Playoff Push: 2018 Barnegat Football Preview
Last year at this time, Barnegat was heading into the season with a handful of returning starters but was generally defined by a promising, yet inexperienced, junior class. The coaching staff was optimistic, but uncertainty surrounded their debuts.
The Bengals finished 5-5 in 2017 and just missed out on a South Jersey Group 2 playoff spot, however several players emerged as standouts, including All-Shore tight end Sean Morris, linebacker Brian Ewan and running back Charlie Cotton. Now the Bengals will return nine starters on both sides of the ball as they look to end a three-year postseason drought.
“Since our eighth-grade year when we won the division and were undefeated we’ve been coming up with high expectations,” Morris said. “This is the season we’ve been waiting for.”
“We’ve all been playing together since we were young and dreamed of this year,” Ewan said. “I remember watching the high school guys and waiting for our moment, and it’s finally here. We’re looking to make a big impact this year.”
The Bengals’ multiple spread offense will have returning starters at all but two positions as they look to improve on their 17.7 points per game average from a season ago. Leading the way will be Morris, a 6-foot-3, 230-pounder who was a Shore Sports Network First Team All-Shore selection and is committed to Holy Cross. He had a breakout 2017 campaign with 38 receptions for 671 yards and eight touchdowns.
“He’s a game-changer,” said Barnegat head coach Rob Davis. “He’s a playmaker on both sides of the ball and the team looks up to him. He’s a hard worker, he’s a vocal leader and also leads by example.”
Cotton (5-10, 205) returns as the tailback after rushing for 1,015 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Ewan helped open holes for Cotton as the fullback and will do the same this season. Senior quarterback Brian Finucan (6-3, 195) threw for 1,010 yards and eight touchdowns and gives the Bengals an experienced signal-caller.
Often overlooked are the guys in the trenches, but as they go so do most teams. The Bengals bring back four of five starters up front with 6-foot-2, 275-pound senior Phil Gogarty at right tackle and 6-foot-3, 240-pound junior Griffin Jackstadt as the left tackle. The center is 6-foot-1, 270-pound senior Tim Lauterbach and the right guard is senior Joseph Lauer (6-0, 245). The lone newcomer on the offensive line is senior Eric Feroldi (6-0, 220) at left guard.
“We’re RPO and it’s the system we’ve been running for years, but people have this thing where they don’t think we don’t run the ball,” Davis said. “We’ve run for over 1,000 yards every single year and one year we ran for 2,800 yards with six different running backs. Our philosophy is rotating a lot of guys but Charlie is a workhorse. He gets a lot of carries and he gets better as the game goes on.”
Junior Devyn DeFilipo (6-2, 175) returns as the starting ‘X’ receiver while fellow juniors Dominique Dorphin (6-foot-3) and Caleb Schafer step into starting roles.
“We have a couple of receivers who can be threats down the field and we haven’t had that in a while,” Davis said.
The Bengals finished in the middle of the pack in scoring defense last season (21.6 ppg) but bring back nine starters in what they feel can be a shutdown unit. Morris had 41 tackles, including 15 hits for loss, along with 3.5 sacks, 14 hurries, two interceptions (one for a touchdown), three forced fumbles and two safeties, and returns as a starting defensive end. Seniors Anthony Grimes (6-0, 280) and John Pannone return as the starting defensive tackles while sophomore Robert Armstrong Jr. will start at the other defensive end position. Grimes was a Class B South All-Division selection last season.
“Defense is definitely a big part of my game,” said Morris, who was recruited as a tight end. “I love to bring the intensity on the defensive side as well as the offensive side. I want to help out the team any way I can whether it be on offense, defense or special teams.”
All three linebackers return, led by Ewan (5-11, 220) at middle linebacker. Ewan made 83 tackles with 11 coming behind the line of scrimmage and added one sack, one interception and one forced fumble.
“He’s going to be a four-year starter and I’ve seen him grow, mentally, and step up every year,” Davis said. “He’s as physical as anybody and he’s very underrated.”
Cotton returns as the starting strong-side linebacker and senior Mike Godfrey, who started three games last season, is the weak-side linebacker.
Senior Sean Madej made 64 tackles last season and returns to anchor the secondary from his position at free safety. Junior Matt Scott will get the starting nod at strong safety after starting three games last season. Senior Tristan Porcelli is a returning starter at cornerback while DeFilipo will start at the other cornerback position.
“Our school is known for our defense and I think we’re going to live up to the name,” Ewan said. “We have some great kids coming back and some great kids coming up. We’re looking forward to cracking people.”
Barnegat’s special teams unit has junior Aaron Osborn as the kicker and Finucan as the punter. Juniors Livi Bowen and Tyzon Jackson are the punt returners while Schafer and senior DeWight Smith are the kick returners. Morris is the long snapper and Madej is the holder.
The Bengals will compete in the National Division this season with Mater Dei Prep, Jackson Liberty, Shore, Pinelands and Matawan. The Bengals also have nondivisional games against Keyport, Point Boro and Toms River South.
“It’s definitely a different look for us, but we’re looking forward to it,” Ewan said. “We’re never going to overlook a team. We’ll go week by week, and right now our focus is on Jackson Liberty. Hopefully we go 1-0 and then move on to the next opponent.”
If all goes well, the Bengals will find themselves back in the playoffs.
“We have to get back to the playoffs,” Davis said. “We’ve missed the playoffs three years in a row and it’s been bothering our program big time. That’s my big goal and that’s the chip on our shoulders.”
At a Glance
Head coach: Rob Davis, 13th season.
Career record: 65-59.
2017 record: 5-5 (4-3 in B South).
Coaching staff: Paul Covine (co-def. coordinator); Kevin Smith (co-def. coordinator); Mike Burke (RB); Mike DeTroia (OL); Andrew Villiez (WR); Andrew Petruzzi (QB); Brenden McCarthy (DL); Wayne Jackson (gameday assistant); Rob Cordasco (freshmen head coach); Zac Brebner (freshmen assistant); Lauren Tribley (athletic trainer).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Robert Armstrong Jr., So., DE
Armstrong steps into a starting defensive end spot where last season Levin Musawa recorded 50 tackles and 5.5 sacks.
The Bengals started 3-1 last season but then lost three straight games to miss out on a playoff berth. Avoiding similar pitfalls will be crucial if they are to return to the postseason.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Eric Feroldi, Sr., OL
Feroldi is the only new starter along the offensive line and will look to gel with the returning veterans to give Barnegat a strong presence up front.
PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 14 at Shore Regional
The Bengals knocked off the Blue Devils, 23-14, last season, so Shore will be out for revenge when Barnegat heads to Feeney Field in Week 2. Both teams bring back a lot of starters so this figures to be one of the better divisional matchups of the season.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.