Ocean rallies late, stuns Matawan for 3-0 start
ABERDEEN -- Matawan’s suffocating defense had gotten the better of Ocean for three-plus quarters Friday night, but with Royal Moore and Tyler Thompson in the backfield, the Spartans knew all they needed was one play.
And with under three minutes left to play, one of their offensive stars finally broke free.
Thompson, a sophomore running back, took a screen pass from Moore late in the fourth quarter and turned it into a 55-yard touchdown, erasing a three-point deficit and allowing the No. 6 Spartans to stun the host Huskies, 7-3, in a Shore Conference Class B North game.
“I caught that screen pass and I just saw straight green,” Thompson said. “But that play wasn’t the reason we won the game. Our defense is the reason we won the game.”
Up to that point, Ocean was right around 100 total yards of offense for the game. Both defenses played exceptionally well, and Ocean’s unit hung tight to give its offense a chance to pull out a win late in the game.
“We just stayed tough and fought through adversity,” said senior linebacker Dan Loizos, who had a sack and a pair of tackles for losses. “We knew that Matawan had a chip on their shoulder at 2-0, and they were going to try to run the ball down our throat and play hard defense.”
Ocean (3-0, 2-0) won the battle of unbeatens with its second straight dominating defensive performance. After shutting out Neptune in Week Two, the Spartans have allowed just three points in two games. Their offense has run into a pair of equally stingy defenses and scored just 14 points in two weeks, but they’ve come out the other end undefeated.
“I think we have the potential to be a real complete team in all three facets,” said Ocean head coach Don Klein. “Offensively things are there, we just have to do a better job executing. I have full faith moving forward the plays we’re missing on offense we’ll start to make.”
Matawan (2-1, 1-1) limited Ocean to just 34 total yards in the first half and owned a 3-0 lead on a 26-yard field goal by senior Mike Creamer. Ocean’s defense had given up just 52 yards. The difference was a pair of fumbles by Ocean’s offense that led to Matawan scoring chances.
The first turnover came on Ocean’s first drive. On first down from the 48, senior defensive lineman Brandon Murphy knocked the ball free and sophomore linebacker Aliem Shaw recovered at midfield. Matawan moved to the 20-yard line with nine straight running plays before Ocean came up with a big play on third down. A sack by Mike Halawani, one of 2 1/2 in the game for the senior linebacker, pushed Matawan back to the 26. Creamer’s 42-yard field goal attempt missed left to keep the game scoreless.
Late in the half, Matawan forced another fumble deep in Spartans territory. Senior defensive end Nick Tomkins and Shaw combined to dropped Moore for a sack, and Tomkins knocked the ball free in the process, allowing senior defensive lineman Doug Weber to pounce on it at the 17. Ocean kept Matawan out of the end zone, but Creamer’s 26-yard field goal gave the Huskies the lead.
And that looked like it might be enough. In years past, it probably would have been.
“What we have this year that maybe we haven’t in the past is the ability to go big, to hit the big play when we need to,” Klein said.
“We had to hold and bend but not break, because we know they can break one at any time,” Loizos said.
Thompson’s game-winning touchdown capped an 81-yard drive that began with 6:00 left. Creamer had fielded a bad snap from the 47 and gotten off a solid punt to the Ocean 19. On first down Thompson ripped off a 20-yard run to the 39, and three plays later Moore converted a fourth-and-one with a two-yard run. Dan Corredor sacked Moore on first down for a five-yard loss, but Ocean dialed up the screen on second down and beat the blitz with Thompson in the open field.
“They had eight and nine guys in the box most of the game and they changed fronts a lot,” Klein said of Matawan’s defense, which allowed just 169 yards in the game. “They dial up pressure a lot, and when they do you have to make them pay.”
Through three weeks, Ocean has shown the ability to put up points in bunches as it did in a season-opening 51-21 win over Manchester, while also playing stifling defense. If it all comes together the Spartans will be a team to be reckoned with down the stretch. For now, their win over Matawan moves them one step closer to where they want to be in December.
“Games like this are important,” Klein said. “You string together these types of wins and ultimately you’ll be in good shape.”
No. 6 Ocean 7, Matawan 3
Ocean (3-0, 2-0) 0 0 0 7 – 7
Matawan (2-1, 1-1) 0 3 0 0 – 3
M – Mike Creamer 26-yard field goal
O – Tyler Thompson 55-yard pass form Royal Moore (Matt Fisher kick)
Rushing – O: Tyler Thompson 17-87, Royal Moore 14-11, Cole Mehr 3-(-5); M: Devon Spann 22-69, James Pierce 11-15, Justin Lester 2-3, Khalil Haskins 3-(-3).
Passing – O: Royal Moore 3-8-0 76; M: James Pierce 6-11-1 57.
Receiving – O: Tyler Thompson 1-55, Zack Godfrey 2-21; M: Dejohn Rogers 2-26, Justin Ferrara 1-13, Devon Spann 2-12, Khalil Haskins 1-6.
Interceptions – O: Royal Moore 1-49.