Jackson Memorial Edges Middletown South to Win First CJ Group IV Title Since 2005
PISCATAWAY - A Jackson Memorial team whose rise to No. 1 few saw coming in the preseason ended its first state championship season since 2005 by sniffing out a play almost no one saw coming in the final seconds at High Point Solutions Stadium on Saturday night.
Listen to the game broadcast at the end of this report
With one of the best kickers in the state, Middletown South junior Matt Mosquera, lining up for a potentially game-tying 34-yard field goal in the rain at Rutgers University, the Eagles instead elected to go for a fake. Holder Nolan Pereless picked up the snap and rolled to his right, but Jackson defensive linemen Austin Ostrander and Brody Graham were not fooled as they bore down on Pereless. He threw a wobbly pass intended for junior Dylan Rogers that fell incomplete as Jaguars linebacker Cole Collins dove to disrupt the throw and seal a 21-18 thriller that gave Jackson Memorial the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV title.
One play earlier, the Jaguars had blocked a 39-yard field goal attempt by Mosquera, but the officials threw a flag believing Jackson had 12 men on the field, although the flag was later waved off because it was determined it did not. However, the Jaguars then did line up with 12 men on the field as Mosquera lined up for another try, pushing it five yards closer as a result of the penalty, before the Eagles decided to go for the fake.
"We expected it,'' Graham said. "We got through pretty easily that first time, and I don't think they were very confident they could block us a second time, so we expected the fake. We were ready for it."
"(I was surprised at the fake call) a little bit,'' said Jaguars head coach Walt Krystopik. "They have an excellent kicker and to be able to go into overtime with him, I think it would've been a sure thing if they got another shot at it, but I'm glad they didn't."
Mosquera had tied the single-season Shore Conference record with his 14th field goal, a 28-yarder, earlier in the game, and has only missed one field goal in his two varsity seasons.
"We didn't come here to lose,'' said Middletown South head coach Steve Antonucci. "We came here to win a football game, hence the (fake) play. They blocked the last one. We figured they had everybody coming again.
"The tight end (Pat Crowe) was wide open in the back of the end zone, we just couldn't get the ball off. I took a shot. It's on me. Maybe I'm a little reckless, I don't know, but I'm proud of these kids and I'm proud of how they played here today. We didn't quit. That's a good football team. They're going to end up the No. 1 team in the Shore, and we were right there with them, and that says a lot about us."
"I thought they were going to go for a tie,'' said Jackson's Kyle Johnson, who had a touchdown catch in the win. "That kicker was like one short of breaking a (Shore Conference) record or something. I was just shocked."
Jackson's front seven remained alert, noting that Middletown South had executed a fake punt only a week earlier to seal a win over Middletown North on Thanksgiving and looking for any tendencies like Pereless wearing one glove instead of two as the holder on the second attempt.
"We blocked the first one, so the chances are very high of us blocking the second one,'' said Jackson senior linebacker Zach Tetro, who had two sacks in the win. "Brody was right there, and we've seen plenty of film of them trying fakes left and right, so we were prepared for it."
The Jaguars (11-1), who will finish ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, were holding on for dear life at that point as the Eagles' defense became the first unit all season to shut out Jackson Memorial's high-octane unit for a half. It looked in the early going that the Jaguars might run away with it, as sophomore tailback Mike Gawlik got things started with a 55-yard touchdown run on the third play from scrimmage in the game for a 7-0 lead on his way to 159 yards rushing on 30 carries to cap a brilliant season.
Middletown South then fumbled the ensuing kickoff and it was recovered by Jackson's Nick Papandrea at the Eagles' 21-yard line. After a holding penalty backed up the Jaguars, senior quarterback Joe DeMaio hit wideout Kyle Johnson on a post over the middle on third-and-20 for a 31-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
"That was huge,'' DeMaio said. "We always get off to big starts, and that run (by Gawlik) gave us immediate life. The second half we came out flat and they took it to us, but the defense helped us finish it."
The Eagles, who are now 0-5 in their last five state final appearances, answered with a nine-play, 51-yard drive that culminated in Mosquera's field goal to cut it to 14-3 with 6:06 left in the first quarter. Both defenses tightened before the Jaguars were able to mount one more scoring drive before the half that proved to be huge.
They marched 50 yards in seven plays, scoring on a 13-yard run by DeMaio on a zone read play for a 21-3 lead that they took into halftime. In the process, they also set the single-season school record for points with 423 this fall, besting the mark of 403 set by the undefeated 2001 team that finished No. 1 in New Jersey.
"The coaches did a great job with that playcall because we haven't run that (play) much this season,'' DeMaio said about his touchdown run. "It wasn't much on film. We broke a lot of our tendencies."
With Middletown South looking dead in the water, sophomore Maxx Imsho gave the Eagles some life before the half when he squared up a Jaguars receiver for a monstrous hit that jarred the ball loose and led to an interception by sophomore teammate James McCarthy. While it didn't lead to any points, it gave the Eagles the spark they needed to roar back into the game in the second half. Middletown South tied a school record with six shutouts this season, and its defense would not be scored upon again while facing a team that averaged 35.2 points per game this season.
Jackson looked like it might put the game away in the third quarter with a 14-play, 43-yard drive that took 8:13 off the clock, but the Eagles defense came up with a huge stop when they stuffed Gawlik for no gain on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line with 2:05 left in the period. Three plays later, Mosquera lofted a pass deep downfield to wideout Tom Marron, who won a jump ball with a Jackson defender and took off for a 96-yard touchdown that dramatically reversed the momentum and cut Jackson's lead to 21-10 with 41 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Eagles kept coming as the defense, which was led by a sensational game by junior linebacker Dylan Rogers (23 tackles), forced a three-and-out. Two plays later, junior tailback Cole Rogers exploded down the sideline for a 79-yard touchdown that was part of a 157-yard rushing night. Spencer Pereless then ran in a two-point conversion that had the Eagles' faithful roaring as it trimmed the lead to 21-18 with 10:52 left in the game.
"They have too much championship pedigree,'' Krystopik said of Middletown South. "They've been in these finals 11 of the past 14 years, so you knew they were not going to flinch when they got behind."
Jackson's defense then rose to the occasion after another three-and-out by the offense, forcing the Eagles to punt after Tyler Towns tackled Mosquera for a short gain on third down. The Jaguars were able to kill some clock with three first downs on their ensuing drive, including an 18-yard run by DeMaio, but the Eagles' defense held to get the offense the ball back at their own 13-yard line with 3:19 left in the game.
Mosquera found Spencer Pereless for a 37-yard gain to midfield on the first play and then Mosquera ran for another first down to keep the chains moving. McCarthy, who came in at tailback after Rogers had to be carried off the field with an injury on Middletown South's previous possession, followed by breaking off a 17-yard run to the Jackson 21-yard line. However, Tetro came up with a huge play when he sacked Mosquera for a nine-yard loss to add more distance to a potential field goal try. That set up the final sequence of events that ended with the Jaguars' fourth state title in history.
"That's just how Jackson football is played,'' Tetro said. "You fight to the last whistle."
"We're a really mentally tough team,'' Graham said. "We made some mistakes and gave up big plays in the second half, but we fought back and came out on top."
Now the Jaguars will finish No. 1 in the Shore for the first time since back-to-back undefeated seasons in 2000-01. They ended a 40-game winning streak against the Shore by Non-Public Group III finalist Red Bank Catholic during the regular season and rose to the top despite finishing second in their own division to Brick, who they later destroyed 44-0 in the sectional semifinals.
"It's nuts,'' Tetro said. "We haven't been this highly-ranked since '05, one of the greatest teams to ever come out of Jackson. We just look up to them and want to match their accomplishments."
Jackson Memorial 21, Middletown South 18
. J M
First downs 15 11
Rushes-yards 48-215 28-185
Passing 6-12-1 6-15-0
Passing yards 77 158
Penalties 7-50 2-10
Fumbles-lost 1-0 3-2
Jackson Mem. (11-1) 14 7 0 0 - 21
Midd. South (9-3) 3 0 7 8 - 18
J: Gawlik 55-yard run (Calhoun kick).
J: Johnson 31-yard pass from DeMaio (Calhoun kick).
M: Mosquera 28-yard field goal.
J: DeMaio 13-yard run (Calhoun kick).
M: Marron 96-yard pass from Mosquera (Mosquera kick).
M: C. Rogers 79-yard run (S. Pereless run).
Rushing - J: Gawlik 30-159, DeMaio 10-38, Castronuova 3-14, Johnson 1-4, Lee 3-2. M: C. Rogers 18-157, McCarthy 4-29, Mosquera 5-4.
Passing - J: DeMaio 6-12-1 77. M: Mosquera 6-14-0 158, N. Pereless 0-1-0 0.
Receiving - J: Castronuova 4-42, Johnson 1-31, Tetro 1-4. M: S. Pereless 3-51, Marron 2-105, Crowe 1-2.
Interceptions: M: McCarthy 1-13.
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Pre game and 1st Quarter