TOMS RIVER — Through one half of football on Saturday afternoon at Detwiler Stadium, Toms River South was nearly flawless. The Indians had a three-score lead on visiting Shawnee in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV semifinals. They out-gained the Renegades 201-58 and ran nearly 30 more offensive plays. Just two quarters separated the Indians from their first trip to a sectional final since 1998.

And then it it all vanished.

Quarterback Michael Welsh ran for a one-yard touchdown with 2:11 left and Shawnee stopped Toms River South on fourth down with 20 seconds left in the game to complete a stunning comeback as the Renegades rallied for a 28-24 win after trailing 24-0 at halftime. Welsh also fired touchdown passes of 8 and 17 yards in the second half, and Anthony DiOrio ran for 108 of his 146 yards while also scoring a touchdown to propel Shawnee (7-3) to its ninth sectional final in program history.

Toms River South (7-3) stormed out to a 17-0 first quarter lead and pushed its advantage to 24-0 at the break. The Indians, however, gained just 54 yards and achieved only one first down in the second half, allowing Shawnee to crawl back and deliver a heartbreaking defeat in the closing minutes.

Anthony DiOrio (44) ran for 146 yards, including 108 and a touchdown in the second half, to help Shawnee rally for a 28-24 win over Toms River South in the South Jersey Group IV semifinals.

Shawnee will go for its fifth state title against top-seeded Timber Creek in the South Jersey Group IV final. Toms River South will close its season out with its annual Thanksgiving Day game versus Lakewood.

The comeback began with a Nick Corbi interception early in the third quarter that jumpstarted a 10-play, 91-yard drive to put Shawnee on the board. Welsh hit Corley on a screen pass for 36 yards down to the Toms River South 39-yard line, and then connected with Jake Parola for 19 yards on third-and-four. Two plays later, DiOrio scored on a nine-yard run to get Shawnee on the board and cut Toms River South’s lead to 24-7.

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The Indians then went three and out, which they would do on all but their final drive of the second half. The Renegades took over at midfield and marched across the goal line in 10 plays to cut the Indians’ lead to 10. Shawnee was great on third down over the final two quarters and converted twice on the drive with a run by DiOrio and then a 21-yard pass to Jack Tyrell on third-and-14 that put the ball at the Toms River South 12. On third down from the eight, Welsh threaded a quick pass to Corley for a touchdown and Joe Lynn added the extra point to make it 24-14.

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Shawnee is almost exclusively a running team, so being down 24 presented a major problem for its offense. But once they climbed to within 10, it allowed the Renegades to use more of their playbook and continue attacking on the ground.

“When it got to 24-14 you could feel it slipping away,” said Indians head coach Ron Signorino Jr. “It wasn’t anything different scheme-wise. They overpowered us in the second half.”

The next play Toms River South ran on offense knocked quarterback Tymere Berry out of the game for a handful of plays. He returned on the Indians’ next offensive series, but during his absence and with Darrius Hart at quarterback, Shawnee forced a fumble on a run by Hart and recovered at the Toms River South 39. DiOrio rumbled for 10 yards on first down, and converted a third-and-five with a five-yard run. On first down from the 17, Welsh connected with Brandon Bye in the back of the end zone for his second touchdown of the afternoon. Lynn’s extra point pulled Shawnee to within 24-21 with 8:18 left in the game.

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“It was great to get the passing game going,” Welsh said. “It’s really the first time all year.”

Once again, Toms River South could not move the chains and punted back to Shawnee with 6:29 left in the game. Starting from their own 27, the Renegades went 73 yards in 10 plays for the game-winning touchdown. DiOrio ran for 15 yards on first down, and broke a 27-yard run four plays later to move the ball to the Toms River South 18. DiOrio ran for two yards and a first down on third-and-one from the nine, and Welsh powered forward for six yards to put the ball at the one-yard line. On second-and-goal, Welsh walked in for his third touchdown of the game and a 28-24 Shawnee lead, its first of the game.

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Toms River South had 2:10 to move down the field for the go-ahead score starting at its own 25. On fourth-and-14, Berry hit Billy Kosh for 27 yards and a first down just across midfield. The offense would bog down again, and a sack by Corley on second down made it third-and-24. Berry scrambled for 16 yards to bring up fourth-and-eight, but his long pass to Hart was broken up as Shawnee completed the improbable comeback.

The Indians received to start the game and took a 3-0 lead when Russell Messler capped a 9-play, 65-yard drive with a 28-yard field goal. Shawnee fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Messler recovered at the 26. Two plays later, Berry scored on a sensational 25-yard run, spinning out of a pair of tackles inside the 10-yard line to put the Indians up 10-0 just 4:15 into the game.

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The early woes would continue for Shawnee as the Renegades again fumbled the kickoff. Toms River South recovered but could not turn it into points. Shawnee punted on its next possession and Toms River South took over at the 47. The Indians moved down to the Shawnee 29-yard line in four plays and then Otis Kearney ripped off a 29-yard touchdown run for a 17-0 lead.

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“It was definitely shocking,” Welsh said of his defense, which recorded four shutouts during the regular season and allowed more than 20 points only once. “The turnovers killed us, and they hit us hard in the beginning. But we had faith in each other we would bounce back.”

Shawnee’s third turnover of the first half led to Toms River South’s third touchdown. Jared Egan recovered a fumble on a punt return at the Shawnee seven-yard line with around three minutes left in the half. Greene finished off the short scoring drive with a one-yard run for a 24-0 lead heading into the half.

But the Indians couldn’t hold on in the second half and were a devastated group once the final horn sounded.

“We’re hurting now, but this is a character lesson," Signorino said. "We passed a lot of tests this year and this is just one more we’ll learn from. Credit Shawnee. That’s what we want to be. But I’m so proud of my guys. It was a hell of a ride.”

 

Box Score

 

NJSIAA Playoffs

South Jersey Group IV

Semifinals

 

6-Shawnee 28, 2-Toms River South 24

 

ShawneeToms River South
First downs1612
Rushes-yards41-20344-141
Passing7-14-29-21-1
Passing yards107114
Fumbles-lost3-33-1
Penalties-yards3-254-25

 

Shawnee (7-3) 0 0 7 21 – 28

TR South (7-3) 17 7 0 0 – 24

 

Scoring summary

T – Russell Messler 28-yard field goal

T – Tymere Berry 25-yard run (Russell Messler kick)

T – Otis Kearney 29-yard run (Russell Messler kick)

T – Khaleel Greene 1-yard run (Russell Messler kick)

S – Anthony DiOrio 9-yard run (Joe Lynn kick)

S – Michael Welsh 8-yard pass to Curtis Corley (Joe Lynn kick)

S – Michael Welsh 17-yard pass to Brandon Bye (Joe Lynn kick)

S – Michael Welsh 1-yard run (Joe Lynn kick)

 

Individual statistics

Rushing – S: Anthony DiOrio 24-146, Michael Welsh 13-48, Jake Parola 2-5, Dylan McCaughan 2-4; TRS: Otis Kearney 17-74, Tymere Berry 16-49, Khaleel Greene 9-32, Billy Kosh 1-1, Russell Messler 1-(-15).

Passing – S: Michael Welsh 7-14-2 107; TRS: Tymere Berry 9-21-1 114

Receiving – S: Curtis Corley 2-44, Brandon Bye 2-25, Jack Tyrell 1-21, Jake Parola 1-19, Anthony DiOrio 1-(-2); TRS: Jared Egan 2-43, Darrius Hart 4-29, Billy Kosh 1-27, Javion Harris 1-8, Otis Kearney 1-3.

Interceptions – S: Nick Corbi 1-0; TRS: Darrius Hart 1-10, Russell Messler 1-0.