LONG BRANCH - Number Two is now number one. 

With everyone knowing that Long Branch senior tailback Dahmiere Willis entered the day needing 250 yards to set the single-season Shore Conference rushing record, No. 2 would not be denied on his 18th birthday, carrying the ball 39 times for 295 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-14 win over Red Bank to set the Shore single-season record of 2,589 yards. The mark is also the second-best rushing season of all time in New Jersey history behind the 2,605 by Hoboken's Tyrell Dortch in 1999.

Long Branch senior Dahmiere Willis was carried off the field by members of his offensive line after setting the single-season Shore Conference rushing record in a Thanksgiving Day win over Red Bank. (Photo by Scott Stump)
Long Branch senior Dahmiere Willis was carried off the field by members of his offensive line after setting the single-season Shore Conference rushing record in a Thanksgiving Day win over Red Bank. (Photo by Scott Stump)

With the Bucs packing the box with nine defenders, Willis still racked up 212 yards rushing in the second half, passing the Shore Conference record of 2,544 yards set by Pinelands' Matt McLain in 2010 with an eight-yard run with six minutes left in the game to cheers from the home crowd at Bresett Stadium.

"It felt so good,'' Willis said. "The last drive, my coach (Dan George) said, 'Dahmiere you only need four more yards.' One carry I got like seven and everyone started going crazy. I was excited."

"I'm proud of Dahmiere, and I've just enjoyed the ride,'' said George, who said Willis may play a post-grad season at a prep school next fall. "It's just a ridiculous season. I think it's his combination of toughness and his eyes that make him great. You're getting ready because he's going to pound you and run you over, and then on defense you're running up to get hit, and the next thing you know he's made a move on you that leaves you saying, 'Where did you go?'''

After he ran for his third touchdown of the game, a 9-yard burst that made it 28-14 early in the fourth quarter, he only needed four yards to pass McLain, who accomplished his feat in 10 games compared to 11 for Willis. The senior star then got the record on the first play of Long Branch's next possession, which started when the Green Wave got the ball back thanks to a Shore Conference-leading seventh interception of the year by senior defensive back Dave Colbert.

Willis then tacked on 41 more yards for good measure for the second-best season in state history. He finished his three-year varsity career with a 35-yard run to the one-yard line before the No. 8 Green Wave (8-3, 4-2) took a knee to wrap up the win over the Bucs (5-5, 2-4) in a Class B North game in the 92nd edition of one of the Shore's oldest Thanksgiving rivalries.

The win helped Long Branch finish on a high note after a 21-17 loss to Carteret last week in the Central Jersey Group III semifinals that George called the most devastating of his 25-year coaching career. Long Branch blew a 17-point lead and then failed to score from inside the one-yard line in the final minute to be denied its first state final appearance since 2007 by a team it had already beaten by 25 points earlier in the season.

"There's no blueprint for how you come back from that,'' George said. "But the kids were really resilient this week."

Willis had 83 yards rushing at halftime, carrying the ball 18 times out of Long Branch's 19 plays from scrimmage in the first half. He took it up another gear in the second half, ripping off a 37-yard run on his first carry, then scoring a 32-yard touchdown for a 21-7 lead on his second carry to build the momentum toward the record.

"I knew they (Red Bank) were going to come out tough, but my O-line got it done, and I got it done as well,'' Willis said. "(It was) just coming out stronger, getting my O-line in the game and getting them pumped and hyped up."

"It was a lot of pressure,'' said 275-pound senior offensive tackle Andrew Huff. "Coach was telling us all week he was going to put the pressure on us to make us play harder. We knew that everybody was coming to the game to see what he was going to do and what we were going to do."

The group of Huff, junior right tackle Cameron Hills, junior right guard Joe Jasio, junior center Steve Kologi, junior left guard Nick Stoia, and senior tight end John Mimes will now go down in history as the line that paved the way for a record-setting performance.

"It's great to know that we'll always be known in Long Branch as one of the best lines to come through here,'' Huff said.

Dahmiere Willis had 295 yards rushing in his final high school game to put his name in the record books. (Photo by Scott Stump)
Dahmiere Willis had 295 yards rushing in his final high school game to put his name in the record books. (Photo by Scott Stump)

Willis finished the season with six games of 200 or more yards rushing and two 300-yard games, including a school-record 370-yard game in a win over Central Jersey Group III finalist Matawan. He also had a school-record 27 touchdowns.

"It's his strength,'' Huff said. "He's so strong that you just can't tackle him with one person."

Before Willis got rolling, Long Branch started the game with some defensive fireworks as linebacker Brandon Lane picked off a pass by Red Bank junior quarterback Jack Navitsky and raced 79 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 7:10 left in the first quarter. After the Green Wave defense came up with another stop, Willis ran the ball five straight times for 37 yards, scoring on a 23-yard run for a 14-0 lead with 2:32 left in the first quarter.

Red Bank answered with a 15-play, 74-yard drive to cut the lead to 14-7 on a 3-yard touchdown run by junior wideout Sadiq Palmer, who had a huge day in defeat with seven catches for 146 yards and a touchdown in addition to his scoring run. The Bucs nearly tacked on three more points before halftime when Palmer made a sensational catch over three defenders for a 33-yard gain that helped set up a 42-yard field goal attempt by junior kicker Jack O'Connor that had plenty of leg but hit off the left goalpost as time expired.

Long Branch went into the locker room with Willis still needing 167 yards to pass McLain for the record and did not deviate from its gameplan. Excluding taking a knee at the end, the Green Wave handed it to Willis on 39 of its 44 plays from scrimmage in the game and only attempted one pass.

"We just have so much confidence in him, and the team has so much confidence in him,'' George said. "He wears people out. They were exhausted trying to tackle him at the end.

"My quarterback and receivers, they're as unselfish as they come. They celebrate this record as much as anybody, which is rare in this day and age when they're looking and seeing people getting 10-15 catches a game, and we're not even throwing the ball 10 times because we're giving it to No. 2."

After Red Bank scored on a 59-yard strike from Navitsky to Palmer that cut the lead to 21-14 with 8:55 left in the third quarter, Willis and the offensive line went back to work to bring home the win and the record. The defense also stifled Red Bank the rest of the way, led by senior linebacker Hunter Baillie, who had 1.5 sacks to finish the year with 13.5.

"We just had to kick it up and end our season on a high note with something to remember,'' Huff said.

Long Branch claimed the Ty Lewis Memorial Trophy and now leads the all-time series, 60-29-3 in a game that is particularly special to George, who coached under the late Ty Lewis at Red Bank, where Lewis was the first African-American coach in the Shore and a fixture when it came to helping the community. This was one to savor for the home team as Willis set a mark that will be tough for the next challenger to beat.

"I will never forget it,'' Willis said.

Box score

Long Branch 28, Red Bank 14

.                                L                           R

First downs             15                         14

Rushes-yards        42-309                 29-87

Passing                  0-1-0                   11-18-2

Passing yards          0                         188

Penalties                4-45                      5-45

Fumbles-lost          0-0                         0-0

Red Bank (5-5, 2-4)       0  7  7  0 - 14

Long Branch (8-3, 4-2)  14 0 7 7 - 28

Scoring summary:

L: Lane 79-yard interception return (Mota kick).

L: Willis 23-yard run (Mota kick).

R: Palmer 3-yard run (O'Connor kick).

L: Willis 32-yard run (Mota kick).

R: Palmer 59-yard pass from Navitsky (O'Connor kick).

L: Willis 9-yard run (Mota kick).

Individual statistics

Rushing - L: Willis 39-295, Baillie 1-2, Mackason 2-12. R: Morris 11-52, Navitsky 6-0, Palmer 4-8, Godsey 7-27, Mitchell 1-0.

Passing - L: Rodriguez 0-1-0 0. R: Navitsky 11-18-2 188.

Receiving - R: Palmer 7-146, Godsey 1-4, Ferrogine 3-38.

Interceptions - R: Lane 1-79, Colbert 1-0.


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