Swamp Things: No. 7 Middletown South Rallies Past No. 10 Manasquan with Late Touchdown
MIDDLETOWN – The first three quarters of football were not exactly efficient for senior quarterback Tom Schork and the Middletown South offense. But when the fourth quarter rolled around and the Eagles needed a score, he and his teammates found a way to get the job done.
Trailing by five to Manasquan with 2:12 on the clock, Schork orchestrated an 8-play, 57-yard scoring drive that culminated with him scrambling for the go-ahead touchdown with just 20 seconds left as the Eagles, ranked No. 7 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, rallied for a heart-pounding 15-12 Shore Conference nondivisional victory over the No. 10 Warriors to open the season on Thursday night.
The heroics began when Middletown South faced a fourth-and-12 from the Manasquan 47-yard line with 35 seconds left in the game. Schork took the snap and found junior wide receiver Logan Colleran across the middle for 25 yards.
“I knew it was Cover 2 so the middle would be open,” Schork said. “He ran a little bender route over the middle and I dumped it over the linebacker and he made a great catch.”
On the next play, Schork couldn’t believe what he saw. Running back Dan Primiano motioned across the formation from left to right and brought Manasquan’s outside linebacker with him. When the ball was snapped, Manasquan’s right defensive end rushed wide, leaving a massive hole down the hash marks. Schork quickly tucked the ball and took off for the open field, picking up a key block at the goal line and scoring on a 22-yard touchdown to put Middletown South back in front.
“The receivers ran nines (routes) again and the O-line did a great job holding everybody,” Schork said. “I saw a hole on the left side so I took it and Jack Latore had a great block downfield.”
“It’s what every kid dreams about,” said Middletown South head coach Steve Antonucci. “To score the winning touchdown with 20 seconds to go in the game after we struggled all night long; he had an opportunity there looking at fourth down where we hit a ball across the middle and then a few seconds later you’re scoring the winning touchdown.”
Hopefully that’s the sign of a mature quarterback, a guy who’s now doing it in his second year. “He never really got flustered tonight.”
Schork then hit Latore for the 2-point conversion to give Middletown South a 15-12 lead.
Manasquan attempted a desperation play with one second left by lateraling the ball all over the field but Middletown South came up with the stop to clinch the thrilling victory.
“It was a great team win,” Schork said. “We’re a very gritty team. Never count us out.”
The momentum for Middletown South’s offense started on the prior series to its go-ahead drive. After gaining just four first downs total over the first three quarters, the Eagles gained five first downs on a drive that began at their own 29-yard line. The drive eventually stalled at the Manasquan 20-yard line, but the Eagles had found something offensively.
The Middletown South defense made sure they got one more chance by forcing a three-and-out and a Manasquan punt that gave Schork and the offense the ball back with just over two minutes to play. The Eagles’ defense was excellent all night long, other than a few big plays by Manasquan’s dynamic offense. They limited the Warriors to 194 yards of offense, including just 47 yards rushing, forced two turnovers and recorded five sacks. Sophomore linebacker Colin Gallagher had a huge varsity debut with three sacks, Latore had one and senior linebacker Jack Willi had one. Senior linebacker Tyler Carey had an interception.
“That’s Middletown South, that’s what we hang our hat on and have for years,” Antonucci said. “We’re going to get after you on defense and we’ll lean on our defense as we move forward.”
Patten led Manasquan with 147 yards passing and two touchdowns, one of 29 yards to senior running back Patrick Woodford and another to senior wide receiver Cole Kozlowski. He also ran for 41 yards but was sacked four times and intercepted once. Kozlowski caught four passes for 93 yards and also had an interception on defense. Senior defensive lineman Jack Burns had a strong game with a sack, a fumble recovery and a tackle for loss. The Warriors also blocked a field goal.
It was a slow start to the game with both teams combining for just 17 yards of offense and only one first down. Middletown South struck first in the second quarter with an impressive 7-play, 94-yard scoring drive. After moving out to the 20-yard line, Schork connected with senior wide receiver Ryan St. Clair for 59 yards down to the Manasquan 21-yard line. St. Clair rain a double move and was wide open down the visiting sideline. Three plays later, senior running back Dan Primiano scampered in for a 14-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead.
Middletown South vs. Manasquan Football (Ray Rich Photography)
Carey’s interception on the next series set up Middletown South at the Manasquan 27-yard line but the Eagles fumbled at the goal line where Burns recovered. The Eagles’ defense forced a punt from the 4-yard line to give the offense great field position again, but Kozlowski intercepted Schork on the first play to give Manasquan the ball right back. From there, Manasquan got its offense in gear with Patten leading the way on the ground. He had runs of 18 and 7 yards and then a 12-yard completion to Kozlowski to move the ball to the Manasquan 28-yard line. On second down, he lofted a pass to the end zone which Woodford was able to snare from the Middletown South defensive back for a 29-yard touchdown.
A penalty pushed back the extra point try five yards, however, and the kick missed wide to the left to keep Middletown South in front 7-6, at halftime.
Early in the third quarter, a sack by Latore forced Manasquan to punt from its own 4-yard line and the kick traveled just eight yards to give Middletown South glorious field position. Manasquan’s defense held firm and forced a field goal attempt, which was blocked and recovered by senior Max Pauwels. A few penalties and short gains later, Patten threaded a great pass over the middle that hit Kozlowski in stride. The senior did the rest for a 64-yard touchdown reception and a 12-7 Manasquan lead. The Warriors went for two but the conversion was unsuccessful.
The teams traded punts from there until Middletown South’s offense found the magic it had lacked over the first three quarters. It wasn’t the complete game the Eagles hoped for on that side of the ball, but it ended in a victory regardless.
“We can only get better,” Antonucci said. “We’ll break down the film and correct the mistakes. It was a hard-fought win, but we are walking out with a win.”
“The last couple years we lost the first game and winning this one will give us a lot of momentum going into next week,” Schork said.