Mota, Castronuova, Davies Lead South to Victory in the North-South All-Star Football Classic
UNION –– Long Branch's Vinny Mota is a fun kid to root for, as long as he isn't making game-winning kicks to beat your team. For John Kaye, it was nice to be on the other side of the Green Wave kicker's prolific leg.
"If anyone knows what Vinny Mota can do it's me because he's been beating me for three years," said Kaye, the head coach at Matawan who served as the South all-stars' offensive coordinator.
Mota kicked field goals of 45, 37 and 37 yards on his way to being selected as the South's offensive MVP while Jackson Memorial wide receiver/defensive back Matt Castronuova returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown and Lacey quarterback Conor Davies tossed a touchdown pass to lead the South all-stars to a 23-21 victory over the North all-stars in the 37th annual Phil Simms North-South Classic on Monday night at Kean University.
The Shore Conference had 17 players playing in the game - more than half the South roster - and for the second straight year played a major role in securing a victory. Brick's Ray Fattaruso had a forced fumble on a punt that led to a score and Point Boro's Jack Fitzsimmons recovered a fumble on a kickoff that led to the eventual game-winning score.
Mota missed a 34-yard field goal in the first quarter, but rebounded by converting on his next three attempts. The first of his successful kicks was a career-long 45-yarder with 55 seconds left in the first quarter to give the South a 3-0 lead. He then connected on a 37-yard field goal with 6:18 left in the first half to put the South up 6-0, and later put the South up 16-14 with another 37-yarder.
Mota had been bombing kicks in practice all week, and crushed a 52-yarder in the walkthrough on Monday morning, according to Kaye.
"I missed the first one, but everybody just picked me up and said forget about it," Mota said. "It was a pleasure playing in the game. We all had fun and came together as a team. The goal was to win it, and we did."
That short scoring drive came after a thunderous hit by Fattaruso that jarred the ball loose on a punt return and allowed Franklin's Jave Brown to recover the ball at the North 22.
The North all-stars took a 7-6 lead into halftime after Lenape Valley quarterback Rylan Panghorn lofted a pass to the corner of the end zone that Seton Hall Prep's Vincent Nisivoccia brought down with 27 seconds left in the half. Cresskill's Matt Ferrera kicked the extra point to put the North up by one.
Castronuova ignited the South side when he fielded the opening kickoff of the second half a few yards deep in the end zone, found a seam and outran the North kick coverage all the way for the score. Mota's extra point made it 13-7 South.
Castronuova was able to take advantage of the game's rules allowing players to return kicks once they've crossed the goal line. In NJSIAA games, once a kickoff crosses into the end zone it's an automatic touchback.
"We were talking all week that if it goes in the end zone we're taking it out," said Castronuova, who will continue his career at Monmouth University. "It was just like Madden, I wasn't taking knee. Our wedge was set up perfectly and I just hit it and ran."
"We were beating them up in the first half but just couldn't finish, and he comes out right away in the second half and sets the tone and gives us the lead," Davies said. "It was a huge momentum builder."
The North responded on the next drive with Linden's Juwan Dolbrice at quarterback. He flipped a pass to Morristown-Beard's Matt McFadden, who broke a few tackles and raced 53 yards for the score, putting the North back up 14-13.
Mota would give the South the lead for good when he kicked another 37-yard field goal to cap a Davies-led 12-play, 64-yard scoring drive late in the third quarter.
Fitzsimmons recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff to give the South the ball at the North 49. Davies then engineered a five-play, 49-yard scoring drive with a 15-yard run where he drew a facemask penalty that moved the ball to the North 15. On third-and-12 from the 17, Davies scrambled and found JFK-Iselin's Terence Young for the eventual game-winning touchdown. Mota's extra point made it 23-14 with two minutes left in the third quarter.
"I saw the (defensive) lineman coming so I just reacted and started running," said Davies, who will attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "A couple times before when I scrambled (Young) was open so I looked for him. The corners came up on (St. John Vianney wide receiver Dan) Calabro and Young was wide open. It wasn't even that great of a pass, I just floated it to him."
An interception by Northern Burlington's Marshe Terry thwarted a North scoring drive with just over five minutes left in the game, but a fumble by the South was recovered by Paterson Eastside's Tevaughn Grant at the South 15 shortly after. Panghorn hit St. Joseph-Montvale's Ugo Ezemma for a touchdown on the next play to pull the North all-stars to within 23-21.
The South all-stars were forced to punt with 1:07 left, but the North all-stars had no timeouts to work with and had to start at their own 34-yard line after great kickoff coverage by Brown, who made a tackle for no gain on the return. Panghorn was able to lead the offense up to the South 41-yard line, but on the final play Piscataway's Charles Mitchell sacked Panghorn to lock up the South's second straight victory. They now lead the all-time series 18-16-2.
"It was a great bunch of kids," Kaye said. "Everybody played a role and we had a great week of practice. They only had three days to pick up all this, so it was a great day. The kids really bonded and came together. There were no egos. We just got after it and had a good time."
Getting a chance to play with players of rival teams and with players from other parts of the state is always a big part of the North-South Classic.
"It was definitely a fun time," Davies said. "It was weird throwing to guys I've seen but never played with or against - Calabro, (Justin) Ferrara from Matawan - but it was fun because it was a great squad of receivers to throw to."
"For example, Brick and Jackson, me and Ray Fattaruso, are trading helmet stickers," Castronuova said. "Just to come together with all the kids at this skill level and compete with the best kids in New Jersey is great."
"A player like (linebacker Mikal Poteat) from Wildwood, I would never know him and he ended up being the funniest kid here all week," Davies added. "It was great making some friendships with kids you would never otherwise play with or against."
Former Brick player and Wall assistant coach Al Tirpack was among those inducted into the New Jersey Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame at halftime.
37th annual Phil Simms North-South All-Star Football Classic
South 23, North 21
North (16-18-2) 0 7 7 7 – 21
South (18-16-2) 3 3 17 0 – 23
S – Vinny Mota 45-yard field goal
S – Vinny Mota 37-yard field goal
N – Rylan Panghorn 5-yard pass to Vincent Nisivoccia (Matt Ferrera kick)
S – Matt Castronuova 103-yard kickoff return (Vinny Mota kick)
N – Juwan Dolbrice 53-yard pass to Matt McFadden (Matt Ferrera kick)
S – Vinny Mota 37-yard field goal
S – Conor Davies 17-yard pass to Terence Young (Vinny Mota kick)
N – Rylan Panghorn 15-yard pass to Ugo Ezemma (Matt Ferrera kick)
Rushing – N: Devell Jones 7-33, Juwan Dolbrice 6-21, Lucas Faria 3-9, Jimmy Martinez 1-5, Angelo Gallego 5-4, Rylan Panghorn 5-0; S: Jahmiere Van Kline 4-31, Conor Davies 9-29, Dahmiere Willis 13-13, Terence Young 4-9, Carl Games 3-1, Tymere Berry 16-(-12).
Passing – N: Rylan Panghorn 18-27-1 151, Juwan Dolbrice 6-8-0 86; S: Conor Davies 8-13-0 85, Tymere Berry 1-2-0 21.
Receiving – N: Matt McFadden 3-50, Lucas Faria 3-49, Ugo Ezemma 5-39, Vincent Nisivoccia 3-27, Justice Stewart 3-21, Jordan Lorenzo 1-20, Devell Jones 3-19, Willie Barr 2-6, Angelo Gallego 1-6; S: Terence Young 6-79, Matt Castronuova 1-16, Dan Calabro 2-11.
Interceptions – S: Marshe Terry 1-17.