New Heights: Monmouth Regional Soars Past Keyport To Claim First Division Title since 2006
KEYPORT – When Dan Wendel took over as Monmouth Regional’s head coach three seasons ago, he envisioned the process his program had to go through in order to become contenders. His message to his players was to stay the course and put their trust in the coaching staff to guide them in the right direction.
Their faith and trust have been rewarded, because in year three, the Falcons are division champions.
On Saturday afternoon at Mike Ciccotelli Field, Monmouth used a power rushing attack and a physical defense to take down previously-undefeated Keyport, 28-7, and clinch at least a share of the Shore Conference National Division championship. The Falcons can clinch the title outright with a win over Point Beach next week. The division crown is just the third in program history and first since 2006.
Junior running back Julian Jones ran for a career-high 244 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries and also ran for a 2-point conversion and the defense forced three turnovers, including a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown by senior linebacker Jeremiah Robles. Three years after a winless season, the Falcons are 4-1 and one of the most successful teams in program history.
“I bring it back to two years ago, we always told the kids to trust the process and in two or three years we’ll be in a spot where we are doing the same thing (as the other teams on their schedule),” Wendel said. “This is a very special group. They took their lumps as sophomores two years ago going 0-9 and then battled through everything we battled through last year. There’s an expectation and a standard of how we want to play and that’s what they live by.”
Monmouth’s defense held down a high-scoring Keyport offense that had been averaging 31.8 points per game featuring one of the Shore’s most dynamic players, senior wide receiver DJ Thomson. The Red Raiders didn’t crack the scoreboard until the final play of the third quarter when Thomson got behind the Falcon’s defense for a 47-yard touchdown reception from senior quarterback George Mitchell, but outside of that play, the Monmouth defense was tremendous. Keyport managed just 117 yards of offense and five first downs.
Senior Nelson Harris-Thomas was a force for all 48 minutes, finishing with three tackles for loss, two sacks, and two forced fumbles among his eight total tackles. Senior defensive end Loukas Plasteras recorded three tackles for loss, a sack, and a fumble recovery, junior linebacker Eric Crossley had seven tackles, a tackle for loss, and a fumble recovery, and junior Lucas Bomtempo also recorded a sack.
“Our defense has been playing light out, they’ve been unbelievable this year,” Wendel said. “They feel comfortable playing in the system – they've been through it for three years now – and they just fly around. And they’ve progressively gotten better. That first game (a 20-14 loss to Manchester) left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth and since then they’ve been locked in and ready to prove they’re here to play this year.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Monmouth struck first when Jones extended the ball over the goal line for a 3-yard touchdown run with 7:53 left in the first half. The two-point conversion attempt was stopped via a sack by Keyport, leaving the score 6-0. It was the Falcons’ defense that provided a huge assist on the scoring drive, forcing Keyport to punt from its own 7-yard line, which gave Monmouth the ball at the 39-yard line. A 10-yard run by Jones coupled with a personal foul on Keyport quickly advanced the ball inside the 15-yard line.
Three plays into the next series, Robles picked off Mitchell and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown to extend Monmouth’s lead. Jones ran in the 2-point conversion to make it 14-0 with 6:46 left until halftime.
Midway through the third quarter, Monmouth started a drive at its own 20-yard line and moved down the field in 10 plays to take a three-score lead. Jones broke free for a 35-yard run on first down and another personal foul penalty on Keyport put the ball at the Red Raiders’ 26-yard line. Jones polished off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful and Monmouth led 20-0 with 18 seconds left in the third quarter.
On the first play of the ensuing possession, Thomson finally broke free and Mitchell hit him in stride for a 47-yard touchdown pass. Mitchell added the extra point to trim Monmouth’s lead to 20-7 heading to the fourth quarter.
Keyport then got the ball back when senior cornerback Zivon Crank intercepted a pass. Momentum seemed to be shifting toward the Raiders, but Monmouth responded two plays later when Nelson-Harris chased down Mitchell for a strip-sack and Crossley pounced on the fumble at the Monmouth 29-yard line.
“When they got the INT we just had to flush it,” Harris-Thomas said. “We had to forget about it and move on to the next play.”
“Every day we work on facing adversity in practice,” Plasteras said. “We’ll run a drill where we throw an interception and we have to go right back out on defense. We prepare to be ready at every single moment.”
From there, Monmouth put together a 12-play, 71-yard drive to put the game out of reach. Jones and Robles combined for 12 consecutive running plays before Jones bounced a run around the left side for a 9-yard touchdown run and a 28-7 lead with 2:21 left.
The Falcons’ regular season has two games remaining with Point Beach and Point Boro coming up over the next two weeks. A win over Beach will give Monmouth the outright National Division title. A Week 7 matchup with a Point Boro team that currently has the No. 1 scoring offense in the Shore and is ranked No. 1 in the South Group 2 United Power Ranking will certainly be a major test. Then it’s two games in the Shore Conference postseason pods before the NJSIAA playoffs begin.
Meaningful games are coming up for Monmouth Regional. The opportunity to compete in high-stakes games late in the season is a welcome departure from the program’s past struggles.
“It means so much to win with my brothers,” Plasteras said. “We come out every day and work and we’ve built a special bond. We think other people are surprised but we’re not. We put in the work all offseason and we knew we had a chance to be great.”
Monmouth vs. Keyport Football
Monmouth 28, Keyport 7
|Monmouth (4-1, 4-0)||0||14||6||8||28|
|Keyport (4-1, 3-1)||0||0||7||0||7|
M – Julian Jones 3-yard run (pass failed)
M – Jeremiah Robles 30-yard interception return (Julian Jones run)
M – Julian Jones 1-yard run (pass failed)
K – DJ Thomson 47-yard pass from George Mitchell (George Mitchell kick)
M – Julian Jones 9-yard run (Jeremiah Robles run)
RUSHING – M: Julian Jones 30-244, Jeremiah Robles 10-45, Brandon Ligon 1-(-3), Anthony Jehn 7-(-11); K: Nazir Treadwell 6-26, George Mitchell 4-(-3), DJ Thomson 1-(-10).
PASSING – M: Anthony Jehn 8-14-2 42; K: George Mitchell 9-24-1 104.
RECEIVING – M: Ta’Haj Wiggins 2-23, Griffin Hicks 1-14, Julian Jones 3-4, Nelson Harris-Thomas 1-2, Gerald Wiggins 1-(-1); K: DJ Thomson 5-68, Nashirr Hart 1-19, Christyan Azevedo 1-13, Ali Elayan 1-7, Mason Eldrigde 1-0, Nazir Treadwell 1-(-3).
INTERCEPTIONS – M: Jeremiah Robles 1-31; K: George Mitchell 1-0, Zivon Crank 1-8.