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Brian Staub knew his team had the pieces in place to put together a championship season in 2021, but in order to do so, he also knew it was going to take more than just talent.  

From the moment the 2020 season ended with Point Boro finishing under .500 for the third year in a row, Staub and his coaching staff forged a culture and an offseason program they felt would get the Panthers back to their winning ways. “Relentless Pursuit” was the motto and the players bought in from day one.  

A year later, all the work paid off.  

Point Boro returned to championship form in 2021 by going 10-2, winning the Shore Conference Patriot Division championship, and finally claiming the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 2 sectional championship. It was a banner year for the Panthers, and for leading his team back to glory, Staub is the 2021 Shore Sports Network Football Coach of the Year. 

Photo by Richard O'Donnell.
Photo by Richard O'Donnell.
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“It’s definitely not an individual award,” Staub said. “We have a great coaching staff and this is definitely a program award.” 

Staub took over ahead of the 2018 season, one year after Point Boro went 11-1 and reached the Central Jersey Group 2 sectional final where it was ultimately denied by Hillside in the championship game. The Panthers then went 3-6, 3-6, and 2-4 over the next three seasons, and that was not acceptable for Staub. 

“We were angry,” Staub said. “We felt like we were letting down the community and the school. We went on a relentless pursuit every day and we became obsessed with the small details. As a coaching staff, we broke everything down. And wee thought we had the guys, players who were consistent in their approach.” 

The Panthers finished the season with the Shore Conference’s No. 1 scoring offense at 35.5 points per game thanks to its flexbone triple-option rushing attack that churned out 3,682 yards and scored 52 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Charlie Vitale ran for 961 yards and 16 touchdowns, sophomore fullback Jake Croce ran for 1,101 yards and 10 touchdowns, junior slotback Connor Cilento ran for 623 yards and seven touchdowns, and sophomore slotback Matt Oliphant ran for 515 yards and 11 touchdowns. An offensive line comprised of seniors Luke Wilson, Justin Tuzzolino, and Mike Meccia, junior Cole Skinner, and sophomore Charles Davison paved the way. Vitale also threw for 512 yards and seven touchdowns with only one interception.  

The Panthers were also very good defensively in finishing sixth in the Shore in scoring defense at 13.7 points per game. Junior linebacker Connor Reynolds totaled 61 tackles, 7 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss, junior linebacker JJ Bennett recorded a team-high 101 tackles, junior linebacker Aiden Ward made 62 tackles, 8 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss, and junior linebacker Tyler Gordon had 74 tackles, 5 sacks, and 2 interceptions. Vitale also intercepted three passes in the secondary while Croce and Cilento had two picks each.  

"It was a complete team," Staub said.

Point Boro started the season with an impressive 34-20 victory over Shore Regional, but they were less than satisfied after that game.  

“This might sound a little crazy but we were a little angry,” Staub said. “It was 34-20 and we felt like we were the better team; we had high standards. We walked off that football field with a little sour taste in our mouths. From there we just kept getting better and better.” 

Point Boro then scored 40 points in five straight games to earn wins over Jackson Liberty, Asbury Park, Manchester, Barnegat, and Monmouth Regional to move to 6-0 ahead of a big matchup with Manasquan. The visiting Warriors opened up a big lead and held on for a 35-30 win that handed Point Boro its first loss of the season. The Panthers dusted themselves off and beat Independence Division co-champion Middletown North, 20-12, to lock up the No. 1 seed in the South Jersey Group 2 playoffs. A 34-14 win over Monmouth and a 28-7 win over New Providence put the Panthers into the sectional final for the first time since 2017. 

Willingboro was the opponent for the title game and the Chimeras jumped out to an early 8-0 lead. There was no panic for the black and gold, though. The Panthers scored, then scored again, then got defensive stop after defensive stop to ultimately pull away for a 32-8 victory that secured the program’s fourth sectional title in program history. The scene on the Panthers' home turf at Al Saner Field will be something those on the team won’t ever forget. 

“That was for the entire town, the entire community, the entire school,” Staub said. “I think the entire town was at that game and you couldn’t make a better scenario. And that game was a great representation of this team. We just kept chipping away, little by little, and we got stronger as the game went on.” 

The Panthers lost a heartbreaker, 28-27 to Haddonfield, in the Central/South Group 2 regional championship game, and while that loss at Rutgers certainly hurt it should not detract from what was a great season in Point Pleasant. Most of this year’s starters were underclassmen so the opportunity to run it back next year and chase an overall Group 2 championship will be a driving force this offseason.  

“We’re going to honor this year’s seniors with how we play next year,” Staub said. “We do return a lot of starters but it’s going to be one day at a time. The kids are already thinking about it. The day after (the Haddonfield game) Croce and Davison were talking in the weight room and they were ready to get after it.” 

 

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