Red Thunder: Mayfield’s Career Night Leads No. 1 Manalapan Past No. 5 Howell
MANALAPAN — Through six weeks, the most appropriate word to describe Naim Mayfield and the Manalapan offense is unstoppable.
In the biggest game so far this season for the Braves, Mayfield was brilliant with a career-high 275 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 25 carries to lead Manalapan, ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, to a 49-28 victory over No. 5 Howell in a marquee Class A North battle of undefeated teams on Friday night.
Mayfield had 340 all-purpose yards when factoring in a 65-yard kickoff return that set up his 33-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that gave Manalapan (6-0, 4-0) the lead for good. He also had touchdown runs of 16, 73, 9 and 7 yards as the Braves took a major step toward the division title.
“We feel like every time we play he’s the best player on the field,” said Manalapan head coach Ed Gurrieri. “There were some good ones out there tonight, but in the scheme we have and what he brings to the table, it brings out the best in him.”
“Coach said I was going to have a big game today and we were going to run it down their throat, and I did that today,” Mayfield said. “The line did great, the fullback did great, the tighe ends did great, and it all worked out very well.”
Senior fullback Chris Maksimik added a 1-yard touchdown run and senior quarterback Luke Corcione tossed a 15-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Scott Scherzer.
Junior linebacker Tommy Pearce led Manalapan’s defense with 14 tackles and an interception, which he returned 50 yards to set up one of Mayfield’s touchdowns. Senior defensive end Antonio Deieso had three sacks and a total of four tackles for a loss, while sophomore safety Justin Reilly had an interception and junior linebacker Dale Sieczkowski recovered a fumble after a strip by senior Symir Blacknall.
Howell senior quarterback Eddie Morales was tremendous in defeat with 312 yards passing and three touchdowns, 119 yards rushing and a 22-yard touchdown reception. He also had an interception on defense. Senior wide receiver Ryan Mazik caught six passes for 109 yards and a touchdown, Brandon Wilson had seven receptions for 95 yards and senior Naseim Brantley caught four passes for 66 yards and a touchdown.
After a tremendous junior season where he ran for 1,785 yards and 23 touchdowns, Mayfield is putting together a historic 2017. After Friday’s game, Mayfield has 1,410 yards rushing and 24 touchdowns for a Braves team ranked No. 10 in the state by NJ.com.
“I have confidence that I’m amongst the top running backs in the state,” said Mayfield, who is verbally committed to Fordham University. “I practice like it’s my last one and I put in all the work and preparation, and it shows on the field.”
From the game’s opening possession it was clear Manalapan’s offense was humming along at its normal level. The Braves marched 79 yards over seven plays to take a quick 7-0 lead as a 21-yard catch by Blacknall set up Mayfield’s 16-yard touchdown run.
Howell came right back, however, with a nine-play, 80-yard drive to tie the score at seven. Morales connected with Mazik for 33 yards into Manalapan territory, converted a fourth-and-seven with a 9-yard completion to Mazik and finally scrambled and found Mazik in the back of the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown.
Howell had answered mighty Manalapan, but it lasted for just 21 seconds.
Mayfield returned the ensuing kickoff 65 yards to the Howell 33-yard line, then took the handoff on the first play of the series and ran for a 33-yard touchdown to give Manalapan a 14-7 lead. The Braves never looked back from there with two more touchdowns to open a 28-7 lead.
“That’s the kind of kid Naim is,” Gurrieri said. “He’s electric.”
The first of Deieso’s three sacks, a tackle for a loss by Scherzer and a pass deflection by Eli Avivi stopped Howell’s second drive and gave Manalapan the ball at its own 45-yard line with 4:36 to go in the first quarter. A 24-yard catch by Blacknall moved the ball down to the Howell 16-yard line, where six plays later Maksimik plowed in from one yard out to give Manalapan a 21-7 lead.
Manalapan scoring on its first three possessions put pressure on Howell’s offense to match them, so when the Rebels were faced with a fourth-and-three from their own 43-yard line, they elected to go for it rather than punt the ball back to the Braves. Morales’s pass fell incomplete, and Manalapan took over with great field position. A 21-yard catch by tight end Alex Claro was the long gain on the drive, and Mayfield finished it off with a 9-yard touchdown run with 1:17 left in the first half.
Howell would not go quietly, however, and mounted an 80-yard scoring drive in 77 seconds to cut Manalapan’s lead to 28-14 at halftime. Mazik made a great catch on a 32-yard gain down to the Manalapan 3-yard line with 2.8 seconds left, holding after after taking a huge hit from Manalapan safety George Lombardi. On the final play of the first half, Morales bought time and whipped a 3-yard scoring pass to senior Pat Handy.
Set to receive to open the second half, Howell had put itself in position to close the gap to one score and make it a game after it appeared Manalapan had put it out of reach in the first half. It seemed like Howell was about to do just that as Morales was breaking into the open field on a 52-yard run. But from behind emerged Blacknall to punch the ball out where Sieczkowski recovered it at the 27-yard line. On the very next play, Mayfield busted loose for a 73-yard touchdown to put Manalapan up 35-14.
“That was a very underrated play for Symir to cause the turnover,” Gurrieri said. “We came right back and scored again to put the lead back to three scores.”
Howell continued to fight, marching 92 yards in 10 plays to make it 35-21. A 27-yard catch by Wilson moved the ball to the Manalapan 36-yard line, and a 30-yard run by Morales put the ball at the 6-yard line. Two sacks by Deieso brought up a fourth-and-goal from the 22-yard line, however. Howell was able to pull off a miracle touchdown play when Brantley took a reverse, pulled up to throw and somehow connected with Morales through three Manalapan defenders.
Morales intercepted Corcione on a deep pass intended for Scherzer to give the Rebels a glimmer of hope, but Reilly returned the favor by picking off Morales. Manalapan then drove 62 yards to take a 42-21 lead on Scherzer’s 15-yard touchdown catch.
Pearce’s interception and 50-yard return put the ball at Howell’s 7-yard line where Mayfield scored his fifth touchdown of the game to make it 49-21. Morales threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Brantley on fourth down to cap the scoring at 49-28.
At 6-0 and 4-0 in Class A North, Manalapan is now in position to win its seventh division title in the last eight seasons. The Braves have also stamped themselves as the favorite to win the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group V title.
“This game was very important, and every game from now on will be a very big game,” Mayfield said. “Even though it’s not the playoffs yet every team is going to give us their best. And we’re going to give them our best.”
No. 1 Manalapan 49, No. 5 Howell 28
Howell (5-1, 3-1) 7 7 7 7 — 28
Manalapan (6-0, 2-0) 14 14 14 7 — 49
M — Naim Mayfield 16-yard run (David Gelb kick)
H — Ryan Mazik 21-yard pass from Eddie Morales (Pat Handy kick)
M — Naim Mayfield 33-yard run (David Gelb kick)
M — Chris Maksimik 1-yard run (David Gelb kick)
M — Naim Mayfield 9-yard run (David Gelb kick()
H — Pat Handy 3-yard pass from Eddie Morales (Pat Handy kick)
M — Naim Mayfield 73-yard run (David Gelb kick)
H — Eddie Morales 22-yard pass form Naseim Brantley (Pat Handy kick)
M — Scott Scherzer 15-yard pass from Luke Corcione (David Gelb kick)
M — Naim Mayfield 7-yard run (David Gelb kick)
H — Naseim Brantley 40-yard pass from Eddie Morales (David Gelb kick)
RUSHING — H: Eddie Morales 17-119, Naseim Brantley 1-6, Nick Chambers 7-2; M: Naim Mayfield 25-275, Ronny White 5-26, Nick Santorelli 4-18, Chris Maksimik 3-4.
PASSING — H: Eddie Morales 23-40-2 312, Naseim Brantley 1-1-0 22; M: Luke Corcione 6-8-1 93.
RECEVING — H: Ryan Mazik 6-109, Brandon Wilson 7-95, Naseim Brantley 4-66, Eddie Morales 1-22, Nick Chambers 3-22, Chris DeMarco 1-9, Peter Cantillo 1-8, Pat Handy 1-3; M: Symir Blacknall 2-45, Alex Claro 1-21, Scott Scherzer 1-15, Chris Maksimik 2-12.
INTERCEPTIONS — H: Eddie Morales 1-20; M: Tommy Pearce 1-50, Justin Reilly 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.