HOLMDEL – A year ago at this time, Holmdel’s football team was 0-6 and missing its head coach on its way to a dismal one-win season.

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Turn the calendar forward 363 days, and the Hornets are 6-0 and just clinched at least a tie for their first division title in five years and the eighth in school history.

The biggest turnaround story in the Shore Conference this season wrote another remarkable chapter on Friday night when Holmdel routed visiting Ocean 30-0 for a school-record fourth straight shutout to clinch no worse than a tie for the Constitution Division crown. The Hornets (6-0, 4-0), ranked No. 10 in the Shore Sports Network Shore 16, can clinch the division all for themselves with a win over Shore Regional on Oct. 20 or a loss by Manasquan (3-3, 3-1) to Ocean on Oct. 21.

“This means a lot,” senior running back/safety Gary Collyer said. “We all want our senior year to be one to remember. We're leaving a stamp on the program, and hopefully it translates over the next four years of doing more big things.”

“We knew we were going to surprise some people,” senior defensive lineman Nick Bachmann said. “Every day in practice is a workday. We don’t take any days off. It translates to the field."

Holmdel head coach Jeff Rainess has the Hornets off to their best start in 15 years after missing much of last season with a serious health scare. (Photo by Scott Stump)
Holmdel head coach Jeff Rainess has the Hornets off to their best start in 15 years after missing much of last season with a serious health scare. (Photo by Scott Stump)

A major factor has been the return of eighth-year head coach Jeff Rainess, the architect of the revival at Holmdel. A serious medical issue sidelined Rainess for much of last season before he returned near the end.

“The first three weeks, you lose your head coach, and we had a lot of injuries,” Collyer said about last year. “It took its toll on the team.”

A year later, Rainess beamed as he watched his team’s raucous celebration in the locker room after the win over Ocean.

“It was very difficult last year,” Rainess said. “Now I’m very much trying to take a step back and enjoy the kids. The reason we do all this stuff is for the kids. To watch how excited they are, at the end of the day that's what we're here for.”

The Hornets' offseason dedication has also been a crucial aspect of their swift resurrection.

"We took the offseason very seriously, lifted every day, and made it mandatory," Collyer said. "We relied on our seniors, and we just wanted to work hard in the summer and go out and win every game."

Holmdel’s calling card has been a dominating defense under coordinator John Principe, which turned in another superlative effort at Bob Roggy Memorial Field on Friday night. The Hornets have only allowed 20 points all season, and none since Week Two. They have outscored their last four opponents 120-0.

“The kids are feeding off the energy of it, and we're trying to manage all that,” Rainess said about the shutout streak.

They stifled Ocean’s newly installed Wing-T offense to the tune of 52 total yards and five first downs, four of which came after Holmdel was up 30-0. By halftime, the Hornets had outgained the Spartans 177-4.

Bachmann had a tackle for a loss and a sack for a safety to lead the way against a Spartans team that scrapped its multiple spread midway through the season and switched to the Wing-T in a win over Raritan last week.

“We watched the film,” Bachmann said. “We read their offense like a book.”

Budding sophomore standout quarterback Jack Cannon had a pair of touchdown passes and a 75-yard touchdown run to lead a split back veer offense that rolled up 285 yards on the ground and 331 overall.

The Hornets dominated from the opening whistle, forcing a three-and-out to start the game and then marching 59 yards in 12 plays. They took a 7-0 lead on a 7-yard rumble up the middle by Collyer to cap a six-minute drive.

They made it 14-0 in the second quarter with a nine-play, 43-yard drive that featured a 20-yard catch and run by junior fullback Matt Iulo in which he pulled off a nice spin move to break free.


Three plays later, Cannon rolled out, pump faked and threw a 6-yard pass just before going out of bounds that wideout Nick Gomez caught while falling out of bounds himself with his toes dotting the end zone.

On Ocean’s ensuing possession, Bachmann swallowed up Spartans’ quarterback James Sobieski for a 10-yard loss on a sack in the end zone for a safety and a 16-0 advantage.

“Those were my first-ever points, so it was great,” a smiling Bachmann said.

Holmdel then mounted its most audacious drive of the game, which also illustrated its trust in its defense.

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The Hornets were lined up to punt from their own 32, but when Ocean lined up a specific way that Holmdel had seen on film, they decided to go for a fake punt even though it was fourth-and-25. They pulled it off when Brayden Savage took a direct snap and took off untouched for a 36-yard run to keep the drive alive.

Two plays later, Cannon hit senior Andrew Piscatelli with a short pass and he crashed his way into the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown and a 23-0 halftime lead.

Cannon then looked like he had been shot out of one when he sprinted 75 yards on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter to kill any lingering suspense for a 30-0 advantage.

The most impressive part of Holmdel is its balance. No one has any particularly eye-popping stats. Six different players had 30-plus yards rushing in the win over Ocean (3-3, 1-3), while the defense featured one different player after another making an impact.

“That's the thing I'm most proud of,” Rainess said. “Our brand of football is unselfish by nature. To watch the kids pull for each other – one kid's successful one week, another kid's successful the next week, and they don't really care who gets the credit.”

As far as the state playoffs are concerned, the Hornets are now second in the United Power Rankings in the South Group 3 region behind only Timber Creek. They already have a share of a division title on their resume, with a chance at the program’s first state sectional title looming in the distance.

First they have to tangle with Raritan in their Battle of the Border rivalry game next week and then face Shore a week later with a chance to seize the outright division title.

A team that entered the year as an afterthought is now a top 10 team in the Shore and off to a 6-0 start for the first time since starting 9-0 in 2007.

“The stakes get higher with every win we get, with every offense we shut out,” Bachmann said. “We've got to work harder every week.”


Box score

Holmdel 30, Ocean 0

.                                         H                  0

First downs                   17                  5

Rushes-yards             43-285          29-52

Passing                         4-5-0            0-1-0

Passing yards                46                 0

Penalties                   7-45                3-9

Fumbles-lost              3-1                 3-1


Ocean (3-3, 1-3)          0   0   0  0 – 0

Holmdel (6-0, 4-0)     7   16  7 0 – 30


Scoring summary

Collyer 7-yard run (Mendini kick).

Gomez 6-yard pass from Cannon (Mendini kick).

Bachmann tackled Sobieski in the end zone for a safety

Piscatelli 20-yard pass from Cannon (Mendini kick).

Cannon 75-yard run (Mendini kick).


Individual statistics

Rushing – H: Collyer 7-38, Todisco 6-30, Iulo 13-47, Cannon 6-77, Savage 1-36, Setteducate 6-43, Murphy 3-4, Taskier 1-10. O: Iacouzzi 6-25, Sobieski 10-(-12), Staten 3-(-6), Volek 5-0, Billows 1-15, Poniros 4-30.

Passing – H: Cannon 4-5-0 46. O: Staten 0-1-0 0.

Receiving – H: Piscatelli 2-20, Iulo 1-20, Gomez 1-6. O: None.

Interceptions – None.

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