TOMS RIVER – Last week it was Toms River North’s defense picking up the slack and bring home a tight victory with clutch plays down the stretch. On Friday night, the Mariners’ offense picked up the check to deliver a critical division victory.

Junior quarterback Jake Kazanowsky threw for 257 yards and four touchdowns and a trio of juniors – Zach Goodale, Zach Browne and Jordan Grey – had breakout games as the Mariners, ranked No. 7 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, held on for a wild 42-40 Shore Conference American Division victory over No. 8 Manalapan.

Toms River North looked to have the game in hand when Kazanowsky threw a 65-yard touchdown pass to Browne to forge a 42-20 lead with 10:53 left in the game, but Manalapan scored two touchdowns in nine seconds, then scored again with five minutes to play to pull within two points. The Braves needed a two-point conversion to tie the game, however, and the Mariners forced an incomplete pass to stay in front. Toms River North’s defense then came up with another critical stop to force a turnover on downs with under a minute to play to seal the win.

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“We always have to have each other’s back, whether it’s the offense or the defense picking each other up,” Kazanowsky said. “We’re confident our defense is going to play well but if they give up 40 points we’ll be right there to score more than that.”

“It was the opposite (of Week 1’s 17-12 win over Southern Regional),” said Toms River North head coach Dave Oizerowitz. “And (the offense) salted the game away at the end, which they couldn’t do last week. That’s the positive, seeing our offense up in a tight game with momentum swinging against us and we were able to dig in and get a first down when we needed it to end the game. We didn’t want to give (Manalapan) any more chances.”

Manalapan was on fire in the fourth quarter, scoring 20 points in a six-minute span to erase a big deficit. Long drives were Manalapan’s forte through the first three quarters, but when the Braves needed to score quickly senior quarterback Sean Kehley was able to lead them down the field through the air.

The Braves’ rally began with a 7-play, 78-yard scoring drive that concluded with a 1-yard touchdown run by fullback Andrew Gritsiuk. The entire drive went through the passing game prior to the touchdown run with Kehley connecting with Matt Benedetti for 14 yards, Anthony Matrone for 21 yards, Paul Wojciechowski for six and 14 yards and Matrone for 20 more yards to move the ball to the 1-yard line.

Manalapan then executed a successful onside kick, which appeared to catch Toms River North off guard. Kicker Vin Rea recovered his own kick to give Manalapan the ball at the Mariners’ 47-yard line. On the next play, Kehley hit Wojciechowski down the visiting sideline for a 47-yard touchdown pass. Rea’s extra point cut Toms River North’s lead to 42-34 with 8:15 left in the game.

The Braves were feeling it now, and the defense did its part by stopping Manalapan three-and-out. Nick Cavallaro delivered a clutch sack on second down to force third-and-12. Manalapan got the ball back at its own 33-yard line with 6:28 on the clock and wasted no time getting back into the end zone. Senior running back Andre Johnson broke a 60-yard run down to the 2-yard line and Raymond Vender punched it in on the next play. All that was left to do was convert the 2-point conversion and complete the unlikely rally.

This is where Toms River North’s defense made the first of its two crucial stops. Kehley moved out of the pocket trying to find an open receiver, but his pass to the end zone fell incomplete. The Mariners had survived – for now.

Trailing 42-20, Manalapan linebacker Matt Sadler came up with a tackle for loss on third down to force Toms River North to punt again. The Braves had a chance to take the lead starting from their own 30-yard line with 2:57 on the clock.

After a five-yard run by Johnson on first down, a false start penalty pushed them back to the 30 on a second-and-10. Senior defensive lineman Myron Ford pressured Kehley on second down, hitting him as he threw and allowing Ray Carlson to nearly intercept the pass. On third down, Kehley scrambled away from pressure and connected with a receiver for first-down yardage, but a flag was thrown as Kehley was ruled to be over the line of scrimmage. The 5-yard penalty and loss of down brought up a fourth-and-15 from the 25-yard line, and Kehley’s heave downfield was knocked away.

Manalapan burned its final timeout on Toms River North’s ensuing play, but on second down Grey ran for 13 yards and a first down to allow the Mariners to run out the clock and escape with the victory.

It was a big night for Toms River North’s offense, which gained 438 yards to bounce back from a sluggish performance in Week 1. Browne caught four passes for 139 yards and touchdowns of 40 and 65 yards, Goodale caught two passes for 101 yards and touchdowns of 33 and 68 yards and Grey stepped in for injured starter Jarrod Pruitt and ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. Toms River North’s offensive line was excellent, as well, giving Kazanowsky ample time to go through his progressions.

“It was good to see all three step into the forefront because we know how good they are,” Oizerowitz said. “We haven’t had to call upon them yet in these big games but with Pruitt going down and (Manalapan) playing bracket coverage on Dominick (Jacob) those guys had to step up.”

“The one thing about Kazanowsky is he will find the open guy. If we give him time like we did most of the game he can spin it as good as anybody in the Shore. He puts the ball right on the money.”

Toms River North opened the game with a 6-play, 80-yard scoring drive. A nice one-handed catch by Browne moved the ball to midfield and four plays later Kazanowsky found him for a 40-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Manalapan then went three-and-out and senior Matt Spalletta blocked the punt to give Toms River North the ball at the Braves’ 26-yard line. On the next play, Grey broke free for a 26-yard touchdown run. The extra point was blocked.

After the teams traded punts, Manalapan got on the board with a 14-play, 79-yard drive. It was a methodical march with the longest gain being a 12-yard reception by Johnson. On third-and-9 from the 11-yard line, Kehley connected with Benedetti, a senior tight end, for a touchdown to cut Toms River North’s lead to 13-7.

Toms River North fumbled on the next series when the snap hit the man in motion and was recovered by Hayden Hess. On the next play, Kehley found Benedetti for a 24-yard touchdown and Rea’s extra point gave Manalapan a 14-13 edge.

The teams traded punts once more before Toms River North’s offense got back into gear. Runs of 12 and 15 yards by Kazanowsky moved the ball into Manalapan territory and on second down from the 33-yard line Kazanowsky hit Goodale on a crossing route and the junior did the rest for his first varsity touchdown. Spalletta then ran in the 2-point conversion to put the Mariners up, 21-14.

Manalapan was driving on the next series but Goodale intercepted Kehley along the home sideline at the TRN 32-yard line. On the next offensive play (sensing a theme?), Goodale got behind the defense and Kazanowsky hit him in stride for a 65-yard touchdown and a 28-14 halftime lead.

Manalapan began the third quarter with a mammoth 13-play, 80-yard scoring drive that chewed over seven minutes off the clock. Vender delivered a clutch 20-yard run on fourth-and-4 from the 26-yard line and three plays later Kehley hooked up with Benedetti for the third time, this one from three yards out, for a touchdown that cut North’s lead to 28-20. The extra point was low and blocked, which would prove to be crucial late in the game.

Toms River North responded right away with a 5-play, 75-yard scoring drive to take a 35-20 lead. Spalletta entered at quarterback in a Wildcat formation and broke off a 40-yard run down to the 16-yard line. Two plays later, Grey scored from 11 yards.

Manalapan drove to Toms River North’s 34-yard line on its next series, but on fourth-and-2 a host of Mariners defenders stuffed Johnson for a short gain to turn the ball over on downs. Two plays later, Kazanowsky went up top to Browne for a 65-yard touchdown and a 42-20 advantage.

Toms River North looked well on its way to a victory, and while the Mariners did come away with their third victory in as many weeks, the next 10 minutes were anything but easy.

“Of course we were a little awestruck but at the end of the day it wasn’t over so we had to keep our heads up and come back out and get that W,” Kazanowsky said.

 

Box Score

ManalapanToms River North
First downs2214
Rushes-yards37-20525-181
Passing16-25-18-11-0
Passing yards232257
Fumbles-lost0-01-1
Penalties-yards6-306-40

 

1234F
Manalapan01462040
Toms River North13157742

 

Scoring summary

TRN – Zach Browne 40-yard pass from Jake Kazanowsky (Justin Burkert kick)

TRN – Jordan Grey 26-yard run (kick blocked)

M – Matt Benedetti 11-yard pass from Sean Kehley (Vin Rea kick)

M – Matt Benedetti 24-yard pass from Sean Kehley (Vin Rea kick)

TRN – Zach Goodale 33-yard pass from Jake Kazanowsky (Matt Spalletta run)

TRN – Zach Goodale 68-yard pass from Jake Kazanowsky (Justin Burkert kick)

M – Matt Benedetti 4-yard pass from Sean Kehley (kick blocked)

TRN – Jordan Grey 11-yard run (Justin Burkert kick)

TRN – Zach Browne 65-yard pass from Jake Kazanowsky (Justin Burkert kick)

M – Andrew Gritsiuk 1-yard run (Vin Rea kick)

M – Paul Wojciechowski 47-yard pass from Sean Kehley (Vin Rea kick)

M – Raymond Vender 2-yard run (pass failed)

 

Individual statistics

RUSHING – M: Andre Johnson 32-175, Raymond Vender 4-29, Andrew Gritsiuk 1-1; TRN: Jordan Grey 14-106, Matt Spalletta 3-41, Jake Kazanowsky 5-33, Jarrod Pruitt 2-6, Zach Brown 1-(-5).

PASSING – M: Sean Kehley 16-25-1 232; TRN: Jake Kazanowsky 8-11-0 257.

RECEIVING – M: Paul Wojciechowski 4-67, Anthony Matrone 3-66, Matt Benedetti 5-61, Chris Marzo 1-13, Andre Johnson 1-12, Andrew Gritsiuk 1-7, Jake Freedman 1-6; TRN: Zach Brown 4-139, Zach Goodale 2-101, Dominick Jacob 1-13, Jaiden Fraser 1-4.

INTERCEPTIONS – TRN: Zach Goodale 1-0.

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.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.

 

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