Manalapan Clinches Fifth Straight Division Title by Beating Freehold
FREEHOLD - Facing an upstart Freehold Boro team off to an undefeated start, Manalapan sent a reminder on Sunday about which team rules Class A North with an iron fist.
The Braves, ranked No. 2 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, routed the No. 6 Colonials 42-3 to clinch at least a tie for their fifth straight Class A North title by winning their 31st straight divisional game. Since Class A North was re-formed in 2010, Manalapan (7-1, 5-0) has gone undefeated in the division, and the Braves can wrap up the title outright by beating Howell (2-6) this week.
Senior tailback Imamu Mayfield, who transferred to Manalapan from Freehold Boro after his sophomore season, led the way on his old field on Sunday with 172 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 24 carries as part of a 266-yard rushing day for the Braves. Manalapan and No. 1 Red Bank Catholic, who handed Manalapan its first loss on Oct. 24, have now both won five straight division titles, becoming the first teams to do so since Middletown South won seven in a row from 1999-2005.
"The last team that did it was the Middletown South team with Knowshon (Moreno), so it's definitely a special feeling that we could be part of the conversation with that team,'' Mayfield said.
"We knew we just had to get the job done and keep the streak going,'' said senior defensive back Dan Debner.
The Colonials (7-1, 4-1) entered having surpassed their combined win total of the past two seasons (4), but ran into a buzzsaw after taking an early 3-0 lead. Freehold converted a fake punt on the opening possession to help keep a drive going that resulted in a 28-yard field goal by kicker Matt Curcio with 5:18 left in the first quarter, but it was all Manalapan after that.
Manalapan responded with a four-play, 62-yard drive that ended when senior quarterback Dan Anerella fired a 37-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Gerard Hodge-Rocourt for a 7-3 advantage with 3:28 left in the first quarter.
Each defense then came up with stops, including a sack on fourth down by Freehold's Bailey Indursky and a fumble recovery by Manalapan linebacker Simon Bublis.
The Braves mounted their second scoring drive of the half after stuffing Freehold junior quarterback Jake Curry for a one-yard loss on fourth down at Manalapan's 43-yard line. They drove 57 yards in nine plays, capping the drive when senior tight end Brian Conforth made a leaping catch in the back of the end zone and got one foot down for a 12-yard touchdown and a 14-3 lead with 2:09 left in the half.
After what head coach Ed Gurrieri termed a "sluggish" first half, the Braves came out and dominated the final two quarters. Debner got things started with an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown for a 21-3 lead in which he ran back to field a ball that sailed over his head and broke multiple tackles for Manalapan's third touchdown return on special teams this season.
"We moved up to the 25 because of the wind, and the wind kind of slowed down before the kick, and he bombed it over our heads, so I fielded it, and we called middle return,'' Debner said. "I took it right up the middle and I had a huge hole."
The Manalapan defense also brought it up a notch after allowing 167 yards rushing in the first half, including 94 by 1,000-yard rusher Josh Dixon, who finished with 125 yards in the loss. The Braves held Freehold to one first down and 38 total yards in the second half, led by junior linebacker Lee Maksimik, who had 14 tackles in what defensive coordinator Justin Fumando called Maksimik's best game of the season. He teamed with senior defensive end Kyle Mullen, who had a sack and two tackles for no gain, to squash the Colonials' running game at the point of attack in the middle.
"(Freehold) prides themselves on zone, stretch and option read, and we just shoot the gaps and it all comes together,'' Maksimik said. "The key was forcing (Dixon) to run high and outside, and when he cuts back in, we're there. We just played more physical and got in the backfield more in the second half."
The running game also ratcheted it up as Mayfield ran for 119 second-half yards, including a 57-yard touchdown burst that made it 28-3 with 9:38 left in the third quarter.
After the defense forced another three-and-out, Mullen made a nice diving catch for a first down on Manalapan's ensuing drive, and Mayfield then bounced a run outside for a 17-yard touchdown to cap a six-play, 50-yard drive and push the lead to 35-3 with 5:10 left in the third quarter. He later added a 2-yard touchdown run to start the fourth quarter for the final margin.
"I knew they were going to come in hot because if they laid a good hit on me they were going to be talking a lot of trash, so I had to be focused,'' Mayfield said about facing his former team. "We had to separate ourselves from them. We knew we were the better team, and we just had to play like it."
The victory helped the Braves rebound from a 35-7 nondivisional loss to RBC that ended a 30-game winning streak against Shore Conference competition. They now will set their sights on finishing the job in Central Jersey Group V after losing in the state finals in each of the past three seasons in search of their first state championship in program history. The win most likely cemented a first-round home playoff game for the Braves.
"(Being a Freehold transfer) was a big reason why I couldn't wait for this game, but I also wanted to get my team to bounce back from the RBC game so we could just keep adding bricks to where we want to get to,'' Mayfield said.
Manalapan 42, Freehold Boro 3
. M F
First downs 20 9
Rushes-yards 40-266 38-206
Passing 6-11-0 4-8-0
Passing yards 97 27
Penalties 2-15 3-16
Fumbles-lost 2-1 0-0
Manalapan (7-1, 5-0) 7 7 21 7 - 42
Freehold (7-1, 4-1) 3 0 0 0 - 3
F: Curcio 28-yard field goal.
M: Hodge-Rocourt 37-yard pass from Anerella (Caggiano kick).
M: Conforth 12-yard pass from Anerella (Caggiano kick).
M: Debner 86-yard kickoff return (Caggiano kick).
M: Mayfield 57-yard run (Caggiano kick).
M: Mayfield 17-yard run (Caggiano kick).
M: Mayfield 2-yard run (Caggiano kick).
Rushing - M: Mayfield 24-172, Anerella 1-(-7), Sieczkowski 2-12, Park 3-13, Salinas 5-40, Cheung 5-36. F: Dixon 20-125, Curry 15-61, Indursky 3-20.
Passing - M: Anerella 6-11-0 97. F: Curry 4-8-0 27.
Receiving - M: Hodge-Rocourt 3-58, Conforth 1-12, Debner 1-10, Mullen 1-17. F: Smith-Rush 1-(-1), Dixon 1-(-1), Worthy 2-29.