Neptune’s Defense Shuts Down Dahmiere Willis to Blank Long Branch
NEPTUNE — Everywhere Dahmiere Willis tried to run on Saturday afternoon at a rainy Memorial Athletic Complex, there was a scarlet and black jersey in his face.
Long Branch tried him up the middle, to the right, to the left, and even on jet sweeps. But it didn’t matter. With its postseason life on the line, Neptune shut down the Shore Conference’s leading rusher with a supremely dominant performance that was both stunning and outstanding.
Senior running back Jaree Parrish and senior quarterback Royal Moore each ran for 100 yards and a touchdown, and the Scarlet Fliers’ defense held Willis, who entered the game with 1,800 yards rushing over his first seven games, to a season-low 17 yards on 16 carries to fuel a crucial 27-0 shutout of the No. 4 Green Wave in a Shore Conference Class B North game.
Senior lineman Andrew Holland-Samuels led a dominant effort up front that wreaked havoc at the point of attack throughout the game, and senior defensive back Cameron Calderon intercepted two passes, including one he returned 88 yards for a touchdown. Senior O’Shane Curate and Moore also had big games defensively as Neptune held the Green Wave to just 58 yards of offense.
“We got them out of their game,” Calderon said. “(Willis) is one of the best running backs, if not the best running back, in New Jersey, and we knew that if we were going to beat Long Branch we had to shut him down.”
“We were doing a lot, defensively,” said Neptune head coach Rodney Taylor. “You have to be creative against them. He’s one of the best backs I’ve seen in a long time.”
While the Scarlet Fliers (5-2, 5-1) had some schematic wrinkles that paid dividends, the story of their domination was as simple as pressure. Their defensive line owned the trenches, led by Holland-Samuels, and disrupted Long Branch’s power running game before it could get any traction. Willis was routinely hit in the backfield or at least forced to change direction before even getting back to the line of scrimmage. That allowed Neptune’s swarming linebackers and secondary to stifle one of the hottest players in the state. Willis entered with six straight 200-yard rushing games. His longest run Saturday was a 14-yard gain. He was hit for a loss or no gain on nine of his 16 carries.
“It was our D-line that held everything down,” Moore said. “They helped the linebackers and d-backs get to Dahmiere quick. In practice the coaches drilled it into our heads that we had to get to him quickly. We could not let him get to the outside.”
“Up front, those guys truly bought into what we’ve been telling them,” Taylor said. “They were ready.”
Holland-Samuels finished with one sack and one tackle for a loss, and it seemed like he was in the Long Branch backfield as much as Willis and quarterback Jordan Rodriguez. Also an offensive lineman, he helped pave the way for 218 rushing yards.
“He’s been playing like that all year for us,” Taylor said of Holland-Samuels. “He’s been our best lineman on both sides of the ball, and he’s been a great leader.”
Neptune’s victory over Long Branch (6-2, 5-2), which entered the game ranked No. 4 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and had only lost to top-ranked Red Bank Catholic, will get the Scarlet Fliers back into the Top 10. More importantly, Saturday’s win and the bevy of power points it will provide most likely locks up a playoff spot for Neptune. The Fliers entered Saturday 10th in Central Jersey Group IV. A loss would’ve almost certainly eliminated them from postseason contention.
“We came out here and played Neptune football,” Calderon said. “We weren’t going to let them manhandle us.”
It was Calderon’s first interception that set up Neptune’s first scoring drive midway through the first quarter. The Scarlet Fliers took over at their own 20, and on the third play Parrish took a handoff up the middle, found a crease and raced into the open field on a 72-yard touchdown run. Senior Hunter Daly knocked through the extra point for a 7-0 lead. As dominant as Long Branch has been in its victories this season, it has been a one-dimensional team. Of course that dimension had been unstoppable over the last six games, but forcing the Green Wave to play from behind was part of Neptune’s plan.
“It’s kind of funny because last year when I played for Ocean, Tyler Thompson had that same type of run to start it off when we beat them,” Moore said. “When he got that run I knew we had this game.”
Long Branch’s defense nearly equalled Neptune over the first half, as the Scarlet Fliers were unable to add to their lead in holding a 7-0 advantage at halftime. But the story remained the same when Long Branch’s offense was on the field. Willis and the running game couldn’t get anything going, and Long Branch added insult to injury with three fumbles (one lost) and untimely penalties.
Miscommunication on a Long Branch punt deep in its own end led to David Colbert’s unsuccessful fake-punt run early in the third quarter, and Neptune’s stop on fourth down gave it the ball at the Long Branch 16. Two plays later, Moore scored on a three-yard keeper to put Neptune up 14-0.
Later in the quarter it looked like a special teams play might just jump-start Long Branch’s offense, but a great play by Ralph McLean kept momentum squarely on the Scarlet Fliers’ side. David Colbert was just about to break what would have been a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown, but McLean caught him from behind just past midfield to strip the ball and recover it.
Long Branch forced Neptune to punt, and Daly attempted a fake-punt pass that fell incomplete. That gave the Green Wave possession at the Neptune 32-yard line and presented another opportunity to get back in the game down two touchdowns. But Calderon put the exclamation point on a defensive gem when he intercepted Rodriguez at the 12-yard line and returned it all the way for an 88-yard touchdown, putting the Scarlet Fliers up 20-0 with 2:17 left in the third quarter.
“I caught the ball and saw everything go left, I bent right and that was it,” Calderon said. “I saw Isaiah Calhoun waving me his way and I just followed him all the way.”
Neptune added another score with a nine-play, 63-yard drive early in the fourth quarter. Moore capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown throw to Curate, tossing a pass at the last second as he was being wrapped up for a sack.
Neptune played its first four games without its full arsenal of weapons as Moore missed the first three games after transferring from Ocean, and Parrish and Calderon also missed games. During that stretch the Fliers suffered their two losses via shutouts by Red Bank Catholic and Middletown South. Saturday’s win was Neptune’s fourth straight and also their second consecutive shutout. In a loaded NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV bracket that features defending champion Brick, Jackson Memorial, Middletown South and Freehold, the Scarlet Fliers have emerged as a contender.
“The kids are finally in a groove,” Taylor said.
Neptune 27, No. 4 Long Branch 0
Long Branch (6-2, 5-2) 0 0 0 0 – 0
Neptune (5-2, 5-1) 7 0 13 7 – 27
Jaree Parrish 72-yard run (Hunter Daly kick)
Royal Moore 3-yard run (Hunter Daly kick)
Cameron Calderon 88-yard interception return (kick blocked)
Royal Moore 5-yard pass to O'Shane Curate (Hunter Daly kick)
Rushing – LB: Dahmiere Willis 16-17, Earl Mackason 3-13, David Colbert 1-8, Hunter Baillie 1-7, Keith Cooper 1-2, Jordan Rodriguez 4-(-6); N: Royal Moore 17-101, Jaree Parrish 10-100, Savior King 7-21, O'Shane Curate 1-(-1), Ralph McLean 1-(-3).
Passing – LB: Jordan Rodriguez 1-8-2 17; N: Royal Moore 3-7-0 8, Hunter Daly 0-1-0 0.
Receiving – LB: David Colbert 1-17; N: O'Shane Curate 1-5, Ralph McLean 1-5, Marcque Ellington 1-(-2).
Interceptions – N: Cameron Calderon 2-90.