Toms River North earns redemption, South Jersey Group 5 title with dominant victory over Kingsway
TOMS RIVER -- For 357 days, a large picture has hung in the Toms River North football locker room as a daily reminder of the pain and anguish that came from losing the final game of the 2021 season.
For nearly a calendar year the picture of the scoreboard from last season's final-minute championship game loss to Kingsway has been on a wall in the Toms River North field house, and on Friday night at Gernerd Field, the Mariners were able to drag that picture out onto the turf and tear it to shreds. But that was only after doing the same thing to their opponent.
In a championship performance for the ages, Toms River North rolled up nearly 500 yards rushing, shut down a dynamic Kingsway offense, and dominated from start to finish to defeat the Dragons, 48-14, and capture the 2022 NJSIAA South Jersey Group 5 sectional championship. It is Toms River North's seventh sectional title in program history and first since 2015.
Last season, a touchdown pass in the final minute gave Kingsway a 21-14 win over Toms River North at Gernerd Field in the South Jersey Group 5 title game. A year later in the exact same setting, the Mariners vanquished the Dragons with a statement-making victory.
"It's extra special after they beat us last year," said senior linebacker/tight end Ty Kazanowsky. "We waited a year to play this game and we came out ready. It's all we thought about, day in and day out. We wanted nothing more than to win this game tonight."
"You couldn't script this in a movie," said senior center Josh Kaye. "48 points in a state championship game against an awesome team like Kingsway...it was absolutely amazing."
"I told my family, I told my coaches, I told my teammates that we would be at this point and this is the point we worked hard for all offseason and during the season," said junior quarterback/safety Micah Ford. "I'm just so happy for my boys. I promised the seniors they weren't walking out of here empty-handed."
Toms River North will play Central Jersey Group 5 winner Edison in the Group 5 semifinals next weekend. Edison defeated Lenape, 28-14. The South Jersey group semifinals will be played on Saturday and Sunday at Cherokee High School.
The Toms River North offensive line was completely dominant in paving the way for 483 yards rushing and five rushing touchdowns. Ford ran for 255 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries to continue his All-State level season and junior running back Josh Moore returned after missing the last two games with an injury and rushed for 219 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. North attempted just three passes and did not complete any of them, but it didn't matter in the slightest. The front five of sophomore left tackle Jaelyne Matthews, sophomore left guard Hathem Hooranyi, Kaye at center, senior right guard Nick Baiocco, and junior right tackle Justin Kaye have been overpowering all season and put together an incredible performance in the biggest game so far. The unit's depth was tested, as well, when Hooranyi went out with an injury in the second quarter but senior Charlie Wood stepped in and the group did not miss a beat.
"(Last season's loss to Kingsway) angered us so much inside and we just used that on the field," Kaye said. "We just ran it down their throat on every play. To say the least, we did our job and we did it well. We used all that anger from last year in this game."
"Those guys, those guys," Ford said with a tone of equal parts amazement and hype. "They were just amazing. I don't know how they do it every game and every play."
"We talked to them about how this was going to be a war," said Toms River North head coach Dave Oizerowitz. "We showed them the Hagler-Hearns fight as motivation. We said (Kingsway) were going to punch us in the face and they weren't going to have any fear. But we were going to walk through their punches and we were going to throw haymakers of our own and they were going to wilt eventually."
On the defensive side of the ball is where the Mariners shined just as bright against a dynamic Kingsway offense that entered with quarterback Nate Maiers having thrown for over 1,900 yards. Toms River North held Kingsway to 126 yards of offense and seven first downs, three of which came via penalty. Ford returned an interception 26 yards for a touchdown for the game's first points and junior defensive back Tareq Council had a clutch 90-yard pick-6 with 14 seconds left in the first half that gave Toms River North a 27-7 halftime lead. Sophomore Nasir Jackson also had a fumble recovery. The Mariners held Maiers to just 43 yards passing.
Toms River North's defense has recorded four shutouts and allowed just 94 points all season (7.8 per game).
"No one has run the football on us all year and we've given up some passing yards mostly because of the score," Oizerowtiz said. "We knew this would be a true test because (Maiers) has thrown for almost 2,000 yards and the stuff they do schematically puts stress on you. We proved our mettle tonight."
"Our defense, we play together and we play fast," Kazanowsky said.
Kingsway burnt Toms River North through the air last year and it was a big play in the passing game that provided the go-ahead touchdown in last season's title-game victory. This time, the Mariners took that element of the Dragons' offense away and bottled up the run. Kingsway did run for 83 yards but could not move in crucial spots when the game was still close. In addition to the pick-6s by Ford and Council, Jackson had two impressive pass breakups, including one on a deep shot early in the second half.
"The last few times we've played them they jumped out on us and we've had to claw back into the game," Oizerowitz said. "We thought if we can get off to a good start it could put them in a predicament. We schemed to stop their passing game and they had a hard time moving it. We wanted to trap them into running the football and once we got up it made them one-dimensional."
Other than penalties (8 for 72 yards) and a punt that hit off one of its players and extended one of Kingsway's drives, Toms River North started fast and never relented. The Mariners stopped Kingsway three-and-out on the first series and then used a 19-yard run by Ford and a 25-yard run by Moore to quickly move to the Kingsway 2-yard line. Tough defense on the first two downs and then a holding penalty pushed Toms River North back and the Mariners eventually turned it over on downs.
That sting of that missed opportunity only lasted two plays, however, because on second down Ford read the eyes of Maiers, picked off his pass, and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown to give Toms River North a quick 7-0 lead.
Another three-and-out by Kingsway gave the ball back to the Mariners and on third down Ford broke loose for a 72-yard touchdown run for a 14-0 lead.
The next Kingsway drive was more of the same. Junior linebacker Anthony Rodriguez made a tackle for loss on first down and Kazanowsky deflected a pass at the line of scrimmage on third down to force another punt. The Mariners took over at their own 35-yard line and needed just four plays to get back into the end zone. After relentless runs of 19 yards by Ford and 17 yards by Moore, Ford capped the quick drive with a 27-yard touchdown run that stretched Toms River North's lead to 21-0.
Kingsway showed life on its next possession. The Dragons returned the kickoff to midfield, converted a fourth and 6 with a 26-yard gain, and found the end zone when Maiers scored on a 5-yard run early in the second quarter. It was a nice drive by Kingsway to get back into the game, but it didn't feel sustainable at the time.
That sentiment started to change on the next Kingsway offensive series. Toms River North got the ball back after the touchdown with 10:14 on the clock and ran 13 plays to get down to the Kingsway 33-yard line, but a slew of penalties short-circuited the drive and Kingsway eventually stopped North on fourth and 12.
Kingsway took over at its own 35-yard line and threw three straight incomplete passes, but on the punt the ball touched a Toms River North player and was recovered by the Dragons at the Mariners' 37-yard line. With new life on the drive, Kingsway moved to the Mariners' 13-yard line after a 12-yard catch by Darrell Brown Jr. Despite being severely outplayed, Kingsway had a chance to make it a one-score game heading into halftime. On first down from the 13-yard line, Maiers looked right and threw right, but Council was there to intercept the pass. With plenty of open turf ahead of him and just a couple of players to beat, Council raced down the visiting sideline for a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown and a 27-7 Toms River North lead. The game went from potentially being a seven-point Toms River North lead to a 20-point lead with the Mariners also set to get the ball to begin the third quarter.
A penalty on the extra point moved the ball to the 1-yard line so Toms River North decided to attempt a 2-point conversion, which was stopped by Kingsway.
"That was the biggest play of the game," Oizerowitz said. "We were just hoping to hold them to a field goal knowing we were getting the ball in the third quarter and instead we flip it around."
"Tareq's pick-6, I felt like that play won the game for us," Ford said. "I feel like it re-set the tone of the game."
Kingsway's defense came up with a stop to open the third quarter when Roman Kuzmik intercepted Ford at the Dragnons' 24-yard line, but Toms River North's defense got the ball right back after Kingsway gained one first down. The Mariners stretched their advantage to 34-7 when Ford scored on a 1-yard run to cap an 11-play, 65-yard drive with 1:19 left in the third quarter.
Another three-and-out by Kingsway led to Toms River North getting the ball back at its own 19-yard line, and on the first play Moore ripped off an 81-yard touchdown run for a 41-7 lead. The Mariners had just forced a running clock in a state sectional final.
Kingsway got back into the end zone when a short field and 37 yards in penalties on Toms River North led to Brown Jr. scoring on a 7-yard run. Moore got those points back when he scored on a 2-yard touchdown run with 5:04 left.
From there, all that was left to do was celebrate.
"This is the best team I've ever been on," Ford said. "This is a feeling like never before. There's a very slim chance of you getting a shot twice like this, so we couldn't let it go down like last year,"
Under the old playoff format, Toms River North would have walked off the field as undefeated state champions, a 12-0 season for the history books to go down as one of the very best in program history. This Toms River North team is capable of achieving more, and this year, the Mariners will have that chance. This group can become the first-ever Group 5 state champion, the first Shore Conference team to win more than 12 games in a season, and a chance at a perfect 14-0 record.
"We have the potential to be the greatest team to ever be from Toms River," Ford said. "We have a chance to run the table so it's straight back to work for us. It doesn't matter who lines up in front of us. We're going to compete how we did tonight."
"We want to win the whole thing," Kazanowsky said. "We want to finish it. No more South Jersey Group 5. We want the whole state."
Scroll down for video highlights and the box score
1-Toms River North 48, 3-Kingsway 14
Toms River North
Toms River North (12-0)
TRN — Micah Ford 26-yard interception return (Yianni Papanikolas kick)
TRN — Micah Ford 72-yard run (Yianni Papanikolas kick)
TRN — Micah Ford 27-yard run (Yianni Papanikolas kick)
K — Nate Maiers 5-yard run (Asa Moser kick)
TRN — Tareq Council 90-yard interception return (run failed)
TRN — Micah Ford 1-yard run (Yianni Papanikolas kick)
TRN — Josh Moore 81-yard run (Yianni Papanikolas kick)
K — Darrell Brown Jr. 7-yard run (Asa Moser kick)
TRN — Josh Moore 2-yard run (Yianni Papnikolas kick)
RUSHING — TRN: Micah Ford 31-255, Josh Moore 16-219, Mordecai Ford 2-6, Jeremiah Pruitt 2-3; K: Nate Maiers 7-35, Camillo Marasco 5-25, Darrell Brown Jr. 5-23.
PASSING — TRN: Micah Ford 0-3-1 0; K: Nate Maiers 4-15-2 43.
RECEIVING — K: Jake Mason 1-26, Benny Liles III 2-15, Camillo Marasco 1-2.
INTERCEPTIONS — TRN: Tareq Council 1-90 (TD), Micah Ford 1-26 (TD); K: Roman Kuzmik