told me before the game If I don't pull this (MVP award) in I have to walk home, and Jackson's pretty far," Towns deadpanned. "It's all about giving 100 percent effort and at the same time knowing it's an all-star game and having fun."
Towns stuffed Matawan running back Makaya Caesar with Monmouth County driving at the Ocean County 10-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter to preserve what was then a 7-0 lead. Towns later jumped and swatted a pass at the line of scrimmage that was intercepted by Brick Memorial's Chris Hayes with under five minutes left in the game. Ocean County's vaunted defensive line led the way by holding Monmouth County to minus-2 rushing yards and 158 total yards. Brick's Jordan Keefe had a fumble recovery and Barnegat's Josh Bowen blocked a field goal.
Monmouth County mounted one final drive with the clock ticking down in the fourth quarter, but an offensive pass interference call on Red Bank wide receiver Sadiq Palmer wiped out a touchdown and Point Boro's Devin Connelly knocked down a pass in the end zone on fourth down with eight seconds left.
"I always like the situation when it's the defense's job to win the game and it was our job to win the game there," Keefe said. "They had a shot there and had one to win the game on fourth down, but we came up with the stops."
Miserendino led the go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter to be selected as Ocean County offensive MVP. The Golden Eagles standout playing on his home field directed a nine-play, 86-yard march and ripped off a key 16-yard run. On third-and-goal he rolled out and hit Walker in the flat, and the Southern running back barreled across the goal line to give Ocean County the lead with 8:30 to play in the game. He finished with a game-high 48 yard rushing.
"I never thought I would be MVP of the all-star game," Miserendino said. "It's a night to remember, I'll remember this until the day I die. I'm very blessed to receive this award. My last time stepping on this field as a high school athlete and coming out with a victory is amazing."
Ocean County struck first to take a 7-0 lead in the first quarter as Point Boro quarterback Noah Husak hit Brick wide receiver Matt Schleifer for a 54-yard touchdown. Ocean County would hold that lead all the way to the fourth quarter before a fumble recovery by Middletown North's Matt Dombrowski, the Monmouth County defensive MVP, set up the tying touchdown. After taking over at the Ocean County 18-yard line, Middletown South quarterback Matt Mosquera hit Raritan's Nick Pasquin over the middle to tie the score. Pasquin was selected as Monmouth County's offensive MVP.
Freehold quarterback Jake Curry threw for 110 yards on 9-for-13 passing to lead all individual players.
Brick Memorial's Chris Hayes and Matawan's Aliem Shaw were the Sam Mills Award winners for their respective counties, while Middletown South head coach Steve Antonucci, Monmouth University head coach Kevin Callahan and Gridiron Classic co-founder Dick Brinster were inducted into the Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Fame at halftime.
Ocean County has now won three straight games for the first time and closed Monmouth's lead in the all-time series to 20-18-1.
"Both teams really wanted to win and now that's three in a row for us," Miserendino said. "We didn't want to be the team to mess up the streak."
Ocean County's defense began to impose its will on the first series of the game when it forced Monmouth County to go three-and-out. Monmouth, however, got great field position after a punt was muffed and Raritan's Jordan Smith recovered at the 22-yard line. Ocean forced a fourth-and-11 and a 40-yard field goal attempt from St. John Vianney's Joe Rice, but Bowen surged up the middle to get a hand on the ball for the block. Donovan Catholic's Alex Rosario picked the ball up at the 1-yard line and moved it forward to the 5-yard line where Husak would engineer a 9-play, 95-yard scoring drive to give Ocean County the lead.
Husak ran for eight yard on third-and-three and then converted a third-and-six with 16-yard run across midfield. On third-and-five from his own 46-yard line, Husak found Schleifer behind the defense for a 54-yard touchdown. Point Boro's Collin Ansbach knocked through the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 2:04 left in the first quarter.
"Coach realized when we were motioning the safety was coming up and the corner was staying there, eyes in the backfield," said Schleifer, who will continue his career at McDaniel College. "We burned a timeout because someone lined up wrong and he said, 'Schleifer, can you beat him on a 50 X post?', and I said, 'absolutely'."
Schleifer had to slow up a bit and wait for the ball, but his great speed enabled him to do so and still pull away for the big-play score.
"It's weird waiting to catch it and the kid is right in your peripheral vision trying to hit you," Schleifer said. "I got it and took off. It felt really good to play with the best kids around the Shore and being able to make an explosive play to help your county win."
Ocean County would hold that lead well into the second half while allowing just a handful of first downs along the way. Monmouth County's defense had matched them step-for-step, however, in holding Ocean County to just one first down and forcing two turnovers following the first-quarter touchdown.
A fumble recovery by Freehold's Todd Burger late in the third quarter set up Monmouth County with the ball at the Ocean County 29-yard line, but Ocean's defense rose up again to make a crucial stop. A 7-yard pass by Wall's Matt Cluley to Mater Dei Prep's Cole Hardy gave Monmouth a first down at the 19, and back-to-back runs by Matawan's Makaya Caesar brought up and third-and-one at the 10-yard line. Hayes stuffed Caesar for no gain on third down on the final play of the third quarter and Towns did it again on fourth down to keep Ocean in the lead.
"They had been running a counter back and I thought they were coming right at me," Towns said. "When he left me unblocked I set it in my mind, 'He's mine'. I swooped in from behind."
Towns led the Shore Conference in sacks this season with 22 to help the Jaguars win their second straight NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV title. His speed off the edge extends to the running game, as well, as he routinely chases down backs from the back side. He did it again for one of the game's biggest plays.
"A lot of offenses will discount the backside end because he's a big, slow guy," Towns said. "I'm quick, It all comes down to effort and heart and reading the play. You have to go out and get it."
Monmouth County would force another turnover on the following series, however, when Dombrowski recovered a fumble at the Ocean County 18-yard line. This time Monmouth capitalized when Mosquera connected with Pasquin on a first-play touchdown. Red Bank's Jack O'Connor kicked the extra point to tie the score at seven with 13:15 left in the game.
After barely mounting any offense since it scored in the first quarter, Miserendino led Ocean County's game-winning drive on the next possession with a nine-play, 86-yard sequence. Miserendino ran for six yards on first down and 16 on the next play, and late-hit penalties against Monmouth after both runs moved the ball all the way to the 22-yard line. A 10-yard run by Jackson Memorial's Vinny Lee moved the ball to the 12 and a five-yard run on third down gave Ocean County first-and-goal at the 1-yard line. On third-and-goal, Miserendino rolled to his right and hit Walker in the flat, and the Southern running back bulldozed his way across the goal line. Ansbach's extra point made it 14-7 with 8:30 left.
"It was a 90 boot right, and in practice we worked on hitting the tight end out of the backfield more than the fullback," Miserendino said. "But he came open right away and I hit him. Again, I'm blessed to be able to play on my home field and score the game-winning touchdown. It's an amazing feeling."
Hayes came up with an interception on the ensuing drive after Towns burst through the line and tipped the pass. Monmouth would mount one final drive and get all the way to the Ocean County 20 after 12 plays. Curry connected with Freehold Township's Nick Galanti three times for 50 yards, including a 31-yard gain on fourth-and-13. An offensive pass interference call on Palmer erased a would-be tying touchdown, however, and Connelly's pass deflection on fourth down clinched the win for Ocean County.
After spending years trying to beat each other as rivals, players on both sides were able to come together and unite toward a common goal. People may think an all-star game can't produce a legitimate rivalry, but the intensity on the field Thursday night suggested otherwise.
"It felt good to play one last game with all these guys that, honestly, I didn't like coming in," Keefe said. "But by the end; right now they feel like my brothers, like I've been playing with them forever. It's hard to say goodbye."
Ocean County 14, Monmouth County 7
Monmouth (20-18-1) 0 0 0 7 — 7
Ocean (18-20-1) 7 0 0 7 — 14
O — Noah Husak 54-yard pass to Matt Schleifer (Collin Ansbach kick)
M — Matt Mosquera 18-yard pass to Nick Pasquin (Jack O'Connor kick)
O — Mike Miserendino 4-yard pass to Pat Walker (Collin Ansbach kick)
Rushing - M: Makaya Caesar 8-24, Tyler Thompson 7-8, Dylan Murphy 1-6, Nick Pasquin 1-(-1), Derek Ernst 2-(-2), Matt Mosquera 2-(-9), Jake Curry 7-(-28); O: Mike Miserendino 7-48, Vinny Lee 14-36, Noah Husak 9-26, David Calderon 4-13, Pat Walker 2-9, Paul Wickwire 5-9.
Passing - M: Jake Curry 9-13-0 110, Matt Mosquera 4-10-1 35, Matt Cluley 2-3–0 15, Derek Ernst 0-1-0 0; O: Noah Husak 1-5-1 54, Mike Miserendino 2-4-0 5.
Receiving - M: Nick Galanti 3-50, Makaya Caeser 2-29, Cole Hardy 2-22, Nick Pasquin 1-15, Tyler Thompson 1-12, Sadiq Palmer 2-10, Mason Sheehan 1-8, Jordan Smith 1-4,, Nic Rossi 1-2; O: Matt Schleifer 1-54, Pat Walker 1-4, David Calderon 1-1.
Interceptions - M: Greyson Stoothoff 1-0; O: Chris Hayes 1-20.
Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.