Road Warriors: No. 10 Manasquan hands No. 9 Point Boro its first loss of the season
POINT PLEASANT – A two-touchdown deficit is not an insurmountable hole for a quality team to come back from, and for this year’s Manasquan team, being down actually seems to fuel their competitive fire.
Down by two scores after the first quarter, Manasquan answered questions on both sides of the ball to get its spread offense rolling and stifle Point Boro’s high-scoring triple-option attack, ripping off 35 straight points and holding off a late comeback attempt to come away with a thrilling 35-30 victory on Friday night at Al Saner Field.
The Warriors entered the game ranked No. 10 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 while Point Boro was ranked No. 9. Nobody had been able to stop Point Boro’s offense this season as the Panthers came in averaging 42.5 points per game and well over 300 yards rushing per game. But Manasquan, after allowing two first-quarter touchdowns – ironically because of Point Boro’s passing game – made its adjustments and took over the game for the next 30 minutes.
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“When they scored on us two times we looked back at during the week when we said that something was going to happen, they were going to hit a few plays,” said senior Cole Kozlowski. “But I think if we get scored on first and we’re down, that’s when we dig deep. That’s what the coaches have taught us. We bounce back.”
“They’ve been there,” said Manasquan head coach J. Price. “They were there against Raritan (a 35-28 overtime win), there against (No. 4) Middletown South (15-12 loss). They know what it is to be down in a big game and they all rally around each other. It’s cool to watch.”
Manasquan led 35-14 with just over nine minutes left in the fourth quarter but Point Boro mounted a late rally with 16 points on two touchdowns and two 2-point conversions with a successful onside kicked linking the two drives together. Manasquan recovered the second onside kick with 2:11 left in the game and with Point Boro out of timeouts, the Warriors needed to run just three plays to chew off the remaining time.
“I wish our guys made it a little easier but we played well enough to win,” Price said. “Hats off to (Point Boro head coach Brian Staub). What he’s done in a year with the turnaround they’ve had, they’ve done a tremendous job. They have a great staff, they’re well-coached and they don’t ever quit.”
Point Boro suffered its first loss of the season after six straight dominant wins. A victory of course was what the Panthers were after, but so too was a stern test with the NJSIAA playoffs looming in two weeks.
“We needed this more than anything,” said Point Boro head coach Brian Staub. “We were excited for the challenge and hats off to Manasquan for playing tough, physical football. But I’m proud of how our kids fought to the end. We never gave up, we never will give up and we have a lot of football ahead of us, which we’re excited about.”
“Winning kind of hides some mistakes and it solves a lot. It comes down to the basic fundamentals. The team that blocks and tackles the best is going to win the football game and I’m not sure that was us tonight. We’re excited to get back to work immediately and get ready for a pretty good Middletown North team.”
Manasquan junior quarterback Brett Patten accounted for four total touchdowns with 163 yards passing and a pair of scores plus two rushing touchdowns. Kozlowski caught three passes for 117 yards and a touchdown, senior wide receiver Robert Pendergist had a touchdown reception on a screen pass, and junior running back Jhamier Howard returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown in addition to rushing for a team-high 60 yards on six carries.
Kozlowski was also selected as The Block GameDay Countdown MVP.
Normally, giving up 200-plus rushing yards would be nothing a team would pat itself on the back for, but against Point Boro’s flexbone triple-option offense it was a strong performance by the Warriors. The Panthers ran for 210 yards but did so on 49 carries for an average of 4.3 yards per carry, which is nearly half of their season average entering the game. Senior defensive lineman JJ Cavanagh had a strong game up front, as did seniors Jack and Ryan Burns, Kozlowski at safety, and senior cornerback Patrick Woodford, who intercepted a pass late in the first half to halt a Point Boro drive in Manasquan territory.
“We moved JJ to end to take away the veer,” Price said. “Whenever you’re playing an option team you want the ball to go sideways and you want to limit their gains on first down so they have a long second down, otherwise it’s a guessing game. Our front four, I thought, played pretty well against a much bigger group of kids. They held their own.”
As was the case last season, Manasquan’s current offensive scheme is a stark departure from the multiple-I, run-first offense that has been a staple of the program since legendary coach Vic Kubu’s tenure. Formations of 21 and 22 personnel have been replaced with four and five receiver sets, empty backfields and big plays through the air. But it's not as if the coaching staff woke up one day and decide to overhaul the scheme on a whim.
“A lot of that is dictated by the personnel,” Price said. “You have to play the hand you’re dealt and we have some skill and our quarterback is obviously very good. We don’t have the Newmans and the Vasilenkos up front anymore so we have to be able to adapt and that’s kind of what we’re doing.”
Make no mistake, the hand the Warriors have been dealt isn’t exactly a three and a five of different suits. The collections of athletes they are working with rival most other teams in the Shore with Patten, Kozlowski, Pendergist, Howard, and Woodford. They were averaging a hair under 30 points per game coming into Friday’s showdown.
“With Cole, Pendergist, Jhamier, you have to defend sideline to sideline and from the line of scrimmage to the end zone, and Brett makes that all shine and blossom,” Price said. “So far, it’s working. We just have to clean up some things and nail it all down.”
Patten and his dual-threat ability are what makes it all come together in the familiar but also new offense under first-year Manasquan offensive coordinator Justin Cella, who was an All-Shore quarterback for Neptune in 1995 while leading the Scarlet Fliers to a state championship. Patten saw time as a freshman and was Manasquan’s starter last season, and this season has taken a significant step to become one of the best quarterbacks in the Shore. He has now thrown for 1,122 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for six touchdowns.
“You always compare kids from different generations and we probably haven’t had a player of his caliber at quarterback since – and I’m probably going to tick a lot of people off – but since Jax Landfried (Manasquan’s starting QB in 1996 and 1997 who played wide receiver at Wake Forest),” Price said. “He can do everything Jax could, running and throwing. But the ways he’s grown mentally has been the most impressive part for us. He’s digested some new vocabulary and new schemes and he’s made it his own. And our kids go as he goes.”
Moxie is a word often used to describe quarterbacks and Patten, like Landfried before him, fits that description well.
“Jax was the kid who would catch a punt at the 1-yard line and tell coach Kubu he was going 99 yards for a touchdown and then do it,” Price said. “Brett is very similar to that. He always wants the ball, he’s very competitive, he’s always trying to push the down the field. He can make it a four-dimensional game.”
That big-play, quick-strike ability that Patten and company possess is why Manasquan is never out of a game down by a couple of touchdowns.
Point Boro struck first when Thomas Welch pounced on a fumble at the Panthers’ 47-yard line on Manasquan’s second offensive play. Tyler Gordon converted a fourth-and-2 with a three-yard run to the Manasquan 42-yard line, and on the next play senior quarterback Charlie Vitale hit a wide-open Brian Orio down the seam for a 42-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
A sack by junior Aiden Ward put Manasquan behind the sticks on its next drive and the Warriors ended up going three and out and punting it back to Point Boro. The Panthers started at their own 45-yard line and moved into Squan territory on a pass interference penalty. The Panthers then went to the air again, this time with sophomore running back Matt Oliphant taking the pitch from Vitale, pulling up to throw and connecting with Orio for a 32-yard gain down to the Manasquan 10-yard line. On the next play, junior running back Connor Cilento took the option pitch and raced for a 10-yard touchdown that put Point Boro up 14-0 with 53 seconds left in the first half.
For the first 12 minutes, Point Boro looked the part of a 6-0 team. But for the next two and a half quarters, it was all Manasquan.
The Warriors started their third offensive series from their own 42-yard line and got things moving with wide receiver screens to Pendergist and Kozlowski. After a 13-yard reception by Kozlowski moved the chains on a third-and-5, Kozlowski ran a slant over the middle, Patten found him, and the Kozlowski did the rest to weave his way through the Point Boro defense for a 27-yard touchdown that cut the Panthers’ lead in half.
Point Boro converted a third-and-1 with a six-yard gain by Gordon and a facemask penalty on Manasquan moved the ball to the Warriors’ 42-yard line. Cavanagh sacked Vitale and forced a fumble on the next play, and while Vitale was able to recover the loose ball, it was a nine-yard loss that eventually led to Point Boro punting the ball away.
Manasquan then started from its own 40-yard line and went back to the screen plays to move into Point Boro territory. An eight-yard run by Patten on a quarterback sneak converted a fourth-and-1 and two plays later Pendergist took a quick screen and bolted into the end zone for a 31-yard touchdown. Jack Dettlinger followed with the extra point to tie the game at 14 with 2:38 left in the half.
Point Boro moved to Manasquan’s 36-yard line late in the half but Woodford’s interception on a third-and-10 turned the ball over.
“It’s 14-14 at the half and we made some boneheaded plays, otherwise I kind of thought it could have been 14-0,” Price said.
Manasquan had answered Point Boro's strong first quarter with an equally strong second quarter and the Warriors were set to receive the second-half kickoff.
“It was 14-14 and we knew we had to come out and handle business, go out and make a quick statement,” Howard said.
And that’s exactly what he did.
Howard took the kickoff to begin the third quarter and zoomed 85 yards to the end zone to give Manasquan a 21-14 lead, ensuring the momentum they built in the second quarter continued into the second half.
“Coach said to make one cut and go but I didn’t even have to make a cut,” Howard said. “It was great blocking.”
“He’s another kid who comes through with big plays,” Price said. “They all always seem to step up when it matters.”
Manasquan stretched its lead to 28-14 on its next possession when Kozlowski took a screen pass on second-and-17 from the Manasquan 18-yard line and jetted 77 yards down to the 5-yard line. Two plays later, Patten scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak to make it 28 straight points for the Warriors.
“I hesitated at first, waited for the holes to open up, Pendergist and Dan Hyland made great blocks and I darted through,” Kozlowski said. “I ended up getting caught and I was pretty angry about that, but we punched it in and that’s all that matters.”
Of Manasquan’s 163 receiving yards all but about 10 came after the catch.
“Those yards after the catch are because of great downfield blocking,” Kozlowski said.
Point Boro moved the ball well on its next series with four first downs to progress to the Manasquan 17-yard line, but a third-down sack by sophomore Terence Marks brought up a fourth-and-14 from the 25 and Vitale’s pass fell incomplete to turn the ball over on downs.
From there, Manasquan marched 75 yards in eight plays to take a 35-14 lead with its fifth straight touchdown. Consecutive runs of 14 and 21 yards by Howard pushed the ball to the Point Boro 40-yard line, Woodford converted a third-and-10 with a 12-yard run and followed with runs of 14 and six yards to put the ball at the 8-yard line. Patten faked a handoff, rolled to his right and won a foot race to the corner of the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown run.
That appeared to be the score that would put the game out of reach for Point Boro. In the end, it was, but the Panthers made things very interesting with a furious rally over the final nine minutes.
Starting from their own 40-yard line, Point Boro converted a fourth-and-5 from their own 45-yard line, used a 19-yard run from Vitale to get down to the Manasquan 20-yard line, and got back into the end zone when Oliphant took a pitch and scored on a 13-yard touchdown run with 3:04 left in the game. The Panthers added a 2-point conversion on Vitale’s pass to Orio to make it 35-22.
Point Boro then executed a perfect onside kick with Robert Cooper kicking it on the fly toward the visiting sideline where Oliphant slid to make the catch and give the ball right back to the Panthers at the Manasquan 47-yard line. Oliphant then broke free for a 32-yard run down to the 15-yard line and two plays later Vitale hit sophomore running back Jake Croce with a swing pass for a 12-yard touchdown. Croce then ran in the 2-point conversion to cut Manasquan’s lead to 35-30 with 2:11 left. Suddenly, the Panthers had turned a semi-blowout into a nail-biter.
For the comeback to continue, however, Point Boro needed to recover a second onside kick because it was out of timeouts. Manasquan recovered this time and was able to run three plays to take care of the remaining time.
Manasquan vs. Point Boro is a great rivalry from yesteryear, but the current players don’t remember the days when the Warriors and Panthers were bitter Thanksgiving rivals. The two communities, after all, are right next to one another, separated only by the Manasquan River. Manasquan’s players started to understand the game’s importance throughout the week of practice.
“There was a lot leading up to this game,” Kozlowski said. “Coach told us everyone was going to be here, all the alumni because it was their rivalry back in the day. With them being undefeated it just makes it 100 times better to beat them.”
“I’m the old idiot and it’s like I’m telling folklore to them about stuff like this, but they started to see the alumni, the people in school, the teachers in school and they started to feel that excitement,” Price said. “It was like an old Thanksgiving game. We started to see them pick it up on Wednesday and we told them this was like a playoff game. If we were in Group 2 this could probably be the championship. That’s how we treated it.
Manasquan vs. Point Boro Football
No. 10 Manasquan 35, No. 9 Point Boro 30
|Point Boro (6-1)||14||0||0||16||30|
PB – Brian Orio 42-yard pass from Charlie Vitale (Brayden Forfar kick)
PB – Connor Cilento 10-yard run (Brayden Forfar kick)
M – Cole Kozlowski 27-yard pass from Brett Patten (Jack Dettlinger kick)
M – Robert Pendergist 31-yard pass from Brett Patten (Jack Dettlinger kick)
M – Jhamier Howard 85-yard kickoff return (Jack Dettlinger kick)
M – Brett Patten 1-yard run (Jack Dettlinger kick)
M – Brett Patten 8-yard run (Jack Dettlinger kick)
PB – Matt Oliphant 13-yard run (Brian Orio pass from Charlie Vitale)
PB – Jake Croce 12-yard pass from Charlie Vitale (Jake Croce run)
RUSHING – M: Jhamier Howard 6-60, Patrick Woodford 9-53, Brett Patten 8-(-6); PB: Matt Oliphant 7-71, Connor Cilento 10-50, Charlie Vitale 14-48, Jake Croce 15-33, Tyler Gordon 2-9, Team 1-(-1).
PASSING – M: Brett Patten 5-10-0 163; PB: Charlie Vitale 3-7-1 53, Matt Oliphant 1-2-0 32.
RECEIVING – M: Cole Kozlowski 3-117, Robert Pendergist 2-46; PB: Brian Orio 2-74, Jake Croce 2-11.
INTERCEPTIONS – M: Patrick Woodford 1-5.