POINT PLEASANT BOROUGH - After Lakewood had returned a fumble by quarterback James Fara for a touchdown to take the lead in the second half on Friday night, the Point Boro junior was determined to make it up to his teammates.

At a critical juncture in a game that looks to go a long way toward deciding the Class B South title, Fara and junior running back Tanner Gordon helped the Panthers roar right back with a crucial 72-yard scoring drive to ultimately power a 26-16 win at Al Saner Field.

Point Boro quarterback James Fara and running back Tanner Gordon combined for 280 yards rushing and all four touchdowns to help the Panthers knock off Lakewood.

"I was a little rattled (after the fumble) because I saw (a receiver) wide open before I got hit,'' Fara said. "I went up to my line and freaked out at first. I said I was sorry and said we just had to get back out there and keep pounding.

"We were a little cocky coming out of halftime, but we backed it up. We didn't just fall apart when they took the lead, we came out and proved we're a second-half team."

Fara continued his brilliant debut season running Point Boro's triple option with 178 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 29 carries, while Gordon added 102 yards rushing and a touchdown on 18 carries. The win gave the Panthers (6-0, 5-0) sole possession of first place in the division as they try to repeat as champs after sharing the title with Lakewood (4-1, 4-1) last season.

"We came into this season as the underdogs because we graduated a lot of seniors,'' senior offensive lineman Aidan Connolly said. "But we're taking care of it."

The Panthers delivered a championship response after Fara took a blindside hit from Lakewood's Adi Palmer, which sent a fumble directly into the arms of Piners linebacker Jahsir Cooper, who returned it 24 yards for a touchdown. After quarterback Zyhier Jones ran in the two-point conversion, Lakewood had a 16-14 advantage with 1:28 left in the third quarter.

Point Boro responded with an 8-play, 72-yard drive that began with a 21-yard burst by Gordon and ended with a 15-yard touchdown run by Gordon on third down. That provided the Panthers with a 20-16 lead with 11:54 left in the game after a two-point conversion run was stuffed.

"The character of our kids is unbelievable,'' Point Boro head coach Matt Cilento said. "They don't back down. We bend sometimes, but we don't break on either side of the ball."

The momentum then stayed in the Panthers' favor for good when junior Trevor McNamara drew a roar from the home crowd when he recovered a fumble at Lakewood's 25-yard line on the ensuing kickoff. Seven plays later, Fara plowed in from three yards out to finally give Point Boro some breathing room and a 10-point lead with 7:53 left in the game.

"Momentum is one of the biggest parts of football, and (McNamara) giving us that momentum allowed us to win the game,'' Gordon said.

McNamara's fumble recovery was one of three turnovers Point Boro came up with in the win, which also included an interception by sophomore Kyle Komanitsky with 3:44 left in the game that helped seal the victory.

"We didn't execute our offense,'' Lakewood coach L.J. Clark said. "We should be able to score more than one offensive touchdown. Give credit to (Point Boro). We stopped them enough to do what our offense needed to do, but we just didn't execute."

Point Boro's offensive line of junior center Gabe Fattizzi, Connolly and senior Joey Hynes at guard, and tackles Justin Rafi and Conor Landis set the tone for a productive night from the opening kickoff. The Panthers began the game with a 12-play, 60-yard scoring drive for a 7-0 lead.

Fara only completed one pass on three attempts in the game, but it was an important one as he hit senior wideout Hayden Frey for a 19-yard catch and run on fourth-and-12 to set up his own 1-yard touchdown plunge.

"We just had to score on that opening drive and be the first to put points up on the board in a game like this,'' Connolly said.

Lakewood responded with a 9-play, 77-yard drive that culminated with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Jones to his brother, Jyhier Jones, for an 8-7 lead after Zyhier Jones ran in the two-point conversion.

The lead then swung back to the Panthers after a 30-yard kickoff return by Gordon put them in business at the 50-yard line. A brilliant 45-yard run by Fara in which he broke multiple tackles set up his own 1-yard touchdown run for a 14-8 advantage with 10:40 left in the second quarter.

That's the way the score would remain at halftime, as Nate Chiarello picked off a pass by Jones to kill Lakewood's ensuring drive, and then the Piners' Honore Richardson returned the favor on Point Boro's final possession of the half.

Lakewood then took the third-quarter lead on Cooper's fumble return, but Point Boro responded definitively. The Panthers did not attempt a pass in the second half, racking up 140 yards rushing after the break by using Gordon, who had 79 second-half yards, to attack the outside.

"We went outside and they just couldn't stop it,'' Fara said. "We just kept going opposite of 45 (Josh Lezin) because that kid's a beast."

"We need to hold on to the ball offensively,'' Cilento said. "We've got kids who can grind it out. I can't be more proud of Tanner Gordon, James Fara and our offensive line for getting it done for us."

The victory not only gives them command of the division race, it also nets the Panthers haul of power points in their bid for a top-three seed in Central Jersey Group II.

"Right now this puts us in the driver's seat in B South, and I'm really proud of this team,'' Fara said.

Twitter: @Scott_Stump

Email: stump@allshoremedia.com

Box score

Pt. Boro 26, Lakewood 16

.                                        P                    L

First downs                    16                  9

Rushes-yards          50-278            24-108

Passing                    1-3-1                8-21-2

Passing yards              19                 123

Fumbles-lost                  3-2                6-1

Penalties                     10-60              6-27

Lakewood (4-1, 4-1)   8  0  8  0  -  16

Pt. Boro (6-0, 5-0)       7   7  0  12 - 26

Scoring summary

P: Fara 1-yard run (Chiarello kick).

L: J. Jones 20-yard pass from Z. Jones (Z. Jones run).

P: Fara 1-yard run (Chiarello kick).

L: Cooper 24-yard fumble return (Z. Jones run).

P: Gordon 15-yard run (run failed).

P: Fara 3-yard run (run failed).

Individual statistics

Rushing - P: Fara 29-178, Gordon 18-102, Rossi 3-(-2). L: Z. Jones 16-45, Jenkins 5-57, Cooper 3-6.

Passing - P: Fara 1-3-1 19. L: Z. Jones 8-21-2 123.

Receiving - P: Frey 1-19. L: Jenkins 4-52, Palmer 2-44, J. Jones 2-27.

Interceptions - P: Chiarello 1-27, Komanitsky 1-5. L: Richardson 1-30.