Matt Oliphant Shines to Lead No. 4 Point Boro Over No. 7 Manasquan
POINT PLEASANT -- The flexbone triple-option offense is, by nature, designed to be a ball-controlling, grinding, and clock-draining scheme that wears opposing defenses down over the course of four quarters. Point Boro's offense is fine doing exactly that, but this year's Panthers team also has the ability to hit a home run on every play.
Junior quarterback Matt Oliphant ran for 228 yards and four touchdowns on 19 carries and junior running back Jake Croce ran for 76 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries as the Panthers, ranked No. 4 in The Jeep Store Shore Sports Network Top 10, ran roughshod over No. 7 Manasquan to earn a 39-13 Shore Conference Independence Division victory on Friday night at Al Saner Field.
Oliphant had touchdown runs of 1, 1, 67, and 30 yards while Croce had a 4-yard touchdown run and a 35-yard touchdown run. Senior running back Connor Cilento added 61 yards to bring the Panthers' rushing total to 365 yards on an average of 9.9 yards per carry.
"We definitely have big-play capability and that's so huge at the high school level," said Point Boro head coach Brian Staub. "Matt's our guy in terms of size, strength, speed, and explosiveness. And with Connor Cilento and Jake Croce, as well, they can all take it 80 yards on one snap."
"The offensive line was in the weight room all winter and we wanted to pound the ball right down the center field and really stomp them in the dirt," Oliphant said.
Defensively, the Panthers lived in the backfield and made life miserable for Manasquan senior returning All-Shore quarterback Brett Patten. Point Boro only brought Patten to the ground once courtesy of a sack by sophomore Slade Samaritano, but defensive ends Aiden Ward and Connor Reynolds were in the backfield on seemingly every play to help contain the dynamic quarterback. They held Patten to just 8 of 17 passing for 114 yards and nine carries for 14 yards rushing, including forcing him into two intentional grounding penalties. Patten ran for a 1-yard touchdown and senior running back Jhamier Howard ran for 86 yards, rushed for a 38-yard touchdown, and caught three passes for 60 yards.
"We acknowledged his talents and we realize he's fast and he can get out of the pocket, but we weren't going to let him do that," Reynolds said. 'We were determined to win. We knew if we stopped him we'd win the game."
"That's exactly what the gameplan was," Ward said of putting constant pressure on Patten. "It's a lot harder than it sounds because he can really scramble. But not tonight."
"(Patten and Howard) are two of the best playmakers in the Shore and all week it was about having to contain Patten and working on pursuit angles," Staub said. "It's a great testament to our defensive coordinator Shane O'Connor drawing up a gameplan and the kids executing it."
Friday's victory was Point Boro's first over Manasquan since 2017 when the Panthers scored a 27-6 win in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 2 semifinals. Manasquan had won the last three meetings, including a 35-30 win last season that was Point Boro's only conference loss.
"The Point Boro vs. Manasquan rivalry goes back years and it's a community thing," Oliphant said. "In the offseason, we had this in the back of our minds after losing to them by five last year. We came out and put on the show tonight."
While Point Boro's explosive rushing offense and tenacious defense were the main storylines, there were also some bizarre moments throughout the game. First, Manasquan had its first three kickoff attempts go out of bounds. The fourth finally stayed in the field of play and Point Boro took over at its own 40-yard line. Nine plays later, the Panthers were in the end zone when Oliphant plowed ahead for a 1-yard touchdown run.
Cramping was a major issue for both teams and the game had to be stopped more than a handful of times so the athletic trainers could tend to those players down on the field. Some of the cramps were severe, as in a baseball-sized lump in one player's calf muscle.
The strange first quarter continued when Manasquan took possession for the first time. On the Warriors' first play from scrimmage, Howard split out wide and Patten found him for a 44-yard gain down to the Point Boro 14-yard line. Manasquan eventually moved to first and goal from the 4-yard line, but an intentional ground penalty followed by a holding penalty brought up second and goal from the 43-yard line. After two solid gains, Patten's pass on fourth and goal from the 22-yard line fell incomplete.
Manasquan forced Point Boro to punt on a three-and-out and got the ball back at its own 48-yard line. After moving into Panthers territory, senior wide receiver Jack Dettlinger made a great 32-yard catch down to the 1-yard line. On the next play, Patten surged in for a 1-yard touchdown. The extra point from the backup kicker missed its mark, however, and kept Point Boro ahead, 7-6.
It was all Point Boro from there.
The Panthers responded with a seven-play, 66-yard scoring drive that ended with another 1-yard touchdown run by Oliphant. Point Boro was finding success on the outside with Cilento taking tosses from Oliphant. He gained 23 yards to the Manasquan 38-yard line and runs like that helped soften up the middle for Oliphant and Croce to run behind a powerful offensive line. Senior center Declan Pratt had an especially good game in leading the way for Oliphant and Croce to find running lanes behind his blocks.
"It definitely put them on their heels whether I was going to cut inside or if we were going outside with the toss," Oliphant said.
"We wanted to establish the ball on the perimeter and then hammer it inside," Staub said. "We felt like we had a size and strength advantage. Manasquan is so tough and well-coached and we knew they weren't going to back down, but our kids were relentless."
A roughing-the-kicker penalty extended Manasquan's next possession but the Warriors still ended up punting from the Point Boro 48-yard line with 1:30 left in the first half. The Panthers had the ball on their own 18-yard line with 1:21 on the clock, and for most triple-option teams that would mean a few short runs or kneel downs to head to halftime. That wasn't even a thought for Point Boro.
After runs of 9 and 6 yards by Cilento, Oliphant ripped off a 67-yard touchdown to give Point Boro a 20-6 halftime lead.
"That was huge," Staub said. "When we got the ball we had full confidence in scoring. We weren't going to sit on it. Matt had a great read, we got great blocking, and when Matt hits that third level the odds are he's going to take it all the way. That really fired us up at the half."
Manasquan took some of that momentum away with a quick strike to start the second half, but Point scored on all three of its second-half possessions to win in convincing fashion. A long kick return led to Howard's 38-yard touchdown run that cut Point Boro's lead to 20-13 less than a minute into the third quarter.
The first play of the ensuing drive was a 24-yard gain by Oliphant and the Panthers continued to churn out first downs. A 14-yard run by Oliphant on third and 8 from the Manasquan 19-yard line led to Croce scoring on a 4-yard run for a 27-13 lead.
Point Boro's defense then forced another three and out, and it took the Panthers just three plays to get back into the end zone when Croce broke free up the middle for a 35-yard touchdown run. Point Boro now led, 33-13, with 1:16 left in the third quarter.
Oliphant put the finishing touches on the victory with a 30-yard touchdown run with 6:56 left in the game.
Through two games, Point Boro has scored 81 points and allowed 13. The Panthers look the part of a Group 2 state title contender on both sides of the ball and they know it will take consistent efforts like those put forth on Friday night to walk off the field as a state champion in December.
Over the past three years, they have gotten bigger, faster, and stronger, and it showed in Week 2 against another ranked team. "We had a great offseason in a weight room" is football clichè at its best, but for Point Boro, it has helped them transform the program.
"It started in 2020," Staub said. "We lost the first three games and it was so obvious that we didn't have enough strength. We challenged them at the beginning of last year and they answered the call and completely raised the standard. It's everything for us."
No. 4 Point Boro 39, No. 7 Manasquan 13
Manasquan (0-1, 0-1)
Point Boro (2-0, 1-0)
PB — Matt Oliphant 1-yard run (Brayden Forfar kick)
M — Brett Patten 1-yard run (kick failed)
PB — Matt Oliphant 1-yard run (kick failed)
PB — Matt Oliphant 67-yard run (Brayden Forfar kick)
M — Jhamier Howard 38-yard run (Jack Dettlinger kick)
PB — Jake Croce 4-yard run (Brayden Forfar kick)
PB — Jake Croce 35-yard run (kick failed)
PB — Matt Oliphant 30-yard run (run failed)
RUSHING — M: Jhamier Howard 13-86, Brett Patten 9-14, Torey Falkinburg 2-2; PB: Matt Oliphant 19-228, Jake Croce 11-76, Connor Cilento 7-61.
PASSING — M: Brett Patten 8-17-0 114; PB: Matt Oliphant 0-1-0 0.
RECEIVING — M: Jhamier Howard 3-60, Jack Dettlinger 3-46, Cael Driscoll 1-9, Matt O’Donnell 1-(-1).