Long Branch rallies past Shawnee in South Group 4 Bowl Game
EAST RUTHERFORD – Long Branch has the state’s leading rusher and a shutdown defense, but the Green Wave’s best and most important trait is an intangible that does not show up in the box score. With that in mind, it was only fitting the way the final game of a historic season unfolded.
Down by three scores late in the first half, Long Branch rallied with 20 unanswered points to defeat Shawnee, 20-17, in the NJSIAA Central/South Group 4 Bowl Game on Saturday night at MetLife Stadium. A 20-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback to Marc Dennis to senior wide receiver Matt Clarke with seven minutes left in the third quarter completed the comeback and Long Branch’s defense did the rest to give the Green Wave a program-record 12th victory.
“Our big thing all year was to overcome adversity,” Dennis said. “When things didn’t go the way we wanted we just had to bounce back. Before the third quarter, I brought everybody in and said ‘Don’t look at the scoreboard one more time’. The game wasn’t over no matter what the score was.”
"This isn't a word I've used to talk about a team, but these guys really love each other, love their coaches," said Long Branch head coach Dan George. "They have a chemistry about them where they never die."
Dennis threw for 135 yards and a touchdown and junior running back Jermaine Corbett ran for 85 yards and two touchdowns. Corbett eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark on the season, joining his brother, Dahmiere Willis, as the only Long Branch players to reach 2,000 yards rushing in a season. Corbett concluded the season with a state-best 2,021 yards along with 26 touchdowns (31 total).
On paper, this was a matchup Long Branch should have had no problem with. The Green Wave entered the game 11-1 with their only loss coming to undefeated Non-Public Group 3 champion Red Bank Catholic. Shawnee was just 6-6 and needed a Thanksgiving win over Lenape to get to .500. But George knew better. Since entering the playoffs at 2-6, the Renegades, sparked by a change at quarterback, had four won straight games to repeat as South Jersey Group 4 champions.
“We’re playing a team with six losses, but it’s Shawnee,” said George, who emphasized his respect for the eight-time sectional champions. “We were the sixth top-35 team on their schedule, so they’ve played everybody.”
Shawnee jumped on Long Branch early and often in a first half they mostly dominated. The Renegades opened the game with a 9-play, 77-yard drive and took a 7-0 lead on a 17-yard touchdown run by senior Joe Dalsey.
Long Branch tried to author a response on its first possession but was stopped on three straight plays. Zahdierr Blueford extended the drive when he fielded a low snap on a punt and took off for 21 yards, but the drive was halted when Dennis was sacked on fourth down at the Shawnee 16-yard line.
Starting from its own 26-yard line, Shawnee drove 74 yards in eight plays to take a 14-0 lead. Dalsey had runs of 10 and 18 yards before catching a 14-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Matt Welsey.
Late in the first half, the Renegades drove inside the Long Branch 20-yard line and extended their lead to 17-0 when Dalsey connected on a 31-yard field goal. Not much was going right for Long Branch and the game was in danger of becoming out of reach.
Enter Jayon Farrar.
Farrar, a sophomore wide receiver, returned the ensuing kickoff to the Shawnee 40-yard line to ignite a quick scoring drive that changed the complexion of the game. Long Branch went to a no-huddle offense and quickly moved into scoring position as Dennis hit Farrar for five yards, then found Corbett for 16 yards and Clark for 13 yards. Corbett then followed senior lineman Kevin Cerruti around the right end for a 6-yard touchdown with 1:10 left in the half. Just like that, Long Branch was back in the game.
“Jayon, we call him the little spark plug,” Dennis said. “He’s just a sophomore and he’s been waiting all year to have his moment, and I think today was his best game.”
“A lot of people had their heads down but we practice the two-minute (drill) every single day and it’s one of our greatest (strengths),” Cerruti said. “We’ve scored under two minutes seven times this season, so we knew we could do it. Once we got that touchdown we started to erupt and got that fire in our hearts, and we were able to come back in the second half with a vengeance.”
Long Branch received the second-half kickoff and took full advantage of the opportunity with a 9-play, 65-yard scoring drive to cut the deficit to three points. Dennis converted a third-and-7 to move the chains in Long Branch territory and Blueford had a 29-yard catch down to the 1-yard line. That play set up Corbett for a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 17-14.
The momentum shifted squarely to Long Branch’s side on the following kickoff when Shawnee fumbled and senior linebacker Luke Arnold recovered at the Renegades’ 27-yard line.
“I ran up and missed it at first and I had to squeeze it with my legs to get a hold of it,” Arnold said.
“Oh my goodness, you talk about a momentum swing,” Dennis said. “That was the first time all season trailing at halftime so to come out and have a big play like that, you couldn’t ask for anything better.”
On third-and-3, Long Branch went to a tried-and-true play to take its first lead of the game.
“We ran that play all year and I begged coach George to run it,” Dennis said. “It’s a fake run and Matt Clarke fakes blocking and then I throw it up to him. He did a great job acting like he was blocking. I thought I was going to have to run it but then he broke free and was wide open.”
From there, Long Branch’s defense, a unit that recorded five shutouts this season, locked down Shawnee to hold the lead. The Green Wave forced a pair of crucial turnovers in the second half, one on a Billy Levy interception in the end zone and another when senior Devyn Blount picked off Welsey at the Long Branch 10 and returned it out to midfield.
Shawnee had one final chance to tie the game or take the lead when it took over at its own 9-yard line with 1:39 left in the game. The Renegades didn’t make it easy on Long Branch, converting a fourth-and-23 to put the ball at the Green Wave 44-yard line, but on fourth-and-8 from the 42, junior linebacker Jayson Glasper sacked Welsey to clinch the win.
“(Coaches) Chad King, Shawn Brown, John Jasio, they went to the board and identified what was hurting us,” George said. “They had a young quarterback and he was a nice rhythm thrower, 1-2-3 boom, so we tried to take away the short throws and press him and force him to go down the field.”
“One major thing was we switched to a zone coverage – and that started messing with the quarterback and little bit – and we started to do more stunts up front,” Cerruti said. “This defensive team probably has some of the best second-half adjustments in the entire state of New Jersey and we showed it again with another second-half shutout.”
Long Branch’s 2018 season will be one that is talked about for a long time in the community. The Green Wave won a program-record 12 games, won back-to-back state sectional titles for the first time in program history and emerged victorious in one of the inaugural bowl games.
“It’s such a great feeling when it works this way,” George said. “All the hard work you talk about, these kids believed in the system and in one another, and that’s what every team is trying to get. We have it here.”
“It’s the best feeling ever,” Dennis said. “Our fans cheered us on all year and they traveled up today. To win back-to-back and finish like this, I couldn’t be more grateful for my guys.”
The one debate that will rage on in Long Branch is whether this is the best team in program history.
“It’s the best team I’ve ever coached,” George said. “But the 1986 team (which went 11-0 and finished ranked No. 2 in New Jersey) would have something to say about being the best ever.”
“This (win) says we’re the best team in Long Branch history, no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Dennis countered.
Dennis is certainly biased, but you can forgive him for that. It was a ride he and his teammates will never forget.
Long Branch 20, Shawnee 17
|Long Branch (12-1)||0||7||14||0||20|
S – Joe Dalsey 17-yard run (Joe Dalsey kick)
S – Joe Dalsey 14-yard pass from Matt Welsey (Joe Dalsey kick)
S – Joe Dalsey 31-yard field goal
LB – Jermaine Corbett 6-yard run (Joe Mazza kick)
LB – Jermaine Corbett 1-yard run (Joe Mazza kick)
LB – Matt Clarke 20-yard pass from Marc Dennis (kick blocked)
RUSHING – LB: Jermaine Corbett 21-85, Zahdierr Blueford 1-21, Marc Dennis 5-12, Jayon Farrar 1-3; S: Joe Dalsey 15-95, Thomas Rebstock 5-9, Dalton Short 2-6, Jon Searcy 1-1, Kyzir Wall 2-(-2), Matt Welsey 8-(-16).
PASSING – LB: Marc Dennis 12-19-0 135; S: Matt Welsey 14-27-2 201.
RECEIVING – LB: Matt Clarke 3-38, Zahdierr Blueford 1-29, Jayon Farrar 3-27, Niles Montgomery 3-24, Jermaine Corbett 2-17; S: Joe Dalsey 5-82, Nate Summerville 3-60, Dom Frigiola 3-35, Jon Searcy 2-13, Joey Moore 1-11.
INTERCEPTIONS – LB: Devyn Blount 1-40, Billy Levy 1-0.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.