War Horses: No. 13 Brick Memorial digs deep to rally past No. 14 Middletown North
BRICK TOWNSHIP – Many of Brick Memorial’s victories over the past two seasons have been of the high-scoring variety with quarterback Connor Dietz and the rest of the offense putting up electric numbers to outlast the opposition.
The Mustangs’ record-setting quarterback had another impactful game in Week 1, but Brick Memorial showed that this season’s version of The Warlords has what it takes to win a slugfest without the offense putting up huge numbers.
Dietz rumbled for an 11-yard touchdown run with 2:23 left in the fourth quarter and sophomore defensive back Nyzier Matthews intercepted a pass at the team’s 5-yard line with 1:11 on the clock as the Mustangs, ranked No. 13 in the Shore Sports Network Shore 16, earned a 21-17 come-from-behind Shore Conference nondivisional victory over visiting No. 14 Middletown North on Friday night at DiFabio Field.
Brick Memorial trailed 10-0 in the second quarter before surging ahead with a touchdown in the final seconds of the first half and another early in the third quarter. Middletown North re-took the lead in the third quarter before the Mustangs took advantage of a Lions miscue and drove for the go-ahead touchdown.
Middletown North did a solid job defending Dietz, who had nearly 400 yards of offense in a Week 0 victory over Allentown. He came through at the most crucial moments, however, scoring on a 6-yard run with 1.4 seconds left in the first half and then busting a 34-yard run that set up his own 11-yard go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. He finished with 162 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 28 carries. Junior running back Kevin Andrews ran for 92 yards on nine carries, including a 58-yard touchdown burst that gave Brick Memorial a 14-10 lead early in the third quarter.
“It was encouraging the way our entire team played tonight because they all played with mental toughness,” said Brick Memorial head coach Walt Currie. “We didn’t let any situation get us down. We knew we’d be in for a battle and that we’d have to play tough for 48 minutes to win it. I’m just really encouraged by the way we did it.”
“We were frustrated we couldn’t get going what we wanted but everybody stayed positive and kept us going,” Dietz said. “Once we got to the locker room it was all positivity; big touchdown at the end of the half.”
Middletown North senior quarterback Luke Sheehan completed 13 of 22 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. Junior quarterback Brian O’Donnell ran for a touchdown, senior receiver Colin Jacques had a touchdown reception, and senior Ian Poole-Morgan kicked a 29-yard field goal. Senior running back Neno Morgan-Acker ran for 83 yards on 17 carries.
The Lions marched right down the field on the game’s opening possession, scoring on O’Donnell’s 4-yard touchdown run to cap a 10-play, 73-yard drive that drained 6:26 off the clock. Morgan-Acker had 53 yards rushing on seven carries on the drive, signaling that it could be a long day for Brick Memorial’s defense if it couldn’t slow down the Lions’ ground game.
The Mustangs turned it around quickly and yielded just 58 total rushing yards and 10 points the rest of the game. Brick Memorial’s defense allowed 27.5 points per game last season to finish in the bottom third of the Shore, but the early returns have been promising this season. Allentown scored 25 first-half points last week but the Mustangs shut out the Redbirds in the second half en route to a 51-25 triumph. This week’s performance was even more impressive against a Middletown North team that scored 45 points in a Week 0 win over Freehold Township and had two 100-yard rushers.
“Can’t give enough credit to our defense in the second half, they really did an outstanding job,” Currie said. “It was a fantastic job by the defensive guys, Coach Graham, Coach Bright, Coach Mahoney, Coach Cammarano; they did a great job all week prepping our kids and then today making second-half adjustments.”
Looking back to the first half, Brick Memorial’s comeback began with a string of key plays deep in its own territory. Following Middletown North’s scoring drive to open the game, Brick Memorial went three and out to give the Lions the ball right back. But on the second play of that series, junior defensive back Jimi Popp leaped to intercept Sheehan at the Brick Memorial 12-yard line. The Mustangs gained two first downs but the drive fizzled at midfield.
Middletown North then began a drive at its own 27-yard line and moved inside the Mustangs’ 20-yard line with a good run-pass mix. Sheehan hit tight end Gavin Halloran for nine yards to convert a fourth-and-3 and Morgan-Acker broke a 15-yard run to the Brick Memorial 20. The Mustangs dug in their heels and forced a field goal attempt that Poole-Morgan threaded through the uprights for a 10-0 Middletown North lead with 4:31 left in the first half.
“I think the turning point in the game was getting a stop and forcing a field goal down 7-0,” Currie said. “We could have put our tail between our legs and gone down 14-0 and then who knows, maybe it’s blowout city. But our kids put their foot in the ground and got a stop and a score and made it a football game.”
Following Poole-Morgan’s field goal, Brick Memorial began its offensive possession at its own 31-yard line with 4:26 remaining in the first half. Dietz converted a third-and-7 with a 14-yard run and then went for 16 yards on the next play. After a sack by Jake Minson, Dietz ran for an 11-yard gain and a late-hit penalty pushed the ball forward to the Middletown North 19-yard line. Two more runs by Dietz made it first-and-goal at the 5-yard line where Middletown North held Dietz to gains of 3, 0, and 1 to bring up fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line with under 10 seconds left in the half. Brick Memorial lined up to go for it, but a false-start penalty pushed them back to the 6-yard line. It was still an easy decision for Currie to keep the offense on the field.
“We needed a touchdown and we have a lot of faith in the kids out there and in our play caller (offensive coordinator James Mahoney),” Currie said. “I don’t think a field goal there gives us the momentum. We have a lot of faith in our freshman kicker Jack Marotta but we needed a touchdown.”
Dietz took the snap and looked to pass before scrambling and diving into the end zone for a touchdown that got the Mustangs on the board with 1.4 seconds on the clock.
“That got us going,” Dietz said. “It was going to be a lot harder if we didn’t get that touchdown.” Receiving the second-half kickoff meant the Mustangs had a chance to double-dip, and they did exactly that just two plays into the third quarter when Andrews bounced a run toward the visiting sideline and broke away from the defense for a 58-yard touchdown run. Just like that, Brick Memorial had taken the lead in a span of three offensive plays. “We were ecstatic,” Dietz said. “When we can break one of those plays like that we know we’re still in the fight.”
Middletown North responded right away to retake the lead, keyed by a 55-yard pass from Sheehan to senior wideout Frank Zaino. That connection put the ball at the Brick Memorial 6-yard line and two plays later Jacques took a quick screen and weaved his way into the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown and a 17-14 Middletown North lead with 9:05 left in the third quarter.
The teams traded punts on the next two series. Brick Memorial then put together a promising 17-play drive that began at its own 17-yard line and reached the Lions’ 12-yard line, but a field goal attempt from 31 yards out fell short.
With a chance to close out the game right in front of them, the Lions moved from their own 20-yard line to the Brick Memorial 36-yard line on an 11-yard run by Sheehan, a 13-yard catch by Dylan Briggs, and a 20-yard catch by Halloran. Brick Memorial stuffed Morgan-Acker on two runs and then forced an incomplete pass to bring up fourth-and-7 from the 33-yard line. The Lions were in no man’s land, too far for a field goal attempt and too close for a conventional punt. They decided to go for it and nearly put the game on ice, but Sheehan’s pass to a wide-open receiver was dropped inside the Brick Memorial 10-yard line, giving the Mustangs a huge break with 5:48 remaining in the game.
The Mustangs took full advantage in driving for the go-ahead touchdown. After Andrews ran for six yards to convert a third-and-short, Dietz busted loose for his longest run of the game, a 34-yard gain down to the Middletown North 18-yard line. Three plays later on third down, Dietz broke multiple tackles and muscled his way into the end zone on an 11-yard touchdown to give Brick Memorial a 21-17 lead with 2:23 to play.
“When I broke into the hole I didn’t see anything until our wide receiver came down on a crack, so I bounced it and saw nothing but green,” Dietz said of his 34-yard run. “I thought I was going to score but I guess I’m not as fast as I thought.”
Middletown North’s defense made life difficult for Dietz for most of the game, especially throwing the ball where he finished just 3-for-11 for 15 yards. Still, he came through in the game’s biggest moments.
“Connor is one of those guys – and I think we have a bunch of guys like that – but Connor made that big run and it was physical,” Currie said. “Our offensive line did a great job blocking for him and we had great blocking downfield, as well.”
Brick Memorial is now 2-0 for the first time since 2012. The Mustangs will open division play vs. Barnegat (0-2) next week.
“This is a promising and encouraging start but it doesn’t guarantee us anything other than two wins this year,” Currie said. “We have to continue to work for everything we get.”
No. 13 Brick Memorial 21, No. 14 Middletown North 17
|Middletown North||Brick Memorial|
|Midd. North (1-1)||7||3||0||7||17|
|Brick Mem. (2-0)||0||7||7||7||21|
MN – Brian O’Donnell 4-yard run (Ian Poole-Morgan kick)
MN – Ian Poole-Morgan 29-yard field goal
BM – Connor Dietz 6-yard run (Jack Marotta kick)
BM – Kevin Andrews 58-yard run (Jack Marotta kick)
MN – Colin Jacques 9-yard pass from Luke Sheehan (Ian Poole-Morgan kick)
BM – Connor Dietz 11-yard run (Jack Marotta kick)
RUSHING – MN: Neno Morgan-Acker 17-83, Luke Sheehan 3-20, Shane Volante 2-4, Brian O’Donnell 1-4, Jack Viola 1-4, Dylan Briggs 1-2, Colin Jacques 1-(-1); BM: Connor Dietz 28-162, Kevin Andrews 9-92, Ny’zier Whittaker 3-31, Jasaan Whittaker 2-11.
PASSING – MN: Luke Sheehan 13-22-2, 199; BM: Connor Dietz 4-11-0, 15.
RECEIVING – MN: Frank Zaino 2-67, Dylan Briggs 3-39, Gavin Halloran 2-29, Colin Jacques 2-24, Ka’ley Spearman-Young 2-19, Jack Viola, 1-18, Neno Morgan-Acker 1-3; BM: Kevin Andres 1-7, Nyzier Matthews 2-4, Jasaan Whittaker 1-4.
INTERCEPTION – BM: Jimi Popp, 1-0; Nyzier Matthews 1-15.