JACKSON — One week after a ground-shaking victory that catapulted Jackson Memorial to the top spot in the Shore Conference, the Jaguars made sure there would be no letdown on the first leg of their championship quest.

Junior running back Vinny Lee ran for 148 yards and three touchdowns and sophomore running back Mike Gawlik added 119 yards and two touchdowns as the third-seeded Jaguars cruised to a 45-7 victory over sixth-seeded Middletown North on Friday night in the first round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV playoffs.

“We put in a really tough week of practice and really pushed ourselves,” said senior defensive end/tight end Brody Graham. “You can’t overlook anyone. This team (Middletown North) made it to the playoffs and is a good team. If you’re not ready they’ll roll on you.”

Jackson (9-1) took a 14-0 lead just over three minutes into the game, and after the Loins (6-3) cut the lead in half, the Jaguars scored 31 unanswered points to advance to the semifinals against second-seeded Brick. The Dragons defeated seventh-seeded Princeton 48-12 to set up a rematch of the teams’ overtime classic from earlier this year, won by Brick, 30-24.

It was clear it was going to be Jackson’s night early on. On the second play of the game, Gawlik ran for a 61-yard touchdown that was called back because of a block in the back. No matter, because on the next play he broke free on a 55-yard touchdown for a 7-0 Jaguars lead just 47 seconds into the game.

After forcing Middletown North to go three-and-out on its first possession, the Jaguars hit another big play that was called back. Senior wide receiver Matt Castronuova took a jet sweep for a 49-yard touchdown that was nullified by a holding penalty. This time it took Jackson just two plays to made up for the error. Senior wide receiver Kyle Johnson made a juggling catch on a 44-yard pass from senior quarterback Joe DeMaio, and on the next play Lee scored from 15 yards out to make it 14-0.

The Jaguars’ few lapses came late in the first quarter, allowing Middletown North to cut its deficit in half. A 69-yard run by senior tight end Troy Thompson on a reverse brought the ball to Jackson’s 10-yard line, and although it seemed an offensive pass interference penalty had taken away the Lions’ chance at finding the end zone, sophomore quarterback Donald Glenn was able to find junior running back Chad Freshnock for a 24-yard score on third-and-goal with 3:07 left in the first quarter.

“I think right there the team settled down a bit and just figured it was going to keep rolling the way it was,” said Jackson head coach Walt Krystopik. “Give Middletown North credit. They fought and made some nice plays, but our kids responded well.”

“It showed us that they were here to play,” Graham said. “We had to get our heads right again. We couldn’t just let the game go. We had to finish.”

Jackson responded with a 64-yard drive that culminated in a Jared Calhoun 28-yard field goal for a 17-7 lead. The Lions started their next drive at their own 40, and after a 12-yard run by Freshnock and a holding penalty against Jackson on third down, they were down to the Jaguars’ 36-yard line. On second-and-11, Glenn was forced out of the pocket and scrambled right toward the visiting sideline. His pass was intercepted by Curet, who returned it 51 yards to the Middletown North 19-yard line. The Jaguars then converted a fourth-and-two from the 11-yard line before DeMaio scored on a four-yard run to open a 24-7 lead.

“That swung the momentum right back for us,” Krystopik said. “It was a very big play.”

“It was a drive-killer,” DeMaio said. “To get an interception like that and give our offense a short field, it was perfect.”

The Lions then had a quick three-and-out to give Jackson the ball back with 1:38 left in the first half. That was plenty of time for the Jaguars’ dynamic offense. On the first play, DeMaio lofted a pass for Castronuova that he caught for a 45-yard gain down to the four-yard line. Lee scored on the next play to give the Jags a 31-7 halftime lead.

Middletown North started the second half with the ball at its own 28-yard line, and drove all the way to the Jackson six over 12 plays that consumed over seven minutes of clock. But on fourth-and-goal from the six, Glenn was sacked by Graham for a seven-yard loss to end the threat.

“(Middletown North’s) offensive line did a great job all game.” Krystopik said. “We were sending four and five guys and they were stoning us. But our guys, at that moment, took charge and shut it down.”

On the first play after the turnover on downs, Lee stepped out of a pair of tackles and raced into the open field on an 87-yard touchdown for a 38-7 lead.

An interception by Gawlik on the ensuing drive set up his own 25-yard touchdown run to give Jackson a 45-7 lead and cap the scoring.

Now the Jaguars get the rematch they had been hoping for since Brick walked off Munley Field with a 30-24 overtime win on October 4.

“It’s Jackson vs. Brick; enough said right there,” Krystopik said. “After that tough loss the kids really wanted that. I told them it’s very rare in high school sports you get a chance to redeem yourselves, and you have to make the most of it.”

“Ever since that game, that feeling, you don’t want to feel that again.” Graham said. “In high school football a lot of the time you don’t get a second chance. This is ours and we have to take it.”


Box Score

3-Jackson Memorial 45, 6-Middletown North 7


Middletown NorthJackson Memorial
First downs1212
Passing yards81107


Middletown North (6-3)  7    0   0 0 –   7

Jackson Memorial (9-1) 14 17 14 0 – 45


Scoring summary

JM – Mike Gawlik 55-yard run (Jared Calhoun kick)

JM – Vinny Lee 15-yard run (Jared Calhoun kick)

MN – Donald Glenn 24-yard pass to Chad Freshnock (Nick Banta kick)

JM – Jared Calhoun 28-yard field goal

JM – Joe DeMaio 4-yard run (Jared Calhoun kick)

JM – Vinny Lee 4-yard run (Jared Calhoun kick)

JM – Vinny Lee 87-yard run (Jared Calhoun kick)

JM – Mike Gawlik 25-yard run (Jared Calhoun kick)



Individual statistics

Rushing – MN: Chad Freshnock 19-73, Troy Thompson 1-69, Jordan Pitts 1-5, Donald Glenn 5-(-7); JM: Vinny Lee 10-148, Mike Gawlik 12-119, Joe DeMaio 5-4, Cole Collins 2-4, Zack Lubertazzi 1-0, Connor Testa 1-0.

Passing – MN: Donald Glenn 13-25-2 81; JM: Joe DeMaio 4-7-0 107, A.J. Tolmachewich 0-1-0 0.

Receiving – MN: Chad Freshnock 4-40, Jordan Pitts 8-34, Troy Thompson 1-7; JM: Matt Castronuova 1-45, Kyle Johnson 1-44, Brody Graham 1-9, Cole Collins 1-9.

Interceptions – JM: Aaron Curet 1-51, Mike Gawlik 1-0.