MANASQUAN – Saturday’s home-opener against Raritan saw Manasquan sitting at 2-0 and tied for the lead in the Shore Conference’s Liberty Division, but the Warriors weren’t exactly strutting into Vic Kubu Warrior Field after what they viewed as a lackluster performance the prior week.

“The first quarter (of a 21-10 win over Neptune) looked like it was a nursing home playing out there,” said senior two-way lineman Alec Wells. “You could have stuck a pee wee team out there and they would have looked better than us. This is a team that’s searching for another championship, and if we want to win games that’s something that can’t happen. First quarters like that aren’t acceptable. We knew this first quarter we had to make a statement.”

Manasquan, ranked No. 6 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, stopped Raritan on three straight plays to start the game, then needed just four plays on offense to get into the end zone and take the lead for good. The Warriors’ much-needed strong start paved the way for a 34-13 win over the Rockets to give them sole possession of first place in the division.

“You hope whatever you do in practice translates into the game, and the last two weeks it wasn’t doing that until the second or third quarter,” said Manasquan head coach Jay Price. “The kids say they ‘wake up’ but you can’t keep doing that, especially against Raritan. I think it was a mental hurdle we needed to clear. Forcing a three-and-out in the beginning of the game set the tone.”

Senior running back Canyon Birch ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries and also returned a kickoff 82 yards for a score, and senior fullback Rashid Tuddles ran for 94 yards and a touchdown while also delivering some thunderous blocks. Quarterback Ryan O’Leary tossed an 11-yard touchdown pass to John Foreman.

For the second time in three weeks, Manasquan faced a triple-option offense. In Week 1 it was Point Boro, who ran for nearly 300 yards and scored 28 points. Raritan’s version is a little different with quarterback Steve Coponi operating out of the shotgun rather than being under center, but the principles are the same. This time, the Warriors allowed just 13 points and held the Rockets to 124 rushing yards on an average of three yards per carry.

“Point Boro in Week 1 was the greatest test we could have gotten,” Wells said. “They’re a fantastic football team and they run that offense perfectly. We call it their religion. That experience, that speed from Point Boro is not replicated by anyone. It helped us planning against Raritan, looking back at the things we did and changing them, and the results showed.”

“We made some changes, defensively, and allowed them to play a little faster,” Price said. “We also made a couple personnel changes and had some better run-support players out there. You don’t like to trade personnel based on what you’re trying to do but we felt it was necessary and it worked out.”

While the defense tightened up, the offense continued to do what it does best. The Warriors ran for 214 yards on an average of 6.6 yards per carry and nearly had a pair of 100-yard rushers. The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage, and when he wasn’t carrying the ball, Tuddles was crushing Raritan defenders and helping lead Birch to his 112 yards.

“It’s gotta be awful to play against that,” Price said of Tuddles blocking prowess. “You’re starting to see teams move back more towards the run game and more of a power game, but I haven’t seen anyone yet who hits people like him and blocks like he does. He comes at you like he hates you. He’s relentless.”

“I really do just like to hit people, it’s a stress relief,” Tuddles said. “I take a lot of pride in blocking and run the ball as well as I have been for the past three games.”

Birch’s early touchdown run put Manasquan up, 7-0, and the Warriors pushed their advantage to 14-0 midway through the second quarter. Tuddles had a 49-yard run to put the ball at the Raritan 10-yard line, and two plays later O’Leary found Forman in the back-right corner of the end zone for an 11-yard score.

Raritan came right back to get on the board, however, as a long kick return by Nick Kennelly led to Coponi finding Mike Fiore for a 17-yard touchdown on a screen pass. The momentum swung back Manasquan’s way for good on the ensuing kickoff, however, when key blocks by Matt Lyons and James Pendergist sprung Birch for an 82-yard return touchdown and a 21-6 Warriors lead.

“James Pendergist and Matt Lyons made that,” Birch said. “Lyons had an incredible block and James was back deep with me and he was blocking all the way into the end zone, so that was pretty awesome.”

Manasquan’s lead grew to 27-6 in the third quarter on a nine-play, 65-yard drive. O’Leary had a 21-yard completion to Lyons to move the ball into Raritan territory and then hit Pendergist for 12 yards on third and eight. Birch scored on an 11-yard run on the next play.

Raritan trimmed the deficit to 27-13 when another long kickoff return by Kenneally set up his own 16-yard touchdown run with 9:54 left in the game. Manasquan polished off the victory when Tuddles scored on a 16-yard run with 1:13 left in the game, capping an eight-play, 56-yard drive that chewed up nearly five minutes of clock.

“We’re Manasquan, we’re not coming out trying to surprise anyone,” Well said. “We’re going to run the ball down your throat and that was our game plan from the onset. We knew we were playing a good Raritan defense that’s capable and competent, and this whole week we prepped hard and just worked. It came down to our work ethic and how bad our guys wanted it.”


Box Score

No. 6 Manasquan 34, Raritan 13

First downs1111
Passing yards6760


Raritan (2-1, 2-1)         0   6 0   7 – 13

Manasquan (3-0, 3-0) 7 14 0 13 – 34


Scoring summary

M – Canyon Birch 45-yard run (Tyler Callahan kick)

M – Ryan O’Leary 11-yard pass to John Foreman (Tyler Callahan kick)

R – Mike Fiore 17-yard pass from Steve Coponi (kick failed)

M – Canyon Birch 82-yard kickoff return (Tyler Callahan kick)

M – Canyon Birch 11-yard run (kick failed)

R – Nick Kenneally 16-yard run (Matt Lugli kick)

M – Rashid Tuddles 16-yard run (Tyler Callahan kick)


Individual statistics

RUSHING – R: P.J. Buccine 14-41, Steve Coponi 11-36, Nick Kenneally 4-19, Danny Fiore 8-16, Mike Fiore 4-12; M: Canyon Birch 19-112, Rashid Tuddles 11-94, James Pendergist 1-9, Ryan O’Leary 1-(-1).

PASSING – R: Steve Coponi 6-12-0 67; M: Ryan O’Leary 7-11-0 60.

RECEIVING – R: Nick Kenneally 2-22, Mike Fiore 1-17, P.J. Buccine 2-16, Joseph Sidisin 1-12; M: Matt Lyons 2-29, James Pendergist 4-20, John Foreman 1-11.


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.