Manalapan Defense Stifles Jackson Memorial in Match-up of Unbeatens
MANALAPAN - During its rise to the elite in the Shore Conference over the past five years, Manalapan has built swarming defenses predicated on swallowing up opposing running games.
Jackson Memorial entered Friday night's nondivisional match-up of unbeatens averaging 38 points per game thanks mainly to its running attack. Manalapan brought that success to a screeching halt with a dominant defensive effort in which it limited the Jaguars to 92 total yards on its way to a 31-0 nondivisional victory. The Braves (4-0), ranked No. 2 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, have now won 20 straight games against Shore Conference competition after blanking the No. 10 Jaguars (3-1) for their second shutout of the season.
"We knew that they want to run the ball with the power game,'' said Manalapan senior noseguard R.J. Krause. "We're always about stopping the run first."
Krause led the assault up front with four tackles for a loss or no gain as well as four quarterback pressures, and standout linebackers Chris Noesges and Matt McCann also had stellar nights to hold the Jaguars to 62 yards rushing on 33 attempts. The Braves also registered a pair of interceptions against back-up quarterback Kyle Johnson, a sophomore who started in place of junior Joe Demaio, who suffered a concussion last week.
"We were expecting the starting quarterback the whole time and then we went out there and saw he wasn't in there, but it didn't really affect us,'' Krause said. "We would've played the same way if he was there."
Jackson Memorial never got deeper than Manalapan's 34-yard line and had six first downs in the game, two of which came in the final minutes when it was already decided. Junior Mike Caggiano also kept the Jaguars pinned all night with booming punts, including a 52-yarder.
Senior safety Anthony Barone helped get the ball rolling when he intercepted a pass by Johnson on Jackson Memorial's first series of the game to put the Braves in business at the Jaguars' 38-yard line.
Eight plays later, junior quarterback Charles Lombana, a Jackson Memorial transfer, put six on the board against his old team when he found Rutgers-bound senior wideout Saeed Blacknall for a 14-yard touchdown on third-and-13 for a 7-0 lead.
Blacknall hauled in the score in the corner of the end zone, not too far away from where Eric LeGrand was sitting and watching the game. LeGrand, the inspirational former Rutgers defensive tackle who was paralyzed in a game in 2010, was on the track just outside the end zone.
"I actually didn't know he was here until the third quarter,'' Blacknall said. "I found out he was right there when I caught that touchdown, so that was pretty cool."
Blacknall later left the game after landing awkwardly on a catch. He said afterward that it was just a hyperextension in his right knee and was nothing serious.
The Braves made it 14-0 when junior cornerback Dan Debner snatched an interception and weaved his way 43 yards for a touchdown with 11:44 left in the second quarter. Debner also had two other pass break-ups in the win.
Manalapan then pushed it 21-0 at the half with a five-play, 66-yard drive that culminated with a 38-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Dan Anerella to Krause, who also plays tight end. With Jackson Memorial worried about defending the perimeter, Krause was wide open on a seam route over the middle for a three-touchdown lead.
Caggiano added a 24-yard field goal in the third quarter and then junior Jake McCourt capped the night with a 1-yard touchdown run that was set up by his own 69-yard run on the previous play.
The Braves rushed for 115 yards despite being without senior tailback Tyler Leonetti, who was cleared to play by doctors but held out for precautionary reasons on a muddy grass field after suffering a sprained ankle in a win over Middletown South last week.
Manalapan 31, Jackson Memorial 0
. M J
First downs 9 6
Rushes-yards 32-115 33-62
Passing 8-14-0 4-16-2
Passing yards 105 30
Fumbles-lost 1-0 2-1
Penalties 3-20 4-35
Jackson Memorial (3-1) 0 0 0 0 - 0
Manalapan (4-0) 7 14 3 7 - 31
Blacknall 14-yard pass from Lombana (Caggiano kick).
Debner 43-yard interception return (Caggiano kick).
Krause 38-yard pass from Anerella (Caggiano kick).
Caggiano 24-yard field goal.
McCourt 1-yard run (Caggiano kick).
Rushing - M: Mayfield 16-44, Lombana 4-1, McCourt 6-71, Rivera 1-2, Anerella 2-(-8), Cheung 3-5. J: Johnson 9-5, Glover 16-32, Coffey 7-26, 1(-1).
Passing - M: Anerella 4-8-0 69, Lombana 4-6-0 36. J: Johnson 4-16-2 30.
Receiving - M: Blacknall 4-36, Krause 2-45, Mayfield 1-(-2), Cruz 1-26. J: Gullo 2-7, Celidonio 2-23.
Interceptions - M: Debner 1-43, Barone 1-0.