Missing Link: Cebulski fires 3 TDs to lead No. 9 Jackson Memorial past No. 4 Rumson-Fair Haven
JACKSON TOWNSHIP – With Rumson-Fair Haven stacking the box as expected to slow down 1,000-yard rusher Will Towns, it was up to the arm of senior quarterback Lonnie Cebulski to make the plays that were sure to present themselves. Challenged to come up with big throws against a stout defense, Cebulski responded with the best game of his career.
Cebulski tossed a career-high three touchdown passes, two into the hands of senior Zack Novak, while Jackson Memorial’s defense was outstanding to send the Jaguars, ranked No. 9 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, to a 22-14 Shore Conference nondivisional victory over No. 4 Rumson on Friday night at John J. Munley Field.
Cebulski’s 59-yard touchdown pass to senior Jake McKown in the second quarter gave Jackson (6-2) the lead for good. He bookended Jackson’s scoring with touchdown passes of 5 and 9 yards to Novak while McKown kicked a 22-yard field goal in the third quarter as the Jags pushed their winning streak to five games heading into the South Group 4 playoffs where they will have at least a first-round home game.
“It feels really good. All season we’ve been run-heavy but we knew we had the athletes to beat every team we’ve played up top,” said Cebulski, whose three touchdown strikes surpassed his season total coming into the game. “It’s mainly on me to put the ball in our athletes’ hands and we got the job done today. It’s finally starting to click entering the playoffs.”
“If you look at Jake McKown and Zack Novak, these dudes are national track stars who have great ball skills,” said Jackson Memorial head coach Vinny Mistretta. “Have it be pass protection breakdowns or Lonnie overthrowing it early in the season we haven’t really been able to connect, but Lonnie put the ball right on them tonight. They can outrun anybody in the Shore and are two dynamic receivers who have been under the radar because we haven’t been able to execute. If we can add that dimension to our offense, we’re going to be dangerous.”
A newly-minted FBS recruit after receiving a scholarship offer from the University of Massachusetts this week, Towns fought his way to 70 yards rushing on 26 carries against a physical Rumson defense hellbent on slowing him down. He entered the game with 1,065 yards rushing, the second-highest total in the Shore.
“Will ran his butt off and I hope it appeared that way,” Mistretta said. “He was getting every yard that was out there and that’s a great defense.”
While the host Jaguars had no problems in the muddy confines of The Jungle, the visiting Bulldogs could not say the same.
Jackson held Rumson to 127 yards of offense, including a stunning mark of minus-1 yard rushing. Star running back John Volker had just nine yards on nine carries. Senior quarterback Collin Coles completed just 7 of 22 passes, fumbled three times and threw an interception. The Bulldogs also lost a fumble on a punt return that led to a Jackson touchdown. The bulk of their yards came on a 74-yard touchdown pass when Volker took a swing pass and did the rest. Rumson’s other touchdown came when Dan Afflitto returned a kickoff 60 yards for a touchdown.
Jackson’s defense generated just a few negative plays and it was more about solid execution of the game plan than dominating one-on-one battles. It was a collective effort of sure tackling, tight coverage and enough pressure on the quarterback to disrupt the passing game. Senior linebacker Hunter Smith filled in for regular starter Tyronn Blackwell and had a standout game with multiple first hits, a tackle for loss, a diving pass deflection and a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage.
“He’s a senior and he’s waited for his opportunity,” Mistretta said. “He decided not to play last year but we got him to come back out and we knew in a situation where he had to fill in he could do the job well. I would have never imagined he would play as well as he did tonight, though. He was the MVP of our defense.”
After a scoreless first quarter where the teams combined for just 48 yards and one first down, Jackson used a turnover to strike first. Senior linebacker Brian Zapata snatched a Coles pass out of the air and returned it 23 yards to the Rumson 7-yard line. On third-and-goal, Cebulski flipped a pass to Novak, who leaned toward the pass, kept his feet in bounds and secured the 5-yard touchdown. The extra point was unsuccessful, however, giving the Jaguars a 6-0 lead.
Rumson responded immediately on the game’s next offensive play. On first down from the 26-yard line, Coles hit Volker with a quick swing pass and Volker did the rest by breaking two tackles and using his great speed to zoom 74 yards for a touchdown. Michael Piperno’s extra point gave the Bulldogs a 7-6 lead with 9:10 left in the half.
Now it was Jackson’s turn to answer. On the next series and on third-and-2, Cebulski dropped a pass perfectly into the arms of a streaking McKown, who secured the ball and raced the rest of the way for a 59-yard touchdown. He added the extra point for a 13-7 lead that Jackson would hold through halftime.
Jackson began the second half by forcing a three-and-out and taking over at its own 40-yard line after a Rumson punt. The Jaguars chewed seven minutes off the clock on the ensuing drive, which culminated in a 22-yard field goal by McKown that stretched the lead to 16-7 with 3:19 left in the third quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Jackson came up with another turnover when the ball squirted out of the Rumson punt returner’s grasp and was pounced on by sophomore Rob Paneque at the 47-yard line.
On the first play after the fumble recovery, Jackson went up top and connected on a 34-yard pass from Cebulski to Novak down to the RFH 13-yard line. On third-and-6 from the 9-yard line, Novak laid out for another touchdown catch to give the Jaguars a 22-7 lead that stood after the 2-point conversion run failed.
Rumson made it a one-score game, however, when Afflitto fielded the next kickoff and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown.
That was as close as Rumson would get, however. The Bulldogs went three-and-out on their final three possessions and the Jaguars walked away with a huge win in their regular-season finale.
“This gives us a heck of a momentum swing,” Cebulski said. “On senior night, there’s no better feeling than this.”
|Rumson-Fair Haven (4-4)||0||7||0||7||14|
|Jackson Memorial (6-2)||0||13||3||6||22|
JM – Zack Novak 5-yard pass from Lonnie Cebulski (kick failed)
RFH – John Volker 74-yard pass from Collin Coles (Michael Piperno kick)
JM – Jake McKown 59-yard pass from Lonnie Cebulski (Jake McKown kick)
JM – Jake McKown 22-yard field goal
JM – Zack Novak 9-yard pass from Lonnie Cebulski (run failed)
RFH – Dan Afflitto 60-yard kickoff return (Michael Piperno kick)
RUSHING – RFH: John Volker 9-9, Geoff Schroeder 3-3, Pete Crowley 1-3, Collin Coles 3-(-16); JM: Will Towns 26-70, Nic Ford 8-39, Lonnie Cebulski 2-(-5).
PASSING – RFH: Collin Coles 7-22-2 128; JM: Lonnie Cebulski 8-12-0 122.
RECEIVING – RFH: John Volker 1-74, Patrick Jamin 4-41, David Livingston 1-7, Luke Devlin 1-6; JM: Jake McKown 4-76, Zack Novak 3-48, Will Towns 1-(-2).
INTERCEPTIONS – JM: Brian Zapata 1-23.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.