Tyler Thompson’s Triumphant Return Leads No. 10 Ocean Past Neptune
NEPTUNE — For 10 months Tyler Thompson envisioned the moment when he would take the field again for Ocean and show he was not just back, but better than ever. It didn’t take long for him to prove it.
A thunderous hit by Thompson in the end zone led to Ocean recovering a fumble for a touchdown in the first quarter, and the Spartans senior had an impact on the game throughout with 188 yards rushing and three touchdowns to power Ocean, ranked No. 10 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, to a 34-28 Shore Conference Class B North victory over host Neptune on Friday night.
Thompson, who broke his leg during Week Eight last season, was well aware of the grumblings around the Shore that he may not be as effective coming off the injury. He dispensed of those rumors quickly, scoring the game’s tying touchdown on a 71-yard run before scoring on a 13-yard run that proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
“Coming into it I felt pretty strongly about where Tyler was physically,” said Ocean head coach Don Klein. “To have him come out and have that big hit early and to dominate on the ground, especially in the second half, is a testament to his hard work and mental toughness. There was a lot of doubt out there and I hope that got erased tonight.”
“I knew I didn’t have to prove anything to my teammates because they always believe in me,” Thompson said. “But I had to show something to everyone who didn’t think I’d be the same after the injury.”
Junior quarterback Kenny Pickett completed 8 of 14 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown and senior linebacker Tyler Rossback had a fumble recovery for a touchdown as the Spartans (1-0, 1-0) got off to the start they were looking for. Senior running back Ruquan Dean had a 59-yard touchdown catch and an interception on defense while Erik Rant and Greyson Stoothoff each came up with turnovers to lead an opportunistic defense effort.
Neptune thrived on the big play, scoring on a 56-yard run by running back David McLean, a 75-yard kickoff return touchdown by Marvin Morgan and a 50-yard passing play from Rasheed Martin to Kahmar Rice. Isaiah Mooney added a short touchdown run and Banir Worthy had a fumble recovery on defense for the Fliers. Neptune played without one of its top playmakers, 6-foot-6 wide receiver Isaiah Calhoun.
The resiliency Ocean developed last season when Pickett was forced into the starting quarterback position as a sophomore and Thompson was hurt during its playoff push carried over to Week One. In a back-and-forth game, the Spartans had immediate responses for Neptune scores twice. When Neptune tied the score at seven in the second quarter Ocean scored in the ensuing drive, and when Neptune took leads of 21-14 and 28-21 in the second half, Ocean scored on its next offensive play to draw even.
“It shows that that experience really does for you,” Pickett said. “We had to battle all last year and we weren’t shocked (when Neptune scored). We knew what we had to do in the end.”
“We were tested tonight,” Klein said. “A couple of times we could have folded, but our kids never lost sight of moving on to the next play. It comes with experience in big games and leadership. We have a lot of guys that we’re counting on that played in these situations last year, and they know what to expect.”
The pace started slow as neither team could find an offensive rhythm in the first quarter. Ocean was able to grab a 7-0 lead, however, when Thompson crushed Morgan on an option pitch in the end zone and Rossback was able to recover the fumble.
Ocean looked like it was going to grab a two-score lead early in the second quarter when it drove to Neptune’s 8-yard line, but a fumble by Pickett was recovered by Worthy to end the drive. The Scarlet Fliers then embarked on a 8-play, 87-yard drive to tie the score at seven. Mooney carried five straight times for 26 yards before giving way to McLean, who took a handoff on third-and-five from the 44 and broke free on a 56-yard touchdown.
Ocean would come right back with a four-play, 55-yard drive to re-take a one-touchdown lead. Pickett put the ball inside Neptune territory with a 32-yard keeper before Thompson moved the ball to the 10 with a 13-yard run. Thompson’s 10-yard touchdown officially signaled his return and gave Ocean a 14-7 lead with 2:42 left in the first half.
The cushion would be trimmed quickly as Morgan returned the ensuring kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was no good, though, leaving Ocean with a 14-13 halftime lead.
The fireworks continued early in the second half. Martin returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown, but the play was called back because of an illegal block. Neptune still had good field position with the ball at midfield, and needed just one play to score. Martin lofted a pass down the visiting sideline for Rice, and the 6-foot-2 junior won a jump-ball with Joey Aldarelli before breaking away for a 50-yard touchdown reception. Martin ran in the two-point conversion to give Neptune a 21-14 lead.
Dean gave Ocean good field position with a kick return out to the 41-yard line, setting the state for his own 59-yard touchdown catch that tied the game at 21. Pickett ran a read-option play but pulled up to flip a pass to Dean in the right flat. Dean made a few tacklers miss before finding a seam and breaking into the open field for the long score.
“Kenny showed tremendous patience on that play and Ruquan did a good job staying close and giving him an option,” Klein said.
The score remained tied through the rest of the quarter until the Fliers pulled ahead midway through the fourth quarter on a 12-play, 75-yard drive. Mooney, Martin and McLean combined to run Neptune to the Ocean 39 where a clutch play by Martin and Rice set up the Fliers’ fourth touchdown. On third-and-6 from the 39, Martin dropped the snap before recovering and hitting Rice for a 36-yard gain down the home sideline. Mooney scored from three yard out on the next play to give Neptune a 28-21 lead with 7:59 left in regulation.
Up to that point Thompson was having a solid game with 84 yards, but his night was far from over. On Ocean’s first offensive play after Mooney’s touchdown, Thompson ripped off a 71-yard scoring burst, breaking through the first level of Neptune’s defense and then running untouched to the end zone to tie the score at 28.
“If you have Tyler in the backfield you know you’re going to have a good night,” Pickett said.
An interception on the next series by Greyson Stoothoff set up the go-ahead score, a 13-yard run by Thompson for his third touchdown of the game. The extra point did not connect, but Ocean was on top 34-28 with 4:59 left.
Neptune and its running game was able to move the ball all the way to Ocean’s 8-yard line with under two minutes left in the game, but on second-and-goal junior defensive lineman Anthony Tedesco hit Martin as he was winding up to throw, sending the ball to the turf where junior Chris Vivian recovered it. The turnover, the fourth of the game for the Spartans’ defense, sealed the victory.
“It was a big step as a team,” Vivian said. “We had to make something happen there and our team came together and made a play.”
“They had some success there late and ultimately we made a play defensively when we needed it, and I think that’s the mark of a good team,” Klein said.
With its star running back healthy to lead the offense and its defense showing an ability to rise to the occasion, Ocean what it was looking for in what the team knew would be a tough season-opening game.
“Opening night against a rival, you know it’s going to be a battle,” Pickett said. “To win is huge. This is what we missed last year, three points away (a 30-27 loss). We got it this year and I feel like we’re gonna get rolling.”
No. 10 Ocean 34, Neptune 28
Ocean (1-0, 1-0) 7 7 7 13 – 34
Neptune (0-1, 0-1) 0 13 8 7 – 28
O – Tyler Rossback fumble recovery in end zone (Matt Fisher kick)
N – David McLean 56-yard run (Zach Youngberg kick)
O – Tyler Thompson 10-yard run (Matt Fisher kick)
N – Marvin Morgan 75-yard kickoff return (kick failed)
N – Rasheed Martin 50-yard pass to Kahmar Rice (Martin run)
O – Kenny Pickett 59-yard pass to Ruquan Dean (Matt Fisher kick)
N – Isaiah Mooney 3-yard run (Zach Youngberg kick)
O – Tyler Thompson 71-yard run (Matt Fisher kick)
O – Tyler Thompson 13-yard run (Matt Fisher kick)
Rushing – O: Tyler Thompson 17-188, Kenny Pickett 8-55, Ruquan Dean 1-2; N: David McLean 8-84, Isaiah Mooney 15-55, Rasheed Martin 8-41, Marvin Morgan 6-29, Bryce Bradforth 1-17, Banir Worthy 1-3.
Passing – O: Kenny Pickett 8-14-0 127; N: Rasheed Martin 3-6-2 93.
Receiving – O: Ruquan Dean 1-59, Greyston Stoothoff 3-38, Joey Aldarelli 1-17, Quadratullah Qadiri 2-18, Tyler Thompson 1-(-5); N: Kahmar Rice 2-86, Marvin Morgan 1-7.
Interceptions – O: Ruquan Dean 1-0, Greyston Stoothoff 1-22.