Saeed Blacknall, Keith Kirkwood Star as Penn State, Temple Win Conference Titles
It was an unforgettable weekend for a group of former Shore stars whose teams brought home conference titles at Penn State and Temple.
Former Manalapan star Saeed Blacknall had the best game of his college career to bring home a Big Ten title for Penn State, while Neptune's Keith Kirkwood had a big day of his own as Temple captured a conference title of its own to hit the 10-win mark.
There also were Shore grads in action in the FCS playoffs, while a group of former local stars at the Division III level added another honor.
---The Broncos, who have tight end Garrett Graham (Brick Memorial) on injured reserve, beat the Jaguars 20-10 to move to 8-4. In the loss for Jacksonville, tight end Neal Sterling (Manasquan/Monmouth Univ.) had a career-high 5 catches for 43 yards.
---Long-snapper Clark Harris (Southern/Rutgers) and the Bengals rolled over the Eagles, 32-14, to at least mathematically keep some hope of a playoff berth alive. Defensive end Vinny Curry (Neptune) had one tackle in the loss for Philadelphia.
---Outside linebacker Shilique Calhoun (Middletown North) was inactive for the second straight week after having a procedure done on his knee and missed the Raiders' 38-24 win over Bills to move to 10-2.
---The Lions, who have tight end Tim Wright (Wall/Rutgers) and wide receiver Ryan Spadola (Freehold Twp.) on injured reserve, beat the Saints 28-13 to improve to 8-4.
---It's been a magical season for the Shore group at Penn State. Saturday night was Saeed Blacknall's time to shine, as the former Manalapan star had a career-high six catches for 155 yards, a Big Ten title game record, and two touchdowns in the Nittany Lions' 38-31 comeback thriller over Wisconsin in a game where they trailed 28-7 in the first half.
Tight end Mike Gesicki (Southern) continued his brilliant season with 3 catches for 58 yards and a touchdown. On defense, linebacker Manny Bowen (Barnegat) had 6 tackles and was in on a tackle for a loss, and second-team All-Big Ten defensive end Garrett Sickels (Red Bank) had three tackles. Chris Gulla (Toms River North) also saw time on special teams in the win.
It marked Penn State's first Big Ten title since 2008 and fourth overall. Unfortunately the Nittany Lions were the first team left out of the four-team playoff for the national championship. However, they will still go to the Rose Bowl to play USC on New Year's Day to cap a resurgent year.
---It's also been an outstanding year for Temple (10-3), which beat No. 19 Navy 34-10 to win the American Athletic Conference championship and break into the AP Top 25 at No. 23. Wide receiver Keith Kirkwood (Neptune) had a big day with a team-high 5 catches for 98 yards and a touchdown in the win. Long-snapper Josh Lang (Point Beach), linebacker Chapelle Russell (Lakewood) and defensive back Amir Tyler (Lakewood) did not see time in the win but will get a ring as part of the Owls. Temple will play Wake Forest in the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md., on Dec. 27.
---Wide receiver Ishmael Hyman (St. John Vianney) saw time as James Madison routed New Hampshire, 55-22, to reach the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs, where they will face Sam Houston State on Saturday. In the loss for New Hampshire (8-5), tight end Jordan Powell (Lacey) had 2 catches for 7 yards to end his senior season, and defensive back Nick Lubischer (Red Bank Catholic) and wideout Anthony Pante (St. John Vianney) both saw time. Powell finished fourth on the team with 33 catches for 295 yards.
---Villanova (9-4) saw its season come to an end with a 10-7 loss to South Dakota State in the Round of 16 in the FCS playoffs. Running back Matt Gudzak (Toms River East) had a team-high 66 yards rushing on 17 carries and also had 4 catches for 43 yards in the loss. Simon Bingelis (Brick) started at tight end, and defensive end Datrell Reed (Lakewood) saw time for the Wildcats. Gudzak finished fourth on the team with 527 yards rushing and was also fourth on the team in catches with 22.
---Kean University defensive back Austin Davis (Matawan) and SUNY Cortland freshman long-snapper Travis Alvarez (Keyport) were named first-team All-East Region by D3Football.com. Ithaca linebacker Dan Loizos (Ocean) earned second-team honors, and Montclair State running back John DiStefano (Red Bank Catholic) received third-team honors.