TOMS RIVER – The Ford highlight factory is back up and running again at maximum capacity.

Toms River North senior quarterback Micah Ford showed he’s all the way back from a knee injury to look like his supercharged self again in a 54-13 win over fifth-seeded Freehold Township on Friday night in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 5 semifinals at Gernerd Field.

The reigning Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year ran for 107 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries, threw for 109 yards and 2 touchdowns on three completions, ran for a 2-point conversion and threw for another one, and had a pick-six from his safety spot on defense to highlight the win for the top-seeded Mariners.

“I feel great,” Ford said. “I'm just so happy to be back on the field, both sides of the ball now, and just picking my team up the best way I can.”

“It's been seven weeks since the injury, and we knew once we got to this point, he would be fully healthy as long as we were smart about it,” Toms River North head coach Dave Oizerowitz said. “He looked incredible tonight.”

The defending Group 5 champions punched their ticket to a third straight sectional final and will welcome second-seeded Washington Township (9-2) to Gernerd Field next Friday in a bid to win back-to-back titles.

Ford, who missed three full games with the knee injury and played limited snaps in others, starred on both sides of the ball on Friday night for the first time since he suffered the setback in a Sept. 15 loss to Donovan Catholic.

“Last week he broke a run on an inside toss from the tailback position, and he was back to top speed,” Oizerowitz said about a playoff win over Southern. “He hit the hole, and it looked like a wind tunnel. This was the first week we knew he's good to go on defense. He's been begging us to play on that side.”

He wasn’t the only one setting off the end-zone cannon on Friday night, either. Senior Tareq Council had a 67-yard punt return touchdown, senior Jeremiah Pruitt had two touchdown catches, and Ford’s younger brother, running back Mordecai Ford, broke off an 80-yard touchdown run. Toms River North (9-2) rolled up 210 yards on the ground on an average of 12.3 yards per carry.

“Everybody thinks it's Micah's football team, Micah this, Micah that,” Micah Ford said. “Man, this is a North football team. The name on the front of the jersey don't lie.”

Facing a Freehold Township team coming off an upset win over previously unbeaten North Brunswick for just its second state playoff win in program history, Toms River North went right to work.

After forcing a three-and-out to start the game, the Mariners went 52 yards in six plays, taking a 6-0 lead when Ford scored on a two-yard run to cap a drive in which he ran for 44 yards on five carries. Freehold Township (7-4) answered with a five-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a 33-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Nick Cardone to wideout GianPaul Cortes to tie it 6-6 after the extra point was no good.

Toms River North then took the lead for good when Ford broke off a 19-yard touchdown run for a 12-6 advantage with 2:01 left in the first quarter.

The defense came up with another stop, and then Council sprinted to his right for a 67-yard punt return score to get the home crowd on its feet. Ford ran in a two-point conversion for a 20-6 lead with 33 seconds left in the first quarter, and it was all Toms River North from there.

“I caught the ball and looked down, saw a big gap, got some blocks, and I just had to make a play,” Council said.

“I think he really secured the momentum in our favor, and we kind of kept it from there,”Oizerowitz said. “I think that was one of the bigger plays of the game.”

After the Patriots were pinned inside their own 10 on the ensuing kickoff, Ford showed off his talents on defense. The Stanford recruit took an interception 25 yards to the house for a 27-6 lead with 11:13 left in the half. He had another interception in the game that got wiped out by a penalty, and almost got his hands on a tipped pass that would’ve been another pick-six.

“I can play multiple positions, that's what that proves,” Ford said. “I’ve been calling (an interception) all week. I spoke it into existence. I've been watching film, studying how they break their routes.”

The Toms River North defense again forced a three-and-out, and Council returned another punt to the 6-yard line. Three plays later, Ford found Pruitt for an 11-yard touchdown pass and a 33-6 lead with 8:42 left in the half. The explosive Mariners scored three times in a span of less than four minutes to turn the game into a rout.

“We came out ready,” Pruitt said. “We know what we can do at the end of the day.”

Freehold Township cut the lead to 33-13 with a five-yard pass from Cardone to senior wideout Nick Carnevale on fourth-and-goal, and then recovered an onside kick late in the second quarter. However, Toms River North’s defense put an end to any momentum when junior linebacker Blaise Boland slammed into Cardone for a sack, popping the ball loose right into the hands of junior linebacker Eddie Slosky.

Cardone entered the game as the Shore Conference’s leading passer with more than 2,100 yards, and Toms River North held him to 141 yards on 11-for-25 passing in the Patriots’ spread attack.

“You just got to be patient on defense and understand that they are going to get some first downs, but you have to kind of squeeze them like a vise grip,” Oizerowitz said. “We were able to get pressure with four, so we really didn't need to bring an extra guy. I think we only blitzed two or three times, and that was key because we could guard. We played six defensive backs tonight.”

Toms River North ended any lingering suspense three plays into the third quarter when Ford hit Pruitt with a short pass and he broke free for a 60-yard touchdown and a 39-13 lead. Senior running back Josh Moore added a 12-yard touchdown run later in the quarter, and Mordecai Ford put the cherry on top with an 80-yard burst in the fourth quarter.

The only blemish on the night for the Mariners was 16 penalties for 170 yards in a chippy game in which there were a combined seven unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

“I think they were baiting our kids, no doubt,” Oizerowitz said. “And once they saw they could get under our kids' skin, I don't blame them. That's part of the game. Once we got the first few fouls early, I thought some of our kids that got them did a good job of maintaining their composure because it continued throughout the game and our kids were able to walk away.”

It added up to another impressive victory for a team that has won 23 straight games against fellow public schools. Now they face a Washington Township team they beat 28-21 in last year’s season opener.

The Mariners played one of the hardest schedules of any public school in the state during the regular season with three games against top 10 teams in New Jersey – Red Bank Catholic, Donovan Catholic and Millville. They also beat South Jersey Group 2 finalist Rumson-Fair Haven. They’re hoping to reap the dividends by making a drive for their second straight Group 5 title with Ford back at full power.

“We’ve played the best of the best,” Council said. “Now it’s time to come out here and show out.”


Box score

Toms River North 54, Freehold Township 13


.                                       T                        F

First downs                  12                     15

Rushes-yards           17-210               25-23

Passing                       4-6-0                 11-25-1

Passing yards             114                    141

Penalties                 16-170                5-49

Fumbles-lost               0-0                    1-1


Freehold Twp. (7-4)      6  7   0   0  - 13

TR North (9-2)            20  13   14 7 – 54


Scoring summary

T: Mi. Ford 2-yard run (kick blocked).

F: Cortes 33-yard pass from Cardone (kick failed).

T: Mi. Ford 19-yard run (run failed).

T: Council 67-yard punt return (Mi. Ford run).

T: Mi. Ford 25-yard INT return (Papanikolas kick).

T: Pruitt 11-yard pass from Mi. Ford (run failed).

F: Carnevale 5-yard pass from Cardone (Loff kick).

T: Pruitt 60-yard pass from Mi. Ford (kick failed).

T: Moore 12-yard run (Rodriguez pass from Mi. Ford).

T: Mo. Ford 80-yard run (Papanikolas kick).

Individual statistics

Rushing – T: Mi. Ford 11-107, Mo. Ford 1-80, Moore 4-28, Valerio 1-(-5). F: Whisten 6-1, Cardone 8-0, Andujar 3-4, Kokotis 1-(-6), Tamai 7-24.

Passing – T: Mi. Ford 3-5-0 109, Valerio 1-1-0 5. F: Cardone 11-25-1 141.

Receiving – T: Pruitt 2-71, Thomas 2-43. F: Cancela 1-20, Cortes 1-33, Tansey 2-3, Carnevale 6-77, Whisten 1-8.

Interceptions – T: Mi. Ford 1-25.

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