True Believers: Point Beach Wins First State Title [AUDIO]
EWING – There was plenty John Wagner could have said to his team in the week leading up to Point Beach's first sectional final appearance in 31 years, just one week after losing by 31 to its championship opponent. But there was only one point he needed to hammer home.
“You have to believe, you have to understand that each 48-minute period is a game within itself,” he said. “You get a fresh start, and you have to keep believing.”
The Garnet Gulls had to figure out how to reverse a 31-point defeat to Shore in the teams' Thanksgiving game in just eight days if they hoped to bring home their first sectional title in program history. Each day leading up to Saturday's NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I final, Wagner offered examples of teams that had lost in the regular season and rebounded to defeat the same team in the postseason.
“It happened (Friday night) when Pompton Lakes beat Hasbrouck Heights,” Wagner said. “I told them it's already happened this year, and it's going to happen again today.”
Point Beach indeed made history on Saturday afternoon at The College of New Jersey, turning the tables on Shore in a 12-7 victory for the program's first state championship since the playoff system began in 1974. Junior running back Joe Wegrzyniak ran for 138 yards while junior running back Michael Frauenheim and junior quarterback Jake Fioretti each ran for touchdowns as the Garnet Gulls offense got back on track in the most important game in Point Beach's history.
Shore ran all over Point Beach's defense in last week's victory, but the Garnet Gulls changed things up with a six-man front that caused the Blue Devils fits and limited them to 50 rushing yards and 2.1 yards per carry. Point Beach also harassed Shore quarterback Matt Muh with constant pressure off the edges, holding him to 73 yards on 5-of-14 passing.
“We always believed we could get it done,” said Point Beach senior two-way lineman Sean Struncius, whose father Paul, the team's quarterbacks coach, was the signal caller on the 1982 team that reached a sectional final. “We put in a lot of new stuff this week, and we came out with high emotions.”
“All week coach came in with two examples of teams that lost in the regular season and came back to win in the playoffs. We knew we had a great group of guys, and we could do it.”
“We knew we were going to come out and give them a run for their money,” Wegrzyniak said. “We all knew we didn't play well last game, and we knew in our hearts we'd come out hard and turn it around.”
Wegrzyniak ran for 108 yards in the second half, including multiple huge runs down the stretch. Point Beach's final drive that ran out the clock began with 4:41 left in the game. On a fourth-and-two from the Shore 31, Wegrzyniak plowed up the middle for four yards. Later during the drive on a third-and-eight with 2:19 left, Wegrzyniak broke six tackles, including three in the backfield, for a 20-yard run that effectively clinched the Garnet Gulls first state title.
“Joe was an animal today and the offensive line was all heart on every play,” said senior Bill Barry.
“I knew I had to break anything I could and keep on going,” Wegrzyniak said. “It's the last game of the year. I'll heal. No matter what I was giving everything I had.”
Point Beach may have thought it was going to bounce back, but it still had to prove it could move the ball on Shore's defense. The Gulls got the confidence booster they needed on the game's opening drive. They didn't score, but the 15-play drive that spanned 63 yards and consumed 8:13 sent a message that this game would be very different from the final week of the regular season.
“(Shore) was shocked,” Wegrzyniak said. “They didn't know what was happening. As soon as we knew we could run the ball it changed everything.”
The Gulls forced a punt on Shore's first possession to retain momentum, and then cracked the scoreboard first on a four-play, 56-yard drive. Frauenheim spun out of a tackle and got loose on a 42-yard run down to the Shore seven-yard line. Two plays later he scored from six yards out for a 6-0 lead with 37 seconds left in the first quarter. Shore blocked the extra point, but Point Beach led 6-0.
Shore went three-and-out on its next drive, losing five yards in three plays before punting it away. It was clear now that Point Beach had something different up its sleeve. The six-man front Wagner installed kept Shore's big offensive linemen from getting to the second level. The Gulls linebackers and defensive backs were free to make plays and keep Shore from getting to the outside, an area the Blue Devils had a lot of success in during the first meeting. Kevin Barry and Tanner Smith were also flying off the edge all game and putting heat on Muh every time he dropped back.
“The biggest difference from last week is that we had absolutely no pressure on Muh in the first game, and today we came hard off the edge and got to him,” Struncius said. “We hit on all cylinders today. We took away the inside run game and our defensive ends stayed free to keep them from getting the edge.”
Wagner made an interesting adjustment along the defensive line by putting 5-foot-5, 155-pound junior Jake DeLorenzo head up against Shore's tackles, countering size and strength with quickness. He got the idea from a former player he coached while he was at Roselle Park.
“I had a kid up north that told me the toughest game he had was against a little squirty kid in front of him who could move,” Wagner said. “It was just a great effort from some kids with big hearts.”
Point Beach now had great field position at the 31, but Mike Moore intercepted Fioretti in the end zone to end the threat. Shore drove down to the Point Beach 18 late in the first half, but Jake Monteiro's 34-yard field goal attempt into the wind fell short. Shore also had a shot at the end zone on the final play of the first half, but the pass was broken up.
At the start of the second half it was Point Beach's defense that set the tone. Shore received to begin the third quarter and picked up just its third first down of the game, but on second down Kevin Barry came from behind and knocked the ball free on a strip sack of Muh, and Bill Barry recovered at the 16-yard line.
“I was thinking I have to get this ball because it's going to be a game-changing moment,” Bill Barry said.
Wegrzyniak converted a fourth-and-one from the seven with a three-yard run, and Fioretti ran for a four-yard touchdown on the next play for a 12-0 lead. The two-point conversion pass was no good, but Point Beach had extended its lead to two scores with 7:24 left in the third.
Shore answered on the ensuing possession, however, on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Muh to Moore on third-and-10, to pull to within 12-7. Brian Miller converted a fourth-and-one at midfield to keep the drive going.
Shore's offense would run just six offensive plays the rest of the way as Point Beach's defense held strong and its offense drained the clock with long drives. A huge defensive play came when defensive tackle Bronson Ligouri tipped a third-down screen pass intended for Doug Goldsmith early in the fourth quarter. Shore had burned Point Beach on a similar play late in the first half, and Goldsmith was wide open with several blockers and open field in front of him.
Point Beach got the ball back with 11:13 left in the game and Wegrzyniak broke off a 48-yard run on the drive's second play to move the ball down to the Shore 27. The Gulls would eventually attempt a 24-yard field goal that was blocked, one of four blocked kicks or punts for Shore in the game.
Shore would get one more possession starting from inside its own 20, but Muh was sacked on third down and the Blue Devils had to punt. They never saw the ball again as Point Beach ran 10 plays over the final 4:41 to run out the clock and bring home the program's first sectional title.
“All week we heard nobody could score on them and nobody could run on them,” Wagner said. “We didn't do anything crazy before the game or at halftime. We just told them to make their plays, and the kids believed.”
“If you would have asked me freshman year if we would win a state title when I'm a senior I would have said absolutely not,” Bill Barry said. “From 1-9 to 8-3 and 10-1 and now state champs, it's a blessing (Wagner) came here.”
Wagner won 150 games and two state titles while coaching at Roselle Park. He came to Point Beach three seasons ago to turn around a struggling program and since then he's 28-6 with Saturday's state championship victory. Point Beach has gone from a team fighting to stay out of last place in its division to a team expecting to win championships.
In 2011 and 2012 Point Beach was able to advance to the sectional semifinals before being eliminated. In 2011 it was a happy-to-be-there moment. Last year's defeat, however, was a crushing loss as the community, ravaged from Superstorm Sandy, was rallying around its undefeated football team. Saturday's championship win, as meaningful as it is from a football standpoint, may mean even more off the field.
“Right now I'm so overjoyed I get to share this with my brothers, I love every one of these guys,” Struncius said. “This means so much to us. To see the great support we've had, with everything we've been through with the storm and losing in the semifinals last year, it's incredible. It's an experience everybody will share forever."
NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I Final
Point Beach 12, Shore 7
Point Beach (10-2) 6 0 6 0 – 12
Shore (10-2) 0 0 7 0 – 7
PB – Michael Frauenheim 6-yard run (kick blocked)
PB – Jake Fioretti 4-yard run (pass failed)
S – Matt Muh 39-yard pass to Mike Moore (Jake Monteiro kick)
Rushing – PB: Joe Wegrzyniak 25-138, Michael Frauenheim 12-77, Jake Fioretti 9-27, Marshall Gombos 6-11; S: Brian Miller 11-43, Mike Moore 4-20, Doug Golsdmish 4-3, Chris Francisco 2-0, Matt Muh 3-(-16).
Passing – PB: Jake Fioretti 1-4-1 10; S: Matt Muh 5-14-0 73.
Receiving – PB: Joe Wegrzyniak 1-10; S: Mike Moore 1-39, Doug Goldsmith 1-23, Brian Miller 2-11, Nick Kessler 1-8.
Interceptions – S: Mike Moore 1-0.
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