Stocked for Success: 2023 Colts Neck Football Preview
Since head coach Matt Ahearn took the reins of Colts Neck’s football program prior to the 2018 season, the Cougars have erased a string of five straight losing seasons from 2014 through 2018 to post four straight winning campaigns, tying the mark for the longest such streak in program history. And during last season’s 6-3 finish, the Cougars earned a share of the Constitution Division championship.
The Cougars continue to trend upward, battling for division titles and a position in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 on a yearly basis. The challenge this season will be to build on last year’s success and do so in a Colonial Division that features five other programs that are also championship contenders.
Colts Nick is in position to do just that with a bevy of returning starters on both sides of the ball; a total of 18 between offense, defense, and special teams. The Cougars also have a clear identity as a power running team with a complimentary physical defense. The pieces are in place for what could be a special 2023 season.
The team’s I-formation offensive scheme leans on a high-volume back, a big and physical offensive line, and using play-action in the passing game. Leading the way among the 10 returning starters on offense is senior running back Chris Scully (5-10, 210), who will be entering his third season as the Cougars’ starting tailback. As a junior, he finished fourth in the Shore Conference in rushing yards with 1,313 while scoring 15 touchdowns and was an SSN Second Team All-Shore selection. As a sophomore, he posted 805 yards and nine touchdowns. Helping to open up running lanes for Scully will be junior fullback Jack Lefkowitz (5-10, 215).
Scully will have a sizeable and experienced offensive line to run behind as all five starters return from a season ago. The veteran of the line is senior Matt Liggio (5-11, 275), a three-year starter at right guard while towering 6-foot-7, 275-pound senior Charlie Whalen, a Third Team All-Shore selection last fall, is the left tackle. Senior JJ Cifelli (5-11, 270) is the left guard, senior Shea Bresnahan (6-1, 260) is the center, and junior Albert Yodakis (6-3, 250) is the right tackle. Junior Colin Roberts (5-11, 225) is also in the mix at center while senior Aidan Manasso (6-2, 195) is a returning starter at tight end. Another option at tight end is senior Eric Loureiro, who primarily plays defensive end but has played tight end in the past and can lend more size (6-2, 230) up front in specific situations.
If what looks on paper to be a potentially dominant rushing attack pans out on the field, it will certainly make life easier and open up opportunities for quarterback Dom Beninato and the passing game. A senior, Beninato (5-9, 180) returns as the Cougars starting quarterback after throwing for 633 yards and five touchdowns as a junior. Returning as a starting wide receiver is senior Aiden Diaz and he will be joined by fellow seniors Ethan Sloane, Tesio Carabello, and Logan Bresnahan.
Colts Neck’s offense was 24th in the Shore in scoring last season at 19.3 points per game but a defense that ranked No. 4 in the conference in points per game meant those 19 points were good enough on most days. The offense will need more, however, against the likes of division opponents Long Branch, Manalapan, Point Boro, Raritan, and Red Bank. Converting big plays in the passing against boxes loaded to stop the run is one way that could come to fruition.
Speaking of defense, Colts Neck returns eight starters in its 4-3 alignment that was fourth in the Shore allowing just 12.3 points per game last season and recording one shutout. All four defensive lineman return with Loureiro and senior Sam Surdez (6-1, 240) as the defensive ends with the interior being manned by senior defensive tackles Dean Collier (5-8, 220) and three-year starter Anthony Lombardi (6-2, 260). Loureiro recorded 57 tackles, 7 sacks, and 13 tackles for loss last season and Lombardi had 57 tackles and nine tackles for loss.
Junior James Bertan (62 tackles) returns as the starting middle linebacker and will be flanked by Manasso and senior John Sherrod as the outside linebackers. Junior Julian Villalta is also on the depth chart at middle linebacker while senior Joe Randazzo and sophomore Joe Pignatelli have been working at outside linebacker.
The secondary has three returning starters with senior David Fichtenbaum at cornerback, senior Devin Donnelly at strong safety, and Sloane at free safety. Diaz is the starting cornerback opposite Fichtenbaum. Also in the mix at cornerback are junior Will Calhoun and sophomores Bryson Royal and RJ Conover. Sophomore Aiden Bain backs up Donnelly at strong safety and junior Brady Tormey, who is also the backup quarterback, will spell Sloane at free safety. Sloane was one of the top ballhawks in the Shore last season, pulling down four interceptions to tie for the fifth-most in the conference.
In the kicking game, Manasso was a perfect 17-for-17 on extra points and added a 20-yard field goal. He returns as the placekicker and the punter with sophomore Evan Kish also an option at punter.
The Cougars open their schedule with a Week 0 game against a Point Boro team that features an explosive triple-option offense that averaged 42 points per game last season and also had a defense that was third in the Shore in points per game. It’s a divisional game, as well, so Colts Neck will be thrown right into the fire before September. In addition to tough divisional games against Point Boro, Long Branch, Manalapan, Raritan, and Red Bank, the Cougars also have nondivisional games against Red Bank Catholic, Middletown South, and St. John Vianney. It is a very challenging schedule that Colts Neck will need to navigate to continue their string of successful seasons.
At a Glance
Head coach: Matt Ahearn, 6th season
Career record: 30-17
2022 record: 6-3
Coaching staff: Matt Norman (Defensive Coordinator/LB/RB); Dom Pollifrone (Special Teams Coordinator/OL/DL); Ryan Byrne (Passing Game Coordinator/QB/LB); Pete Ficorelli (DB/RB); Doug Zockoll (TE/DE), Brendan Wei (WR/DB); Tim Vangelas (WR/DB); Shawn Scully (WR/DB); Jim Portela (Assistant Coach); Mike Spirto (Head Freshmen Coach); Ed Morales (Freshmen Defensive Coordinator); Joe Pipoli (Freshmen Special Teams Coordinator); Jamie Skolka (Athletic Trainer).
Circle the Date: Week 3 – Thursday, Sept. 14 at Manalapan
This will be a pivotal game regardless of what happens over the first two weeks with games vs. Point Boro and then Red Bank Catholic. It’s a division game plus a rivalry game between teams in the Freehold Regional High School District, and the result could be the difference between Colts Neck pushing for a division title or trying to play catch-up during the second half of the season. The last meeting between the teams was a 21-14 overtime victory for Colts Neck during the 2020 season.
Player to Watch: Chris Scully, Sr., RB
Scully has rushed for 2,118 yards and 24 touchdowns over the last two seasons and was one of just four players in the Shore with over 200 carries last year (213). He’s going to get the ball a lot and be the engine of Colts Neck’s offense behind a big and experienced offensive line. A big year out of him and the running game will likely translate into a championship-level season for the Cougars.
Big Shoes to Fill: The linebackers
Colts Neck has returning starters at most positions and brings back nearly all its impact players from a season ago, but it will be tough to replace the production of Will Surdez, who was a Second Team All-Shore selection last year as a senior and made 101 tackles, 3 sacks, and 15 tackles for loss. Junior James Bertan is the lone returning starting linebacker and the team’s leading returning tackler (62).
Did you Know?
In 20 seasons as a varsity football program, Colts Neck has posted 11 winning seasons and made the NJSIAA playoffs nine times. Head coach Matt Ahearn, now in his sixth season, is tied as the program’s longest-tenured head coach with original head coach Mike McArthur, who led the Cougars from 2003-2008.
|Saturday 8/26||@Point Boro||7pm|
|Saturday 9/2||Red Bank Catholic||12pm|
|Saturday 9/23||Red Bank||12pm|
|Friday 9/29||@Middletown South||7pm|
|Friday 10/13||@St. John Vianney||7pm|
|Saturday 10/21||Long Branch||12pm|