Toms River North Makes School History With Back-to-Back Sectional Titles
TOMS RIVER – How much time is too much time to leave on the clock for superstar quarterback Micah Ford and the Toms River North offense to make a back-breaking play?
Washington Township found that out on Friday night after closing a 21-point gap to a single touchdown late in the second quarter before Ford threw a 29-yard TD pass to junior wideout Nasir Jackson with all zeroes on the clock. The demoralizing play came after the Mariners called timeout with a single second left in the half.
That lightning strike deflated the Minutemen and kickstarted a run of 28 unanswered points as the top-seeded Mariners surged to a 49-14 win at Gernerd Field to capture the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 5 title.
“They had the momentum going toward the half, but we shut it down,” Ford said.
“It felt like it took the wind out of them,” senior offensive lineman Justin Kaye said. “I grew up playing with Micah, so I don't get surprised, but some things are just amazing.”
The defense registered a second-half shutout and matched second-seeded Washington Township (9-3) in scoring with 14 points of its own on a pair of pick-sixes. The Mariners continue to flex in the state playoffs, outscoring their three opponents 152-34.
Toms River North (10-2) has now won back-to-back sectional titles for the first time in school history and will travel to face South Jersey champion Cherokee in the Group 5 semifinals next Friday.
"My voice is gone, but I'm so happy we made history tonight," Ford said. "It just means the most. It shows what this program is capable of. All the people who doubted us, all the people who hated - we're here to stay."
The victory gave the Mariners eight sectional titles, tying Rumson-Fair Haven for the third-most of any program in Shore Conference history. It also extended their winning streak against public schools to 24 games.
The defending Group 5 champions looked poised to run away with the game after rocketing to a 21-0 lead, but Washington Township closed the gap to 21-14 with just 46 seconds left in the half. That was enough time for Ford to drive the Mariners 34 yards to the Washington Township 29-yard line with three runs and a 9-yard pass.
Toms River North head coach Dave Oizerowitz then barely got in a timeout with a second left on the clock. That was more than enough for Ford and Jackson to make it happen.
“We were looking for Tareq (Council) because they play two high safeties, and the middle is just wide open,” Ford said. “Then I saw the corner just follow Jeremiah (Pruitt) all the way across the field. It was a switch route, so I just hit my man in the back. I'm just happy he caught it, and I'm just happy for my guys.”
“The corner that was guarding Jeremiah Pruitt bit on his switch, so I was wide open in the back of the end zone and just had to make a play,” Jackson said.
The last-second play sent the Mariners to the locker room with a 28-14 lead, and they never looked back.
“We run (that play) all the time in practice,” Oizerowitz said. “From 35 to 40 yards out, they're in trouble a little bit. If we give (Ford) time, he's gonna get somebody loose and he's gonna hit him."
Ford delivered another masterpiece with 269 yards rushing on 24 carries and 58 yards and two touchdowns passing on three completions as the Mariners rolled up 385 yards on the ground and 443 overall. The Stanford recruit also had a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown from his safety position.
“I really, truly believe that no one in the state can stop our offense fully when we play hard and when we play to the whistle,” Ford said. “And we showed it today.”
The Mariners made that apparent on the opening drive of the game when they went 80 yards on 11 plays in their power spread offense without attempting a pass. Senior running back Josh Moore capped the drive with a 17-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead. Ford had seven carries for 60 yards on the drive.
“That gave us great confidence,” Kaye said.
“That made me think like 'We got them in a bag. We got them beat already,’” said Jackson, who had a downfield block to help Moore polish off the touchdown run.
Three plays later, it was 14-0 after Ford took an interception to the house for the second time in two playoff games.
“Two pick-sixes in the last two weeks, I think I'm a DB now,” Ford said before smiling. “I think you can mark me down as ‘DB’ on Rivals. I saw him go to the flat, and that's my man. I saw the quarterback rolling to it, and I just jumped it.”
The defense came up with another stop when Moore broke up a pass in the end zone to force a turnover on downs at Toms River North’s 26-yard line. Six plays later, Ford hit senior wideout Tareq Council for a 20-yard score on third-and-16 to make it 21-0 with 10:13 left in the second quarter.
Washington Township came to life with a 15-play, 69-yard drive helped by a pair of defensive penalties on the Mariners. Senior running back Jared Dzierzgowski scored from seven yards out to cut the lead to 21-7 with 2:12 left in the half.
The Minutemen then got it right back after recovering a fumble at their own 34-yard line. They scored four plays later on a 1-yard run by running back Giuliano Scavetta that was set up by his own 42-yard catch and run on a screen pass. That made it 21-14, which is when Ford stepped in to swing the momentum back in Toms River North’s favor.
“We're not reeling (at that point), but certainly you could understand they would have had the momentum, and if they score it's 21-all, it's a game,” Oizerowitz said. “Instead, we make that play. We get back to a cushion lead. We know in the third quarter, if we stop them there, which we did, they're in big trouble, and it became a boat race from there.”
The game was still 28-14 heading into the fourth quarter after a penalty-ridden third quarter, and the Mariners finished strong. With Ford out of the game with cramping issues, junior quarterback T.J. Valerio stepped in and scored on a 12-yard run to push the lead to 35-14 with 10:48 left in the game.
The Mariners came right back with another score only seconds later when Washington Township attempted a double pass and it was intercepted and returned 39 yards by Council for his second score of the night.
Junior running back Mordecai Ford then added the exclamation point with a 3-yard touchdown run for the final margin.
Toms River North held Washington Township to 46 total yards in the second half and 186 overall. Junior linebacker Blaise Boland continued his brilliant season with two sacks and two other tackles for a loss as the Mariners limited the Minutemen to an average of 2.3 yards per carry.
“Definitely all week in practice, coach prepared us for that counter,” Boland said. “All week in practice it was, ‘Stop the run game, we win the game,’ because we trust the DBs to go out there and do their thing.”
It all added up to the first consecutive state sectional titles at a program that has achieved everything else.
“(Washington Township) is a young team, they're going to be really good going forward, but this is our time and we weren't going to let the present escape us with this opportunity,” Oizerowitz said.
The next step is repeating as overall Group 5 champions after going 14-0 and capturing the inaugural Group 5 title last year when the NJSIAA playoffs expanded.
“It's OK to celebrate this win today, but tomorrow I'll be back watching film, trying to lock in,” Ford said. “This is only the beginning of our journey. There's a lot more to come.”
Toms River North 49, Washington Twp. 14
. T W
First downs 19 11
Rushes-yards 45-385 31-72
Passing 3-6-0 9-17-2
Passing yards 58 114
Penalties 13-128 2-10
Fumbles-lost 2-1 1-0
Washington Twp. (9-3) 0 14 0 0 – 14
Toms River North (10-2) 14 14 0 21 – 49
T: Moore 17-yard run (Papanikolas kick).
T: Mi. Ford 40-yard INT return (Papanikolas kick).
T: Council 20-yard pass from Mi. Ford (Papanikolas kick).
W: Dzierzgowski 7-yard run (Franchi kick).
W: Scavetta 1-yard run (Franchi kick).
T: Jackson 29-yard pass from Mi. Ford (Papanikolas kick).
T: Valerio 12-yard run (Papanikolas kick).
T: Council 39-yard INT return (Papanikolas kick).
T: Mo. Ford 3-yard run (Papanikolas kick).
Rushing – T: Mi. Ford 24-269, Moore 11-54, Valerio 6-41, Pruitt 1-1, Mo. Ford 3-20. W: Dzierzgowski 14-63, Scavetta 12-9, Aquino 5-0.
Passing – T: Mi. Ford 3-6-0 58. W: Aquino 9-16-1 114, Long 0-1-1 0.
Receiving – T: Council 1-20, Thomas 1-9, Jackson 1-29. W: Perez 5-33, Mosco 2-27, Scavetta 2-54.
Interceptions – Mi. Ford 1-40, Council 1-39.