Hometown Heroes: No. 8 Marlboro shuts down No. 7 Jackson to clinch first division title since 1994
MARLBORO – Answering a question about his team’s fantastic defensive performance on Saturday afternoon, Marlboro senior Mike Consolazio caught himself mid-answer and issued an amendment to his original response.
“We know we have one of the best defenses in the Shore…we’re No. 1, actually. We are the No. 1 defense in the Shore,” Consolazio said.
Where the Mustangs rank in the Shore Conference’s defensive hierarchy is its own topic, but it was easy to understand his sentiment after the effort he and his teammates put forth in one of the biggest games in program history.
A 3-yard touchdown run in the third quarter by senior Matt Cassidy stood as the game’s only touchdown, and it was more than enough for Marlboro on a day when its defense shut down one of the top rushing attacks in the Shore Conference. Cassidy ran for 80 yards and a score, senior Luke Rubin kicked a 30-yard field goal, and Consolazio and senior defensive lineman Robert Kenyon helped lead a ferocious defense that sent the Mustangs, ranked No. 8 in the Shore Sports Network Shore 16, to an 11-2 victory over No. 7 Jackson Memorial.
The win pushed Marlboro’s record to 6-0 as one of just three remaining undefeated teams in the conference and clinched at least a share of the Freedom Division title. It is the program’s first division title of any kind since 1994 and just the second in program history. Marlboro can clinch the championship outright with a win over Middletown North in two weeks.
“It’s unreal,” Cassidy said. “We’ve been playing together since we were 6, 7, 8 years old. We were such a great group of kids when we were younger that if you told us that we would come here and win the division at Marlboro High School with all of us in the same spot we probably would have believed you. We were so close growing up and we knew we had the potential if we stuck together.”
“Since 1994 this program has been working to get back here and these past few years we’ve flipped everything,” Consolazio said. “These guys knew what we had to do in the offseason and we did it. We flipped the script.”
Jackson Memorial sophomore running back Jonah Glenn has emerged as one of the conference’s top ground threats this season and entered Saturday’s game with 998 yards rushing and nine touchdowns on an average of over nine yards per carry. He was coming off a career-high 274 yards rushing vs. Brick last week and had not been held under 125 yards this season. Marlboro shut him down to the tune of 44 yards rushing on 13 carries and yielded just 114 yards of total offense to the Jaguars. Consolazio had a sack and two tackles for loss, Kenyon had two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery, senior linebacker Anthony Tropeano had two hits for a loss or no gain, and senior defensive back Nick Scaff secured his third interception of the season.
“Jonah Glenn is a great running back and everybody knows that. He’s one of the top running backs in the Shore as a young kid,” Consolazio said. “But we knew what we could do and knew we could stop him. That’s just our defense.”
“We knew running the ball on both sides was going to be tough,” said Marlboro head coach Jason Dagato. “It was great defense vs. great defense and the whole Shore knew that. The plan was to be disciplined. If you’re undisciplined he can go the distance because he’s a threat every time he touches the ball. The key was to be disciplined and when you get your hands on him you have to stick to him and not let him break tackles.”
It was an ultra-physical, sometimes chippy game from start to finish. Every yard earned required ample sacrifice over self-preservation. There were just 10 total plays between both teams that gained 10 yards or more.
“It was the most physical game I’ve ever played in my life,” Consolazio said. “Those kids are strong and physical, but we just out-physicaled them.”
The only points of the first half came on a safety when a snap on a Marlboro punt sailed out of the end zone with 7:49 left in the first half. Marlboro had the best scoring opportunity through the first two quarters when it mounted a 12-play drive that started at its own 35-yard line, but senior quarterback Brayden Klein was stopped on a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
Jackson moved the ball out to its own 35-yard line but a tackle for loss on second down by Consolazio and a combined stop for no gain by Kenyon and senior linebacker Anthony Tropeano on third down forced the Jaguars to punt. Senior Jaiden Hernandez boomed a 64-yard kick that took a favorable bounce and was downed at the Marlboro 2-yard line. Jackson then forced a three-and-out that led to the safety.
Set to receive the second-half kickoff, Marlboro regrouped at the break and came out with the game’s only touchdown drive to begin the third quarter. Starting from their own 40-yard line, the Mustangs marched 60 yards in 11 plays and took an 8-3 lead on Cassidy’s 3-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal followed by Klein finding Consolazio for the 2-point conversion. The chain-moving play was the first snap of the quarter when sophomore quarterback Zach Caporale hit Consolazio for a 14-yard gain and a late-hit penalty on Jackson moved the ball to the Jaguars’ 31-yard line.
“We knew what we had to do, we just weren’t executing 100 percent,” Cassidy said. “Little stuff like not breaking down on our kickouts, having our head on the wrong side on kickouts, over-running the kickouts and pulls. We said if we fix that, we’re good. Our defense was playing strong. Those two points were unlucky but we couldn’t do anything about it. Credit Jonah because he’s a great player, but we covered him up today.”
Marlboro then forced a three-and-out thanks to a tackle for a one-yard loss by Consolazio on third-and-two. The Mustangs took over at their own 43-yard line after the punt and moved into Jackson territory after a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Jackson. Klein hit Sam Hirsch for eight yards to convert a fourth-and-seven and Cassidy ran for three yards to convert a third-and-two at the Jackson 19. The drive stalled but Rubin came out and drilled a 30-yard field goal into a steady breeze to extend Marlboro’s lead to 11-2 with just over nine minutes left.
Marlboro got the ball right back on the ensuing kickoff when junior Kam Nash made a fantastic play by recovering a mid-air fumble when two Jackson upmen tried to field a pooch kick by Rubin. The play was blown dead by rule once Nash came up with the ball, but Marlboro now had the ball at the Jackson 29-yard line already sitting on a nine-point lead.
After a 17-yard run by Cassidy down to the 12-yard line, Jackson’s defense buckled down and forced a turnover on downs. But even without points, Marlboro had chewed precious time off the clock with Jackson down by two scores. In fact, a combination of long drives by Marlboro, great defense, and the sudden change by Nash resulted in the Jaguars running just 11 offensive plays in the second half.
Marlboro’s offense was mostly done for the day with about five minutes left, but the defense still had three big plays left to close out a monumental victory. Kenyon recovered a fumble to stop Jackson���s next drive. Then it was junior defensive lineman Viacheslav Kostenko with a sack for a 10-yard loss that led to a turnover on downs. Finally, it was Scaff intercepting a trick play reverse pass with 30 seconds left.
When Klein took a knee to run out the remaining seconds, it signified Marlboro finally reaching a landmark on a journey that began when Dagato took over as the program’s head coach in 2013. The early years were tough; 2-8, 0-10, 1-9. Things slowly began to turn around with a few three- and four-win seasons but the team bottomed out again with a 1-6 record during the Covid-shortened 2020 season.
Everything began to change with a 7-3 record in 2021 - the program's first winning record since 1999 - and again last season when Marlboro began the season 3-0 and then won its final two regular-season games after injuries to key players led to a mid-season, three-game losing streak. The memorable 2022 campaign was highlighted by a thrilling playoff win over Washington Township before a loss to eventual Group 5 champion Toms River North.
As of Saturday night, Marlboro has equaled last season’s win total and guaranteed itself at least a share of a division title for the first time in 29 years. And the Mustangs aren’t done yet.
“It’s indescribable,” said Dagato, who was on staff as an assistant for five years before becoming the team’s head coach and has been a teacher in the district for his entire career. “Nothing I can say will truly put into words what this means. You’re not just talking about one season, you’re talking about a whole generation of getting to this point. As a coach, I’ve been doing this for a long time and this was the ultimate goal, to get to the point where we’re competing for championships.”
“Thinking back to those early days when it wasn’t pretty all the time and you have to find a way to have faith; you have to bring in people for your staff who want the challenge, you have to go into the community and talk to the kids about staying home and that the grass isn’t always greener. To their credit, these kids all bought in. It’s a group of friends that have been together for a long time. It’s been an amazing experience. This means a lot. It’s validation for a lot of people, myself included.”
“We’ve been so close for so long, hanging out since we were six to all the way here,” Cassidy said. “Getting Mike (Consolazio) back from RBC – he’s a Marlboro kid but went to RBC for baseball – was great. We’ve been friends with him our whole lives. Having kids you’re friends with your whole life and winning a division at our hometown school is unreal. There are no words to describe my emotions right now.”
There are plenty of words, however, to describe the 2023 Marlboro High School football team. Here's one to start with:
No. 8 Marlboro 11, No. 7 Jackson Memorial 2
|Jackson (5-1, 3-1)||0||2||0||0||2|
|Marlboro (6-0, 4-0)||0||0||8||3||11|
JM – Safety, ball snapped out of the end zone
M – Matt Cassidy 3-yard run (Brayden Klein pass to Mike Consolazio)
M – Luke Rubin 30-yard field goal
RUSHING – JM: Jonah Glenn 13-44, Albert D’Alessandro 2-11, Jaiden Hernandez 1-1, Nick Mauro 5-(-9); M: Matt Cassidy 34-80, Zach Caporale 3-20, Luke Houston 2-19, Mike Consolazio 2-5, Christian LaFonte 2-5, Brayden Klein 4-4.
PASSING – JM: Nick Mauro 4-11-0, 67; Joe Zundritch 0-1-1, 0; M: Brayden Klein 4-8-0, 44; Zach Caporale 1-1-0, 14.
RECEIVING – JM: Albert D’Alessandro 2-32, Shaun Hubbard 1-22, Nick Dos Santos 1-13; M: Sam Hirsch 3-34, Mike Consolazio 1-14, Luke Houston 1-10.
INTERCEPTIONS – M: Nick Scaff, 1-0.