TOMS RIVER - With his missed extra point looming large after Toms River North scored with 51 seconds left in the game to take a one-point lead on Saturday, Brick Memorial junior kicker Matt Cuppari was hoping his teammates would give him a shot to make it up to them.

The Mustangs obliged, driving 44 yards with no timeouts to set up Cuppari for a field goal attempt with 11 seconds remaining and the wind at his back. Toms River North called timeout to ice him, but it only gave him more time to pump himself up for redemption.

Matt Cuppari's teammates lift him up in celebration of his game-winning 40-yard field goal in Brick Memorial's 16-14 comeback win over Toms River North. (Photo by Scott Stump)
Matt Cuppari's teammates lift him up in celebration of his game-winning 40-yard field goal in Brick Memorial's 16-14 comeback win over Toms River North. (Photo by Scott Stump)

"It just gave me more time to get confident in myself and just trust my teammates and tell them that this is it and whatever happens, happens, and thank you for believing in me,'' Cuppari said. "It was one of those kicks, just right off the foot, I just knew it was going in."

Cuppari nailed a career-long 40-yard field goal, tied for the longest field goal in the Shore Conference thus far this season, with 5.2 seconds left in regulation to send the Mustangs to a thrilling 16-14 win over the Mariners (1-1, 1-1) at Gernerd Field. With 9:02 left in the game, Cuppari had missed an extra point that was backed up because of a false start penalty following a touchdown run by quarterback Tim Santiago that gave the Mustangs (1-1, 1-1) a 13-7 lead. However, with the game on the line, his aim was true as he thumped the game-winner with five yards to spare.

"I knew our offense would just keep on pushing and drive the ball down the field and give me a chance, and that's what they did,'' he said. "My kicking coach (former Colts Neck and Monmouth University standout Eric Spillane) and I made the necessary adjustments that we needed to make and let the work that my teammates put in pay off."

"'Cup' has hit in practice from 55, 56 yards,'' said Mustangs senior wide receiver/cornerback Karl Kumm. "I wasn't worried at all. I knew if we gave him a chance, he was going to hit it in."

The timeout by Toms River North also did more than allow Cuppari to cement his confidence.

"The play clock was running out, and they called timeout,'' Brick Memorial head coach Walt Currie said. "We caught a break there, and we were able to set our guys up and get set. 'Cup' does a real good job and coach Spillane does a real good job of working with 'Cup' on the mental part as much as the physical part."

A game that had been mainly a defensive struggle at 7-7 through three quarters became a thriller in the final period. Brick Memorial snapped the tie with a seven-play, 72-yard drive in which it found some success running on the perimeter after struggling to move the ball between the tackles against the Mariners' massive front featuring All-Division tackles Adam Kakar and Da'shon Copes. Santiago finished the drive with a 24-yard burst for a 13-7 lead with 9:02 left in the game before the missed PAT.

Kumm shut down Toms River North's ensuing drive with an interception at Brick Memorial's 26-yard line that was part of an outstanding afternoon in which he also had four pass break-ups, including two on fourth-down plays. However, the Mariners were able to put together a drive when they got the ball back with 4:07 left in the game. They marched 64 yards in 12 plays, converting a fourth-and-inches to keep the drive alive before facing a second-and-goal from the 21-yard line after a holding penalty.

Sophomore quarterback Mike Husni found 6-foot-5 senior tight end Jordan Craig over the middle for a 21-yard touchdown pass to tie the game with 51.5 seconds remaining and draw a roar from the home crowd. Sophomore kicker Kyle Bayha then booted the extra point to give the Mariners a 14-13 lead.

Brick Memorial maintained its composure, as junior running back Elie Lavarin ran for a 14-yard gain on third-and-10 to keep the winning drive alive, then senior running back Matt Cathey picked up an 8-yard gain and was hit out of bounds for a crucial 15-yard penalty, Toms River North's ninth penalty of the game, to move the ball to the Mariners' 30-yard line.

"As soon as I saw that flag, I knew it was over,'' Kumm said.

"That (penalty) was huge,'' Currie said. "What that really did was it gave us the opportunity to make the choice when we got down here to say, 'Do we run one more play, or do we decide to kick it now?' If that penalty hadn't happened, we wouldn't have had that luxury."

Cathey gashed the Mariners' defense for one more 12-yard run to the 23-yard line on a day the Mustangs rushed for 232 yards as a team. That put Cuppari in range to be the hero and help the Mustangs erase the memory of a 42-0 wipeout at the hands of cross-town rival Brick in the season opener.

"It speaks volumes for our kids and their mental toughness,'' Currie said. "To be mentally tough enough to be down one with no timeouts and less than a minute and march down the field the way they did, it's a testament to their character."

"We met some adversity going into that last drive, but we knew that if we were in range, 'Cup' was going to hit it in,'' Kumm said.

Brick Memorial opened the game with an eight-play, 62-yard drive that ended with an 8-yard touchdown run by fullback Connor Owen for a 7-0 lead. Toms River North answered immediately when junior tailback Asante Moorer took a swing pass from Husni on the Mariners' first play from scrimmage and raced 65 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.

It would remain that way until the fourth quarter, as Brick Memorial stopped Toms River North on downs at its own 18-yard line and 27-yard line in the second quarter, both on pass break-ups by Kumm. Defensive back Victor Gomez, who also had a strong game in the secondary with two pass break-ups, made a tackle short of the sticks to stop another Toms River North drive on downs at Brick Memorial's 16-yard line in the third quarter.

It added up to a gritty defensive effort that held the Mariners at bay most of the way, one week after they rolled up 398 yards on the ground in a win over Lacey, and the offense and Cuppari picked them up in the end to return the favor.

"We overcome adversity so well,'' Cuppari said.

"It was an uphill battle, but we're back,'' Kumm said. "We're back."

Box score

Brick Memorial 16, Toms River North 14

.                                B                     T

First downs             14                    16

Rushes-yards      43-232              41-148

Passing                 2-11-1              12-23-1

Passing yards        16                     159

Penalties            6-40                       9-75

Fumbles-lost         4-1                       0-0

Brick Mem. (1-1, 1-1) 7 0 0 9 - 16

TR North (1-1, 1-1)    7 0 0 7 - 14

Scoring summary

B: Owen 8-yard run (Cuppari kick).

T: Moorer 65-yard pass from Husni (Bayha kick).

B: Santiago 24-yard run (kick failed).

T: Craig 21-yard pass from Husni (Bayha kick).

B: Cuppari 40-yard field goal.

Individual statistics

Rushing - T: Husni 18-60, Moorer 17-66, Carrington 1-5, Watts 1-3, Day 4-14. B: Owen 8-27, Lavarin 4-47, Santiago 20-61, Hans 3-3, Kraft 1-28, Louhler 1-1, Cathey 5-64, Kumm 1-1.

Passing - T: Husni 12-23-1 159. B: Santiago 2-10-1 16, Hans 0-1-0 0.

Receiving - T: Moorer 3-79, Carrington 2-17, Watts 3-21, Santiago 2-17, Craig 2-25. B: Lavarin 1-6, Cathey 1-10.

Interceptions - T: Tomaschek 1-0. B: Kumm 1-0.

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