High Tide: Long Branch Rolls Past Freehold To Reach South Jersey Group 4 Semifinals
LONG BRANCH – Undefeated for most of the season, one of the unknowns surrounding Long Branch’s football team was how it would respond to adversity. The answer was delivered on Saturday afternoon.
One week after a lopsided loss knocked the Green Wave from the ranks of the unbeaten, they responded with authority to roll over Freehold, 50-12, in the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 4 playoffs. Senior quarterback Christian Rodriguez threw for 225 yards and three touchdowns and the Long Branch defense swarmed the Colonials’ dangerous offense from start to finish to put the Green Wave into the sectional semifinals.
Long Branch will travel to Ocean City this Friday night with a chance to reach the championship game.
Senior wide receiver Ka’Jion Thorne caught five passes for 114 yards and a touchdown, junior wideout Mike Hall had a 60-yard touchdown catch, and senior wide receiver Jayden Farmer had a 25-yard touchdown reception. On the ground, sophomore running back Zaheem Brown had touchdown runs of 58 and 10 yards and junior running back Sekou Kamau ran for 54 yards and a touchdown.
Long Branch’s defense sacked Freehold seven times and, combined with the special teams units, forced two turnovers, blocked a punt, and scored a touchdown. Junior defensive lineman Luke Tracey had three sacks and a forced fumble, junior Esau Walker recovered two fumbles, junior Shamar Williams blocked a punt and senior Josh Vann recovered it for a touchdown.
“We really just wanted to put that game behind us as much as we could,” Rodriguez said of Long Branch’s 43-6 loss to Rumson-Fair Haven in the final week before the playoffs. “It really didn’t mean anything. We went 6-0 before we lost to Rumson and we worked so hard to get to that point so we didn’t want to let it slip away from us. We’re working toward something special.”
There were no lingering effects of the Week 9 defeat as the Green Wave (7-1) started fast and finished strong to defeat Freehold (5-5) for the second time this season. A muffed punt by Freehold on Long Branch’s opening offensive series extended the drive and finished with Rodriguez connecting with Farmer for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Two plays later, Tracey got to Freehold quarterback Spencer Rushton for a strip-sack and Walker pounced on the fumble at the Freehold 26-yard line. The short drive ended with Kamau surging into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown run. There was trouble on the extra point snap but Rodriguez, who is the holder, scrambled into the end zone for a 2-point conversion that made it 15-0.
Late in the first half, Hall took the top off the defense and Rodriguez hit him in stride for a 60-yard touchdown that gave Long Branch a 22-0 halftime lead.
Freehold was able to close the gap to 22-6 midway through the third quarter on a 33-yard touchdown run by Yah-Sin Calhoun but Long Branch responded when Rodriguez found Thorne for a 47-yard touchdown pass and a 29-6 lead. The blocked punt touchdown then made it 36-6 with 2:01 left in the third quarter.
Freehold kept battling and scored its second touchdown when Rushton threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Christian DaSilva with 37 seconds left in the third quarter, but Long Branch once again had an answer. On the first play of the ensuing series, Brown busted loose for a 58-yard touchdown run down the home sideline to keep Long Branch rolling.
Freehold’s next drive ended with a punt but there was trouble getting the punt off and Tracey delivered his third sack of the afternoon to give Long Branch the ball at the Freehold 15-yard line. On third down, Brown ran for a 10-yard touchdown to provide the final scoring margin of 50-12.
“I told the kids before the game, let’s just go play football,” said Long Branch head coach Danny George. “It’s so exciting this time of year. Let’s go play our brand of football and see what happens. QB1 used his feed to move around and extended some plays, which was beautiful, and the defense played one of its best games of the year. Chad King, our defensive coordinator, really had some stuff dialed in and they played with confidence.”
“Everybody was doing their job and that’s really what it was,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone was being unselfish to work as a team and get the job done.”
Now, it’s onto Ocean City. The Red Raiders are 10-0 with five shutouts and have allowed just 42 points all season.
“It’s an undefeated team whose defense has given up something like four touchdowns all year, so it’s going to be a challenge,” George said. “They’re talented, no question. Last time we met in the playoffs we lost to them, 21-20, at our place, and now we get a two-hour drive down to the boardwalk for a rematch. We’re looking forward to the opportunity.”
Long Branch vs. Freehold Football
Long Branch 50, Freehold 12
|Long Branch (7-1)||7||15||21||7||50|
LB – Jayden Farmer 25-yard pass from Christian Rodriguez (Wesley Garcia kick)
LB – Sekou Kamau 2-yard run (Christian Rodriguez run)
LB – Mike Hall 60-yard pass from Christian Rodriguez (Wesley Garcia kick)
F – Yah-Sin Calhoun 33-yard run (pass failed)
LB – Ka'Jion Thorne 47-yard pass from Christian Rodriguez (Wesley Garcia kick)
LB – Josh Vann 1-yard blocked punt return (Wesley Garcia kick)
F – Christian DaSilva 28-yard pass from Spencer Rushton (pass failed)
LB – Zaheem Brown 58-yard run (Wesley Garcia kick)
LB – Zaheem Brown 10-yard run (Wesley Garcia kick)
RUSHING – F: Yah-Sin Calhoun 10-76, Gavyn Golub 4-13, Kamore Gill 4-8, Spencer Rushton 7-4, Matt Guiffrida 1-(-14); LB: Zaheem Brown 5-72, Sekou Kamau 11-54, Christian Rodriguez 6-13, Mike Hall 1-2, Ka’Jion Thorne 1-1, Team 1-(-6).
PASSING – F: Spencer Rushton 5-8-0 64, Kamore Gill 0-1-0 0; LB: Christian Rodriguez 10-15-0 225.
RECEIVING – F: Christian DaSilva 1-28, Michael Bickerton 1-23, Kayden Hutchinson 1-9, Kamore Gill 1-8, Yah-Sin Calhoun 1-(-4); LB: Ka’Jion Thorne 5-114, Mike Hall 1-60, Shamar Williams 3-26, Jayden Farmer 1-25.