Proving Ground: No. 2 Donovan Catholic shuts out No. 9 Toms River North to complete perfect regular season
TOMS RIVER – In a season in which Donovan Catholic has been judged on passing the few legitimate tests it has faced, Friday night’s game against Toms River North presented a new challenge.
This meeting was against a tradition-rich team with plenty of talent. One that, despite its up-and-down season, boasts a dangerous offense led by the reigning Shore Conference Offensive Player of the Year. But the question wasn’t really about if Donovan Catholic could win, it was how would it look, especially on defense against a passing attack the likes of which the Griffins had not previously faced.
Consider it another test aced for the Griffins.
Toms River North’s prolific passing attack moved the ball, but never found the end zone as Donovan Catholic, ranked No. 2 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, shut out the No. 9 Mariners, 35-0, to complete a perfect 6-0 regular season. Donovan’s pass rush overwhelmed Toms River North’s offensive line and sacked quarterback Jake Kazanowsky a whopping 10 times and intercepted him once, blanking a Mariners team that was averaging 26.2 points per game.
Offensively, Donovan’s ground game was dominant against a defense that entered allowing over 30 points per game. Senior running back Jahdir Loftland ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries and junior running back Nunes Bukula ran for 94 yards and a touchdown on seven carries as the Griffins churned out 326 yards rushing. Senior wide receiver Jayon Farrar added a 65-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
Kazanowsky threw for 215 yards and senior wide receiver Zac Browne caught 12 passes for 149 yards to lead Toms River North. The Mariners gained 14 first downs, by far the most any team has achieved against Donovan’s defense this season, but couldn’t find the end zone against a defense that bent but never broke.
“I told the kids the whole week that (Toms River North) was going to move the ball,” said Donovan Catholic head coach Dan Curcione. “He is really good at what he does, not only their scheme and coaching but the quarterback is very, very good. I told them when we pick the time to get after him we have to get home.”
Toms River North had just a handful of designed running plays called during the game and operated mostly out of an empty backfield, five-wide receiver set. When Donovan blitzed it ended with a sack nearly every time. Senior defensive end Ethan Capone and junior linebackers Connor Farrell and Nat Iannello recorded two sacks each while Loftland, senior linebacker Dominick Nocero, senior defensive tackle Cam McNair and junior defensive end Levi Wilkins had one sack each.
“They do a really good job in their passing game and it’s difficult to defend,” Curcione said. “We bent and didn’t break. We came up pretty big inside the red zone a couple times and when we pressured them our pass rush was pretty darn good tonight. I told them every time we pick the time to get after (Kazanowsky) we have to get home. I thought Ethan and Levi did a really nice job and then Connor and Nat came in and played rush end. We tried to keep them fresh and those four kids really did a good job. When we blitzed, we got there, and that was big.”
“We just follow coach’s gameplan week-in and week-out,” Nocero said. “Whatever any team wants to throw at us, we’ll be ready for it. We knew we could easily stop their run and just needed some more security against the pass.”
Donovan didn’t take long putting the scoreboard operator to work. Farrar returned the opening kickoff to the North 22-yard line and on the first play from scrimmage Loftland burst free up the middle for a 22-yard touchdown run and a quick 7-0 Griffins lead.
“It was big,” Loftland said. “Doing that, it kind of takes the soul out of a defense.”
Toms River North quickly moved the ball inside Donovan’s 20-yard line on the next series, giving off the appearance of a high-scoring, back-and-forth game. But instead, Donovan’s defense came up with back-to-back sacks by Loftland and McNair on third-and-goal and fourth-and-goal to halt the drive.
From there, Donovan mounted a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Loftland scoring on a 10-yard run to give the Griffins a 14-0 lead with 1:43 left in the first quarter.
Donovan got the ball right back when Toms River North fumbled on the first play of the next series. Starting at the Mariners’ 47-yard line, the Griffins needed just three plays to extend their lead to 21-0. Farrar took a jet sweep 21 yards and two plays later Bukula zipped into the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown run.
The rout appeared to be on, but Toms River North was able to keep Donovan at bay for the rest of the half. The problem was, the Mariners couldn’t score. On Toms River North’s third offensive series, a sack by Farrell stopped Toms River North on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Donovan methodically moved across midfield but on the 13th play of the drive, Toms River North senior Zach Goodale came down with an interception. A sack by Capone – the fifth of the first half for Donovan – squashed any hopes Toms River North had of mounting a scoring drive in the final two minutes of the half.
Toms River North received the kickoff to begin the third quarter and moved to the Donovan 15-yard line after a 27-yard catch by Browne. The Mariners moved all the way to the 3-yard line after freshman Micah Ford picked up a first down with a four-yard run on third-and-two, but on first-and-goal, Kazanowsky was flushed out of the pocket to his right and his pass to the end zone was intercepted by Farrar.
The Griffins capitalized on the turnover in just three plays. Loftland ran for 23 yards on first down and two plays later broke off a 52-yard touchdown run to give Donovan a commanding 28-0 lead with 4:44 left in the third quarter.
Toms River North’s next drive made it to the Donovan 33-yard line, but consecutive sacks by Farrell and Iannello forced the Mariners to punt. On the first play thereafter, Farrar took a short pass and turned it into a 65-yard touchdown reception to give Donovan a 35-0 advantage.
Now, Donovan Catholic will get its chance to prove it is the best team in the Shore Conference. The Griffins are in the top four-team postseason pod with Wall, Red Bank Catholic and Mater Dei Prep. Donovan will head to Red Bank Catholic on Saturday, Nov. 14.
From 0-10 in 2016 the year before Curcione arrived to now being 6-0 and ranked as a top-10 team in New Jersey, the Griffins have come a long way. But for them, this is just the beginning.
“I’ve said all along that I really like my team and want to play as many games as I can with them,” Curcione said. “These kids mean a lot to me and I love them. A lot of them have been with me for four years, kids like Qua Green and Dom Nocero and Jahdir Loftland, those kids came here when it was 0-10 and believed that they were coming to a place that was going to see success. That says a lot in this day where people want to join the all-star team and do all that. They did it when it was 0-10 and we were struggling that first year. There are a lot of character guys, and that’s Cam McNair too, that whole group. They mean a lot to me.”
No. 2 Donovan Catholic 35, No. 9 Toms River North 0
|Donovan Catholic||Toms River North|
DC – Jahdir Loftland 22-yard run (Gavin Nguyen kick)
DC – Jahdir Loftland 10-yard run (Gavin Nguyen kick)
DC – Nunes Bukula 17-yard run (Gavin Nguyen kick)
DC – Jahdir Loftland 52-yard run (Gavin Nguyen kick)
DC – Jayon Farrar 65-yard pass from Evyn Menta (Gavin Nguyen kick)
RUSHING – DC: Jahdir Loftland 17-200, Nunes Bukula 7-94, Jayon Farrar 2-22, James Bivins 1-8, Jalin Butler 1-2; TRN: Jake Kazanowsky 4-9, Micah Ford 2-7, Team 10-(-65).
PASSING – DC: Evyn Menta 4-6-1 88; TRN: Jake Kazanowsky 18-32-1 215.
RECEIVING – DC: Jayon Farrar 3-85, Dominick Nocero 1-3; TRN: Zac Browne 12-149, Shane Saad 4-47, Zach Goodale 1-14, Micah Ford 1-5.
INTERCEPTION – DC: Jayon Farrar 1-0; TRN: Zach Goodale 1-0.
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.