Ring the Bell: Toms River South beats Pinelands to secure first division title since 2002
TOMS RIVER – Friday night’s scene at Detwiler Stadium was unlike any the iconic venue has seen in the last decade. The band played “Old Indian Tom” with its usual vigor and the victory bell rang true as students descended to the turf to celebrate with the boys in uniform. But this latest triumph was different, because for the first time in 21 years, Toms River South will raise a championship banner.
Senior quarterback Jimmy Alexander accounted for three touchdowns and the Indians’ defense continued its stretch of stinginess as Toms River South, ranked No. 14 in the Shore Sports Network Shore 16, shook off some early adversity and ran its way to a 31-17 victory over Pinelands that clinched at least a share of the Liberty Division championship.
It is Toms River South’s first division title of any kind since the program won the Constitution Division championship in 2002. The Indians can secure the outright division crown by defeating Central Regional in two weeks (Oct. 20).
“We’ve been working since June; we worked all summer for this,” Alexander said. “We had a tough loss at the beginning of the year but that did not put us down, it did not make us stop. We knew this was a big game and we came out and dominated.”
“It’s unbelievable,” said Toms River South head coach Matt Martin, a former Indians’ player whose grandfather is legendary head coach Ron Signorino Sr.. “It’s humbling when you think about it. As an assistant, I was here for 11 years and we had some really good teams, so to not win a division title in those years shows how tough it is to win a division title in the Shore Conference. It’s a week-to-week battle no matter who’s in it, so to come back from a tough loss to Holmdel (Week 1) and do what we’ve done for the last five weeks has been an incredible experience.”
Alexander ran for 87 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to junior wideout Danny Pierson, and ran for a 2-point conversion. He was also a standout at middle linebacker for a defense that held Pinelands to 160 yards of offense and six first downs. Junior running back Jake Henehan ran for 79 yards on nine carries and added a 2-point conversion run, and junior running back Damir Nelson ran for 72 yards and a touchdown on just seven carries. Senior defensive back Cooper Greitz had an interception late in the fourth quarter to halt the Wildcats’ final possession.
Pinelands senior wide receiver Mike Frawley hauled in a 71-yard touchdown reception, junior running back Jaimin Parkinson scored on a 3-yard run, and Ethan Woods kicked a 27-yard field goal.
The ending was everything Toms River South (5-1, 4-0) hoped for, but the beginning of the game couldn’t have gone worse. The Indians fumbled the opening kickoff and Pinelands recovered at the South 44-yard line. South got the ball back two plays later when Pinelands fumbled, but Alexander was picked off on the next play to give the Wildcats possession at the Indians’ 36-yard line. This was where Toms River South’s defense rose up and delivered two stops that changed the complexion of the game.
A sack by junior linebacker Olaoluwa Akinlolu on third down was followed by a pass breakup by Pierson on fourth down that resulted in a turnover on downs at the Toms River South 16-yard line. However, three plays into the Indians’ next series and after a penalty negated a long run, Alexander couldn’t corral a low snap and the loose ball was recovered by Pinelands linebacker Devonte Bonds at the 8-yard line. Junior linebacker Daniel Herald had a tackle for loss on first down and the Indians stopped Pinelands on the next two plays to force the Wildcats (4-2, 3-1) to settle for a 27-yard field goal attempt that Ethan Woods knocked through for a 3-0 lead at 5:04 of the first quarter.
It was a high-wire act for the first seven minutes of the game and the Indians were fortunate to emerge trailing by just three points.
Three plays into Toms River South’s next possession, Alexander connected with Pierson, who came back to catch the deep pass and then outraced the Pinelands secondary to the end zone for a 62-yard touchdown. A penalty on the extra point moved the ball up so Toms River South decided to go for the 2-point conversion, which Alexander converted with a run up the middle for an 8-3 Indians lead.
Pinelands responded immediately when junior quarterback Ty Kline hit Frawley over the middle and the standout senior broke away from his defender for a 71-yard touchdown to give the Wildcats a 10-8 lead. Toms River South’s answer was a 10-play, 64-yard drive that began with a 28-yard run by Henehan and concluded with Alexander barreling into the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown. Henehan then ran in the 2-point conversion for a 16-10 lead that Toms River South would take into halftime.
“We shot ourselves in the foot in the first half and I’ll be honest, last year’s team and even the team in the first game against Holmdel would have shut down,” Martin said. “But at some point in time during that week off after Holmdel we figured out what resiliency is and we figured out how to be resourceful and stick together as a team. We hung in there in the first quarter after we gave them a bunch of possessions inside our 45 and our defense played spectacular in those moments.”
“We know what we’re capable of and that wasn’t us,” Alexander said. “We came back re-focused and got the job done. The defense did a great job holding them out of the end zone in those situations and our offense came through when we needed it most.”
“We’re just having fun playing defense and our coach (Vin) Arminio has drawn up some amazing schemes and we’ve been able to execute them,” Greitz said.
A sack by Pierson squashed Pinelands’ drive to open the second half and led to Toms River South polishing off a nine-play, 60-yard drive with a 25-yard touchdown run by Alexander. Henehan had a 14-yard run on third-and-15, Alexander converted the fourth-and-one, and senior running back Justin Coston had a 10-yard gain to set up the touchdown run. The 2-point conversion pass from sophomore Tony Vega to sophomore Jaden Geremia extended Toms River South’s lead to 24-10 with 3:50 left.
Pinelands was able to make it a one-score game again with a 10-play, 60-yard drive that spanned the rest of the third quarter and the first 57 seconds of the fourth quarter. Parkinson was finally able to find running lanes after being bottled up for the previous two-plus quarters and gained two first downs out to the Toms River South 34-yard line. A 29-yard catch by senior Liam Villinger on third-and-12 put the ball at the South 7-yard line and on third-and-goal Parkinson lunged for the end zone to complete a 3-yard touchdown run that trimmed Toms River South’s lead to 24-17 with 11:03 to play.
At this point, the Indians’ offense had found their groove, and even Henehan being out of the game with a minor injury couldn’t stop their rushing attack. Nelson entered and ripped off an 18-yard run on his first carry. He and Alexander combined to push the ball into Pinelands territory before Nelson capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal. Phil Bentivegna added the extra point for a 31-17 lead with 3:16 left.
On the second play of Pinelands’ next series, Greitz picked off Kline at midfield and Toms River South was able to move to the 4-yard line where it took a knee to run out the clock. It’s been a long drought, but the Indians are champions once again.
“It means a lot, and it’s tough to put into words,” Martin said. “Joe Kelly, Darius Hart, Billy Rankin, Jimmy Rankin, Tom Malek, Kyle Austin; we have a bunch of guys on staff who are Toms River South alumni and we got together and said Toms River South can be exactly what it was 25, 30 years ago. So to give the school and the community – and most importantly, the kids – something to cheer about has been tremendous.”
“Big team, little me, that’s been our motto and we bought into that,” Alexander said. “Personal accolades don’t mean anything as long as the team wins. The seniors bought into it and it trickled down to the underclassmen and that’s why we’ve been winning. I’m so proud of the culture we’re building right now.”
No. 14 Toms River South 31, Pinelands 17
|Pinelands||Toms River South|
|Pinelands (4-2, 3-1)||3||7||0||7||17|
|TR South (5-1, 4-0)||8||8||8||7||31|
P – Ethan Woods 27-yard field goal
TRS – Danny Pierson 62-yard pass from Jimmy Alexander (Jimmy Alexander run)
P – Mike Frawley 71-yard pass from Ty Kline (Ethan Woods kick)
TRS – Jimmy Alexander 7-yard run (Jake Henehan kick)
TRS – Jimmy Alexander 25-yard run (Tony Vega pass to Jaden Geremia)
P – Jaimin Parkinson 3-yard run (Ethan Woods kick)
TRS – Damir Nelson 5-yard run (Phil Bentivegna kick)
RUSHING – P: Jaimin Parkinson 15-43, Mike Frawley 2-21, Ty Kline 3-(-12); TRS: Jimmy Alexander 20-87, Jake Henehan 9-79, Damir Nelson 7-72, Justin Coston 4-20.
PASSING – P: Ty Kline 4-11-1, 108; TRS: Jimmy Alexander 5-7-1, 78.
RECEIVING – Mike Frawley 2-76, Liam Villinger 1-29, Jaimin Parkinson 1-3; TRS: Danny Pierson 3-73, Cooper Greitz 2-5.
INTERCEPTIONS – P: Gerald Newsome, 1-0; TRS: Cooper Greitz, 1-0.