Shore Conference stars shine at Phil Simms North-South Football Classic
UNION – For most of his high school career, it was difficult for Manchester’s Eric Cowan to get noticed. Playing for a small school that hasn’t been competing for championships meant limited exposure. That wasn’t the problem on Monday night. In fact, it was hard to miss No. 81 in the yellow helmet flying all over the field.
Cowan made a name for himself in practices and then during the Phil Simms North-South Football Classic with a sack, two tackles for loss, another hit for no gain and several other stops on his way to being named South Jersey’s Defensive Most Valuable Player.
“I felt like It was a great opportunity to show out for a school that isn’t very big, to show off my talents,” Cowan said. “It just feels great to get this award for my school.”
Cowan was a Shore Conference All-Division selection in the National Division last season, recording 69 tackles and seven sacks. The Hawks won four of their last five games to finish the season 5-5.
Cowan was likely not on the radar to play in the state all-star game before a chance meeting with Calvin Thompson, the former Point Boro head coach who is among the game’s organizers. Thompson saw Cowan at a senior combine in December and told him to give him a call if he was interested in playing in the North-South Classic.
“He watched me run my 40, gave me his number and when I called him, he was very excited,” Cowan said. “I used to watch highlights of this game and I wondered what it would be like to play in it. When I got picked it was great and making the plays I made, it was unbelievable.”
South Jersey had its three-game winning streak coming to an end as North Jersey held on for a 24-23 victory. A touchdown with three minutes left in the game by Bayonne’s Azhuan Dingle and the extra point by St. Joseph (Montvale) kicker Angelo “The Shoe” Guglielmello stood up as the game-tying and game-winning points.
As usual, the Shore Conference put its stamp on the game with several players participating and making an impact. In addition to Cowan, Manasquan’s James Pendergist caught a touchdown pass and Long Branch’s Marc Dennis and Monmouth Regional’s Dayshawn Porter snagged interceptions.
With South Jersey leading 14-7, Pendergist capped a quick 47-yard drive by hauling in a 10-yard touchdown reception from Winslow’s Prince Dru-Bey.
“The touchdown was definitely crazy,” Pendergist said. “I remember him calling 90 left and I knew it was coming to me right now. I caught it and then everybody was going nuts with the (turnover/touchdown) chain. It was definitely a great feeling.”
A fantastic athlete, Pendergist did a little bit of everything for Manasquan as a wide receiver, defensive back an kicker, earning Second Team All-Shore honors. He is also a standout lacrosse player and was a two-time First Team All-Shore midfielder. He will also play in the Shore Sports Network All-Shore Gridiron Classic on July 11.
“Shout out to Calvin (Thompson) for calling me and telling me, ‘let’s see what you can do. Go represent Squan’,” Pendergist said. “Coming out here with the Squan helmet for the second-to-last time, it was great.”
It’s been a fantastic senior football season for Dennis, and that continued Monday night when he intercepted a pass deep in South Jersey territory to squash a North Jersey drive. South Jersey then embarked on a 13-play, 95-yard drive to tie the score 7-7.
“It was probably one of the most surprising things I’ve ever experienced,” Dennis said. “When I got the call, I was really excited and then to come out here and play good just shows the Shore Conference really is as good as advertised. We can play with the top players in the state and I feel like today showed that.”
Dennis was a First Team All-Shore selection due to his outstanding play at both quarterback and defensive back for the Green Wave, who set a program single-season record with 12 wins en route to winning the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional title and the Central-South Group 4 Bowl Game.
Porter also had an interception, which came at the South Jersey 10-yard line to halt another North Jersey drive. Porter came down with four interceptions last season while also catching 16 passes 438 yard and four touchdowns.
Neptune linebacker Najiere Hutchinson also had an active game with multiple tackles, as did Barnegat linebacker Brian Ewan. Other Shore Conference players who saw action included Freehold kicker Jake Hurler, Red Bank Catholic linebacker Adam Demurjian, Red Bank linebacker Colin Chatto, Barnegat offensive line Anthony Grimes and Donovan Catholic defensive lineman Nick Kenmure.
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.