No. 2 Manalapan Remains Unbeaten and Clinches Class A North Title Outright by Blanking Freehold Township
Manalapan's offense was absolutely ferocious all night long in its 35-0 win over the Class A North rival Freehold Township, but it was also seven sacks recorded by the defense which helped the Braves claim the division crown Friday night.
The Braves wanted to send out their seniors out with a win on senior night in Manalapan, and it was victory they claimed not only for the game, or to continue their unbeaten season, but to claim sole possession of the Class A North crown and ride the momentum into the upcoming playoffs. The division title is Manalapan's sixth in the last seven seasons.
"Our first concern was that it was senior night, and we wanted to send the seniors off the right way," said Manalapan Head Coach Ed Gurrieri. "We just wanted to play hard and have a good game and things turned out alright for us."
The Braves played like a team with its eyes set on goals far beyond this division crown, and it showed in every part of the game from an offense that clicked to a dominating defense and the great special teams play.
Excitement filled the cold air and at Manalapan High School right from the opening kickoff, but momentum quickly went to and stayed with the Braves.
Following a three-and-out by the Patriots in which quarterback Charles Sabbagh was sacked for the first of seven times in the game, the Braves offense went on a seven-play drive with six carries going to Naim Mayfield.
"We were on point with everything, we were pretty sound and I think we were able to get to the quarterback just sending three and four and playing coverage behind it," said Gurrieri. "That kind of helped us out a little bit."
Then the scoring began with Mayfield scoring on a three-yard run. The talented junior finished with 115 yards and three 3 touchdowns on 20 carries.
Following another three-and-out and another sack of Sabbagh, the Braves got the ball back and once again produced a scoring drive. Taking the ball for the final five minutes of the opening quarter, they ran 11 plays which did include Mayfield carrying the ball but ended with junior fullback Chris Maksimik plowing in for a one-yard touchdown at 6:51 left in the half.
After another drive which included a sack before the Patriots punted the ball away, the Braves came back with 9:26 left in the first half to yet another scoring drive, this time on nine plays. Mayfield's one-yard score put Manalapan up 20-0.
A four-play drive including a sack before another Patriots punt followed the score. The Braves took over with 2:49 left in the second quarter and pushed forward into a nine-play drive in a fast-paced tempo to score before the half. Junior quarterback Luke Corcione connected with junior wide receiver Scott Scherzer on a 32-yard touchdown to put Manalapan up 27-0 at the break.
A fumble recovery by junior linebacker Sal Tardogno early in the third quarter set up Manalapan's fifth and final score as Mayfield scored from 10 yards out. The successful two-point pass from Corcione to senior wide out L.J. Holder made it 35-0 and started the mercy-rule running clock.
Corcione finished with 135 yards and a touchdown on 12 of 21 passing and Scherzer caught six passes for 85 yards and a score. Junior linebacker Lazarus Marquez and senior defensive tackle Mike Cardinale each had two sacks, while Tardogno made five tackles with a sack and a tackle for a loss. Sophomore linebacker Tommy Pearce returned to the lineup after missing three games and made five tackles with one for a loss.
"Naim had a great night, all the receivers contributed, the quarterback Luke had a great night," said Gurrieri. "Our offense blocked well, our fullback Chris Maksimik is a stud and has been leading the way all year. Our defense played lights out. When you shut out a great offensive team like this (Freehold Township), that's saying a lot."
"It was our offense as a whole. Our line worked hard, our fullback worked hard and they blocked well, and wholes opened and I ran through them" said Mayfield. "Our offense just came out hard, fast and quick today."
"We put in certain plays we had...it's just the Manalapan offense, and we've been doing what were doing," said Corcione.
Manalapan will be the No. 1 seed in the Central Jersey Group V playoffs where it will go for its second sectional title in program history, second championship in three seasons and the first 12-0 season in program history.
"It's not our only goal (winning the Class ANorth title), just one of our goals," said Gurrieri. "Last year was the first time we hadn't won it in a while, and we wanted to get back and do it again this year. I'm proud of these guys."
"Just one game at a time," added Gurrieri.
"We come out with more intensity in bigger games," said Corcione. "We're going to come out in the playoffs with so much intensity. No one's going to stop us."
For Bonus Content from the Shore Sports Network coverage of this game, watch the post-game interviews below:
Vin Ebenau is a Shore Sports Network Contributor. You can follow him on Twitter @VinEbenau. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.