Santorelli’s career game helps Manalapan win slugfest over Brick Memorial
BRICK TOWNSHIP – When senior two-way standout Dale Sieczkowski went down with an injury in the first quarter it was a dire loss for a Manalapan team that identifies with a physical rushing attack and a punishing run defense. His absence at running back and outside linebacker left a large void against a Brick Memorial team fighting for a playoff spot.
Thankfully for the Braves, they also have Nico Santorelli.
The most carries the Manalapan junior had in a game prior to Friday night was 10, but with his backfield counterpart sidelined Santorelli carried the load to lead the Braves to a huge road win over Brick Memorial. Santorelli ran for a career-high 220 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries as Manalapan held off host Brick Memorial, 31-28, in a critical Shore Conference nondivisional game at DiFabio Field.
Santorelli had a 7-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to give Manalapan a lead and broke off a 59-yard score in the third quarter as the Braves (4-2) immediately responded after a Brick Memorial (3-4) touchdown. He entered the game averaging a whopping 13.7 yards per carry and had four runs of 20 yards or more to continue his home-run hitting trend.
“I’m always ready to do whatever I can,” Santorelli said. “We’re both fighting for the playoffs and it was a dogfight.”
“He’s a very good runner,” said Manalapan head coach Ed Gurrieri. “He’s had to share the time with Dale but I think he’s been about 100 and change a game, and his yards per carry…he’s a home-run hitter. He has good vision and he hits it up there hard.”
Junior Andre Johnson also had a touchdown run and junior quarterback Sean Kehley tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to senior running back Anthony Matrone. Senior kicker Jack Dematteo kicked a 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that gave Manalapan a 10-point lead and allowed the Braves to absorb a Brick Memorial touchdown shortly thereafter.
Kehley offered a perfect complement to Santorelli’s ground assault by completing 8 of 11 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. Kehley moved the chains as an extension of Manalapan’s running game, including a third down conversion and a fourth down conversion on the Braves’ opening scoring drive. After a slow start to the season, Kehley has completed 68 percent of his passes for 409 yards and four touchdowns in his last three games – all Manalapan victories.
“When we have a good mix and we can be pretty balanced and are converting third downs we’re going to be fine,” Gurrieri said. “Sean is getting better each week. We’re not afraid to put the ball in his hands and have him make plays.”
Senior quarterback Tyler Sindel led Brick Memorial’s triple-option attack with 136 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 18 carries. Sophomore T.J. McArthur got the start at ‘A’ back in place of injured senior Ja Billingsley and ran for 73 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Senior slotback Jeff Lavarin added 70 yards and a touchdown on five carries.
The Mustangs opened the game with an 11-play, 65-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead. Lavarin had a 14-yard gain on third down to move the chains and then busted loose for 29 yards on fourth-and-one to give Brick Memorial first-and-goal at the 7-yard line. A touchdown run by Sindel was canceled because of an inadvertent whistle, but McArthur plowed in from the 1-yard line on the next play.
Manalapan came right back with a 10-play, 84-yard drive to knot the score at seven. A 12-yard catch by Matrone converted a third-and-12 at the 14-yard line, and Santorelli ran for a 20-yard gain to move the ball into Brick Memorial territory. Santorelli then broke free for a 28-yard gain inside the Brick Memorial 10-yard line, and Johnson polished off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.
Manalapan drove Brick Memorial back on the next series with tackles for loss by junior linebacker Matt Benedetti and senior defensive lineman Dashon Taylor on first and second down and a sack by senior linebacker Tyler Ciemniecki on third down.
The Braves then deliberately marched 53 yards in 13 plays to take a 14-7 lead. Kehley found senior fullback Tyler Bottone for four yards on fourth-and-three to keep the drive going and a facemask penalty on Brick Memorial later in the drive converted another third down. Santorelli capped the drive with a 7-yard score with 4:19 left in the first half.
On Brick Memorial’s next offensive play, Manalapan senior safety Nick Marzo, who had to switch to outside linebacker after Sieczkowski’s injury, stripped McArthur and recovered the fumble at the Mustangs’ 31-yard line. An 18-yard catch by senior tight end Alan Presler moved the ball to the 13-yard line and two plays later Matrone took a swing pass into the end zone for a 21-7 Manalapan lead.
Facing the prospect of going down three scores if it couldn’t stop Manalapan coming out of halftime, Brick Memorial forced a punt and then got into the end zone to get right back in the game. Senior defensive back David Baez and junior linebacker Larry Fonville III combined to stuff a screen pass on third down and the Braves had to punt it away from their own 29-yard line. Brick Memorial went 80 yards in just six plays to make it 21-14 as McArthur had a 23-yard run, Sindel ran for 22 yards and Lavarin took a pitch for a 33-yard touchdown.
Manalapan came right back, however, when Santorelli got to the edge and zoomed past Brick Memorial’s defense for a 59-yard touchdown run on the next offensive play. Just like that, the Braves were up 28-14.
“It was an inside run and I saw the outside open and just trusted my blockers,” Santorelli said.
“What I liked best about tonight was every time they answered, we answered back,” Gurrieri said. “We kept fighting.”
Brick Memorial wasn’t about to go quietly and counterpunched with a 16-play, 92-yard drive to again cut its deficit to seven points. It was a classic Brick Memorial drive with a healthy mix of four-, five- and six-yard runs all the way down the field until Sindel scored on a 2-yard run to make it 28-21 early in the fourth quarter.
Manalapan was able to drive for a field goal to extend its lead to 31-21. A 22-yard run by Santorelli pushed the ball to the Brick Memorial 25-yard line, but two plays later on third-and-three, consecutive penalties for delay of game and then false start pushed Manalapan back for a third-and-13. Kehley threw for the end zone on third down and the pass fell incomplete, but Brick Memorial was flagged for pass interference to give the Braves a first down. The Mustangs buckled down to force fourth down, but the Braves were well within Dematteo’s field goal range. He split the uprights from 32 yards away to give Manalapan a 10-point lead with 3:33 left in the game.
The cushion was vital because on Brick Memorial’s next play Sindel ran for a 65-yard touchdown to make it 31-28 with 3:15 still left on the clock. The Mustangs went for the onside kick but Manalapan was able to recover it. The final task for Santorelli and the Braves’ offensive line was to make sure Brick Memorial didn’t get the ball back, and they did exactly that by gaining two first downs on six running plays to wind the clock down to zero.
“We lost Dale, who is probably our best two-way guy and one of the best players in the Shore, but the team rallied,” Gurrieri said. “The offense did a great job at the end. They ate up the clock and made some first downs and ended the game. It was a good team victory. Guys had to step up and make plays.”
“Our offense was good in the beginning and our offense bailed us out in the end,” Ciemniecki said. “We played well off each other.”
Coming off two straight 11-1 seasons, Manalapan began the season 0-2 with heartbreaking, last-second losses to Toms River North and Middletown South by a combined four points. The Braves have been able to regroup and win four straight games, and are once again eyeing a journey that sees them playing for a state championship.
“It’s not demoralizing to lose – everybody loses,” Gurrieri said. “It’s how you react, and our guys dusted themselves off and worked harder and got better. At the end of the year, we want to give ourselves a chance to win a state championship.”
“Those losses were tough but we still know we’re a great team and we have enough to take it to the state championship,” Santorelli said. “That’s our only goal.”
Manalapan 31, Brick Memorial 28
Manalapan (4-2) 7 14 7 3 – 31
Brick Mem. (3-4) 7 0 7 14 – 28
BM – T.J. McArthur 1-yard run (Ryan McCombs kick)
M – Andre Johnson 3-yard run (Jack Dematteo kick)
M – Nico Santorelli 7-yard run (Jack Dematteo kick)
M – Anthony Matrone 7-yard pass from Sean Kehley (Jack Dematteo kick)
BM – Jeff Lavarin 33-yard run (Ryan McCombs kick)
M – Nico Santorelli 59-yard run (Jack Dematteo kick)
BM – Tyler Sindel 2-yard run (Ryan McCombs kick)
M – Jack Dematteo 32-yard field goal
BM – Tyler Sindel 65-yard run (Ryan McCombs kick)
RUSHING – M: Nico Santorelli 29-220, Dale Sieczkowski 2-10, Andre Johnson 2-4, Justin Reilly 1-3; BM: Tyler Sindel 18-136, T.J. McArthur 16-73, Jeff Lavarin 5-70, David Baez 1-9, Anthony Albanese 1-3.
PASSING – M: Sean Kehley 8-11-0 71.
RECEIVING – M: Anthony Matrone 4-37, Tyler Bottone 2-13, Alan Presler 1-18, Nick Marzo 1-3.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.