The Shore Football Report: Ja’elyne Matthews Reopens His Recruitment, Midd. South’s wild win and more
Every week, Scott Stump will bring news, notes and observations from around the Shore in the Shore Football Report.
One of the Shore Conference's most sought-after stars is back on the market.
Toms River North junior Ja'elyne Matthews, a four-star recruit and one of the top offensive line recruits in the Northeast, announced Tuesday on X that he has decommitted from Penn State. He had previously been the first verbal commit of Penn State's 2025 recruiting class.
The 6-foot-5, 290-pound lineman wrote that it is in his "best interest to explore other options" for his future.
That post was followed by one six hours later announcing that he had just received an offer from Deion Sanders and Colorado, who have been one of the big stories in college football with a 2-0 start in Sanders' first season.
Sanders remade the Buffaloes this season with generous use of the transfer portal and recruiting to turn over almost the entire roster. He said in his weekly press conference on Tuesday that when it comes to recruiting, he is "receiving so many calls at this point right now that it’s absurd."
Matthews also boasts offers from the likes of Georgia, Florida State, Michigan, Texas, Ohio State, Tennessee and just about any other team you could name in the Top 25.
Matthews and top-ranked Toms River North will be in action on Friday in a huge American Division showdown against No. 4 Donovan Catholic at Griffin Stadium.
Off the Richter scale
Even the player who pulled it off was in disbelief when it happened.
One of the wildest endings of the young season took place when Middletown South senior cornerback Owen Richter tipped a pass, snagged the ball in midair and raced 43 yards for a game-winning interception return for a touchdown with 2:17 left in the game in a 35-29 win victory over Wall in the American Division.
“When I was running you could hear the whole crowd erupt,” Richter said. “I was like, ‘I can’t believe we just won this game.’”
Middletown South appeared dead in the water after failing to tie the game on a two-point conversion. The Eagles were out of timeouts and hoping to either recover an onside kick or get a strip sack or fumbled snap, according to head coach Steve Antonucci.
Middletown South expected Wall to try to run the ball to kill the clock, but Antonucci said longtime assistant Al Bigos was surprisingly calling out for the defense to watch for a pass.
Bigos apparently has a Hudl database embedded in his brain because he recognized the play from a similar one Manalapan had run late in the game 11 years ago against Middletown South when Wall head coach Ed Gurrieri was the coach of the Braves. On that play all those years ago, the Eagles also got a turnover.
Richter came untouched on a corner blitz, got his hand up to tip the ball and sent the Eagles to a heart-pounding win in the type of game that can swing a season.
“They motioned the back away from me, so I thought the play was going the other way,” Richter said. “But then he turned to throw, I tried to bat it and saw the ball go up in the air and grabbed it.”
“It lands perfectly in his hands and I’m like, ‘Oh my God,’” Antonucci said.
Following the game, Antonucci said Bigos went to the coaches’ office and pulled up the exact play that Manalapan ran against the Eagles in 2012. It concluded a game in which Middletown South scored 21 points on only nine plays in the first half, but Wall roared back to take the lead on three touchdown passes by Andrew Olsen and a touchdown run by Mason Adam.
The victory ended what Antonucci called “an odd week.”
Eagles star senior QB/DB Jake Czwakiel returned from a high ankle sprain that had kept him out of most of their first two games. He was more of a game manager than a playmaker for most of the night because the Eagles didn’t want to call any designed runs that could’ve resulted in him taking a big hit to his ankle. He didn’t play on defense, where he is one of the Shore’s top safeties.
Starting running back Donovan Summey did not play after suffering a high-ankle sprain of his own in a win over Raritan a week earlier. On top of that, starting cornerback Anthony Puccio didn’t play because he and teammate Dante Farrell-Brown were involved in a car accident the day after the Raritan game, according to Antonucci.
Puccio was sore after being struck by another car on the driver’s side door in an accident on a road right outside Middletown South.
“He’s fortunate to be alive, and luckily nothing was broken for either guy,” Antonucci said.
No team in the Shore needs a bye more than the Eagles, who get one this week before they regroup to face No. 1 Toms River North in an American Division game.
Speaking of the top-ranked Mariners, while senior quarterback Micah Ford was once again the show-stopper in No. 1 Toms River North’s impressive 42-21 win over No. 3 Rumson-Fair Haven, Mariners senior Jeremiah Pruitt showed why he is one of the Shore’s most versatile stars.
Pruitt caught at 63-yard touchdown pass from Ford and finished with 3 catches for 97 yards, and also played all over the field on defense to help slow down Rumson’s prolific passing attack. He can play linebacker, edge rusher and safety, and he also plays on special teams.
“This is no disrespect to anybody, but he may be the best all-around football player I’ve coached in my career,” Toms River North coach Dave Oizerowitz told SSN's Bob Badders. “He’s also a great punter, he’s a returner, and we have him playing on the edge, but he may be the best safety in the Shore and maybe the state. He’s ferocious but more than anything he wants to win.”
“I just love helping my team any way I can,” Pruitt said. “Shoot, I’d play offensive line if I had to.”
The annual clash between old crosstown rivals Toms River East and Toms River South this week got a boost after a pair of wins by both teams in Week Two.
Two scores that opened some eyes in the Liberty Division race were Toms River East’s 35-22 win over Central, and Toms River South’s 6-0 shutout of Monmouth Regional.
Toms River East had not scored a point in the first two games of the season against top opponents (Toms River North, Brick) and erupted for 35 against the Golden Eagles.
The most impressive part of their game was special teams, where Avery Phillips had a career night. He blocked two punts, both of which were returned for touchdowns by Luke Brush and Justin Bell, and he also ran for two touchdowns.
Raiders coach Kyle Sandberg said the plan was to go all out for punt blocks in the hopes of momentum-swinging plays.
“I was sending bodies,” Sandberg said. “I didn’t want to be passive.”
Despite the two losses, the Raiders are still right in the hunt in the early-going of the Liberty Division because Central was their first divisional game. The victory snapped a four-game losing streak and sent the message that Toms River East looks to make a serious run at a division title.
“I've been telling my team throughout (the season) that this has the makeup of a championship team,” Sandberg said. “It's there, there's something here. No one's going to believe it outside this room, but against (Central) it kind of all clicked.”
Toms River South also opened some eyes with the win over Monmouth (2-1), which ended a 10-game losing streak for the Indians. It marked the first shutout for them since 2019, and it came one game after allowing 42 points to Holmdel in the season opener.
The effort was led by junior linebacker Laolu Akinlolu, who had 9 tackles, 3 sacks, 5 tackles for a loss and a fumble recovery in the win.
Right on cue, the two old rivals will face off this week in a separation game in the Liberty Division race.
Pinelands coach John Tierney will become the latest head coach in the Shore to have to coach against his son when the Wildcats take on Central this week.
Golden Eagles junior wide receiver Liam Hurley will be lined up on the opposing side as Central tries to derail Pinelands’ quest for a Liberty Division title by handing the Wildcats their first loss.
"Oh, my computer is locked this week," Tierney joked on SSN's Varsity Link Coaches Corner show last week about the Wildcats' gameplan.
The last Shore coach to go through this difficult emotional scenario was Middletown South coach Steve Antonucci, who had to gameplan against his son Tommy in 2017 when Tommy was Manasquan’s starting quarterback. Middletown South ended up with a 10-7 victory over the Warriors.
Play of the Week
Since we already highlighted Owen Richter's game-winning pick six, let's go with Jackson Gallagher's 92-yard touchdown reception in Rumson-Fair Haven's loss to Toms River North.
It's rare that you see a tight end with the kind of speed to go the distance on a touchdown that long, especially against a team like Toms RIver North, but Gallagher is having a breakthrough season that is making the Shore take notice.
Alumni of the Week
Eddie Lewis, Sr., WR, South Carolina
The former Mater Dei Prep star (and hero of the "Mater Dei Miracle") has become a top target for Spencer Rattler after transferring to South Carolina as a graduate student. He received the highest grade of any wide receiver in FBS from Pro Football Focus this week after finishing with 6 catches for 89 yards in a win over Furman.
Nunes Bukula, Fr., RB, Rowan University
The former Donovan Catholic star earned Offensive Rookie of the Week honors from the New Jersey Athletic Conference after rushing for 53 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries in Rowan's 49-28 win over McDaniel.
Kieran Falzon, Fr., RB, Southern Connecticut State
The All-Shore running back from Raritan is already making an impact at the next level, as he was named to the Northeast-10 Conference honor roll this week. He ran for 74 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries and had 2 catches for 42 yards and a touchdown against Assumption.
---Manchester will try to go to 4-0 for the first time in school history this week in a match-up against Keansburg (0-2). The single-season school record for wins for the Hawks is six, which most recently happened in 2010...Brick looks to improve to 4-0 for the first time since 2016 with a victory over Barnegat (0-3)...Jackson Memorial is looking for its first 3-0 start in five years when it travels to Middletown North (2-1)...
---Ahead of its game against Barnegat last week, Brick Memorial marked the 20th anniversary of its first state championship by honoring its 2003 team. Former head coach Fred Sprengel and players from the team spoke to the players before the game, and then the Mustangs paid tribute to them by rolling to a 49-14 win over Barnegat to remain unbeaten.
That Mustangs team captured the Central Jersey Group IV title as a No. 5 seed by winning an all-Shore matchup with another Cinderella team, seventh-seeded Manalapan, in a 29-6 victory.