Point Boro Ousts Manasquan to Reach Central Jersey Group II Championship Game
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POINT PLEASANT — With the program playing in its biggest game in a decade against a school with the most state championships in Shore Conference history, Point Boro answered any remaining questions with a statement win at Al Saner Field.
Senior running back Brandon Cipriano scored four touchdowns and Point Boro’s defense forced five turnovers to oust defending-champion Manasquan, 27-6, on Friday night in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II semifinals in front of a capacity crowd.
Cipriano had touchdown receptions of 66 and 10 yards and ran for touchdowns of 10 and nine yards to help send the undefeated Panthers (11-0) to their first sectional title game since 2007. Senior quarterback James Fara had 232 combined yards and two touchdown passes and senior fullback Tanner Gordon ran for 70 yards.
Point Boro will face the winner of Saturday’s game between A.L. Johnson and Hillside for the Central Jersey Group II championship.
“It feels amazing, taking down the defending champs and proving a lot of people wrong,” Fara said. “It means a lot.”
“We knew we were the better team,” Cipriano said. “Everyone was talking about Manasquan and we kept our mouths shut and showed what we can do on the field. The score says it for itself.”
Despite top-seeded Point Boro entering the game undefeated, fifth-seeded Manasquan remained the favorite in the bracket in many people’s eyes. Those thoughts centered around the schedules the two teams played with Manasquan playing in Class B North and Point Boro in Class B South. The Panthers proved none of that mattered this time around.
“Everyone doubted our schedule, saying we don’t play real teams, but we were 10-0 coming in,” Cipriano said. “We wanted to show everyone that we can really play with the best of the best, and I think we showed that tonight.”
“The kids have a little chip on their shoulder and wanted to prove we’re a good program and that this is a very good team,” said Point Boro head coach Matt Cilento.
Connor Morgan ran for 145 yards and Canyon Birch added 70 yards and a touchdown to lead Manasquan, but five turnovers, including four in the first half, doomed the Warriors (6-4). Manasquan drove to the Point Boro 39 on the game’s opening possession but a fumble was recovered by Gordon to end the drive. After a three-and-out by Point Boro, Manasquan was on the verge of completing an 87-yard touchdown drive when the Panthers’ defense made the play of the game.
With the ball at the 1-yard line on third-and-goal, it seemed academic Manasquan would plow its way into the end zone for the game’s first touchdown. Instead, senior linebacker Jarrett Howey laid a hit on Morgan that jarred the ball loose. When senior linebacker Tyler Sanchez saw the ball rolling in the end zone, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“I saw the ball pop out and I didn’t know if it was (live) so I just picked it up and the (refs) were like, ‘yes it’s a fumble’,” Sanchez said. “You saw them put their heads down and start walking around, and we saw the momentum change right then and there.”
“That was the biggest play of the game,” Cipriano said. “All the momentum changed and it took the air right out of them.”
Point Boro capitalized on the turnover four plays later when Cipriano got behind Manasquan’s defense for a 66-yard touchdown catch on third-and-9, giving Point Boro a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter and igniting the Panthers’ offense.
“Coach Staub called a seam pass and it got me in the open field,” Cipriano said. “It was just the right play call at the right time.”
After forcing Manasquan to go three-and-out, Point Boro put together a 7-play, 63-yard scoring drive to take a 14-0 lead. Gordon had a 21-yard run to move the ball into Manasquan territory and Fara had a 15-yard run to put the ball at the 27-yard line. Gordon converted a fourth-and-2 with a nine-yard run before Cipriano took a pitch and scored from 10 yards out with 4:36 left in the first half.
The third turnover forced by Point Boro’s defense set up the Panthers’ third score as John Callander intercepted Manasquan quarterback Tommy Antonucci at the Point Boro 38-yard line. Cipriano finished off the 62-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown run to give Point Boro a 21-0 lead with 55 seconds left in the first half.
Manasquan tried to mount a late drive to get on the board, but Kyle Komanitsky intercepted a Hail Mary pass at the goal line on the final play of the half.
Even with a 21-0 halftime lead Point Boro knew the importance of not taking its foot off the gas pedal. Starting the third quarter with the ball, the Panthers needed just four plays to effectively put the game away.
Fara ripped off a 68-yard run on the first play of the second half, and three plays later faked a handoff to Gordon before hitting a wide-open Cipriano for a 10-yard touchdown. The score gave Point Boro a 27-0 lead 1:57 into the second half.
“The mindset at halftime was to stay aggressive,” Cilento said. “We needed to put it in because you know Manasquan is the type of team that can hang around and is not going to quit. We knew that was something we had to come out and do.”
Manasquan put together a 71-yard drive to get on the board with Birch’s 1-yard touchdown run, but with the drive taking nearly eight minutes off the clock it didn’t leave the Warriors much time to rally. Point Boro then ran 15 plays to take almost 10 minutes off the clock and put the game away. The Panthers’ lead almost grew to 35-6, but a pair of false-start penalties pushed them back from the Manasquan 1-yard line and Nate Chiarello’s 23-yard field goal attempt was blocked by James Pendergist.
Manasquan moved the ball on a pride drive in the closing minutes, but the end came in fitting fashion for Point Boro’s defense when Callander recovered a fumble with 18 seconds left. All that was left to do was for Fara to take a knee and send Point Boro to the sectional final.
Now the Panthers have one more mountain to climb to bring home the program’s first state title since 2005 when they went 12-0 and won the South Jersey Group II title.
“We just have to get that ring two weeks from now,” Fara said. “It feels amazing getting there but we have to finish. You don’t pay to get to a state championship, you play to win it.”
Point Boro 27, Manasquan 6
P — Brandon Cipriano 66-yard pass from James Fara (Nate Chiarello kick)
P — Brandon Cipriano 10-yard run (Nate Chiarello kick)
P — Brandon Cipriano 9-yard run (Nate Chiarello kick)
P — Brandon Cipriano 10-yard pass from James Fara (kick failed)
M — Canyon Birch 1-yard run (kick blocked)
RUSHING — M: Connor Morgan 20-145, Canyon Birch 10-70, Tommy Antonucci 7-46, James Pendergist 1-10; P: James Fara 12-130, Tanner Gordon 15-70, Brandon Cipriano 8-47.
PASSING — M: Tommy Antonucci 2-6-2 52; P: James Fara 3-3-0 102.
RECEIVING — M: James Pendergist 1-47, John Kinneally 1-5; P: Brandon Cipriano 3-102.
INTERCEPTIONS — P: John Callander, Kyle Komanitsky
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.