Tai Mann, Albert D’Alessandro Power No. 10 Jackson Memorial Past Brick Memorial
JACKSON TOWNSHIP -- The 2021 season saw Jackson put forth an offense that was very un-Jackson-like, ranking 35th out of 42 Shore Conference teams in points per game. That statistic and the Jaguars' 3-6 record was a shock to the system and sparked an offseason that had the entire program focused on redemption. They vowed to be different, and on Thursday night in their 2022 season opener, they certainly were.
Senior quarterback Tai Mann ran for 119 yards and a touchdown and threw for 132 yards and two touchdowns, and junior wide receiver Albert D'Alessandro delivered two big plays as the Jaguars, ranked No. 10 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, scored a 35-21 Shore Conference nondivisional victory over rival Brick Memorial at John J. Munley Field.
Mann threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to D'Alessandro in the first quarter and a 25-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Jaiden Hernandez in the second quarter. In the fourth quarter with the Jaguars holding a one-score lead, Mann broke off a 39-yard touchdown run with 3:14 to play to give Jackson a 35-21 edge.
In addition to his 41-yard touchdown catch, D'Alessandro returned a punt 90 yards for a touchdown with 18 seconds left in the first half to give the Jaguars a 21-7 halftime lead. Senior running back Aidan Sweeney ran for 85 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries behind a Jackson offensive line that paved the way for 210 yards rushing on an average of 6.4 yards per carry.
"I'm really happy with how our offense performed," Mann said. "We're very versatile and have a lot of playmakers, and all we need from our O-line is confidence. If they're confident, we're confident running behind them."
Last season, Mann and Sweeney combined for 1,079 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns; decent numbers but nothing close to what Jackson believes is the ceiling for two of its most prominent players. On Thursday night they combined for 204 yards and two touchdowns while the passing game produced big plays and significant smaller plays to move the chains.
"It's a balancing act," said Jackson head coach Vin Mistretta. "We have such dynamic athletes so we have to find ways to get them the ball in situations where they can make things happen. And when we want to go back to Jaguar football and pound the rock and get downhill in the running game, we can do that, too."
Brick Memorial junior quarterback Connor Dietz, coming off a season in which he threw and rushed for over 1,000 yards each, ran for 91 yards on 17 carries and threw for 149 yards on 10 of 23 passing. Sophomore running back Kevin Andrews had touchdown runs of 1 and 5 yards and junior running back Nicco Maribo caught a 15-yard touchdown pass. Defensively, senior Mike Dayton snagged an interception.
A tackle for loss by senior defensive lineman Lucas Stahlnecker, a sack by senior defensive end Angelo Nicosia, and penalties against Brick Memorial squashed the Mustangs' opening drive and forced them to punt on fourth-and-45 from the Jackson 23-yard line. The Jaguars began on their own 43-yard line and needed just three plays to find the end zone. After a 9-yard pass to Sweeney gained a first down into Brick Memorial territory, D'Alessandro torched the Brick Memorial secondary and was wide open when Mann found him in stride for a 41-yard touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead.
"He's been running that route all offseason, a little post-corner, and I knew he was going to be wide open," Mann said. "I threw it up and he did the rest."
Jackson's second scoring drive began in the final seconds of the first quarter. Starting from their own 27-yard line, the Jags marched 73 yards in eight plays and took a 14-0 lead on Hernandez's touchdown reception. After taking a short pass from Mann, Hernandez made the first defender miss and then raced to the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown.
Brick Memorial needed a response and delivered one on the next series. The Mustangs moved 80 yards over 10 plays and trimmed Jackson's lead to 14-7 on Andrews' 1-yard touchdown run, the first of his varsity career. Dietz had a 27-yard run on the drive and also connected with senior wide receiver Jeremiah Crispin for a 23-yard gain on a key third down.
Brick Memorial had missed a few opportunities to produce a big play on its first three possessions, but down by just a score late in the first half, the Mustangs found themselves inside Jackson territory after Dayton picked off Mann and returned it 17 yards to the Jaguars' 38-yard line with 1:05 on the clock. Jackson's defense buckled down, however, and pushed the Mustangs back before forcing a punt from the 42-yard line. That's when D'Alessandro changed the complexion of the game by returning the kick 90 yards for a touchdown with just 18.7 seconds left in the half to give Jackson a 21-7 advantage.
"That was a momentum-shifter right there," Mann said. "We love the big plays and we went into the locker room really confident."
With Jackson winning the coin toss and deferring its choice to the second half, the opportunity to piggyback on D'Alessandro's special teams heroics was central to the halftime discussion. The Jaguars did exactly that to start the third quarter with a six-play, 62-yard scoring drive that culminated with Sweeney's 2-yard touchdown run. After taking to the air 12 times in the first half, Jackson opened the second half with its traditional, I-formation power rushing attack. Sweeney's 35-yard run on the second play put the ball at the Brick Memorial 20-yard line and led to his own touchdown run.
"We made the key plays when we had to," Mistretta said. "Albert with the touchdown going into the half was huge for momentum and then we were able to punch one in to start the second half."
Brick Memorial clawed back with touchdowns on its next two possessions to make it a one-score game. A long kick return by Elijah Benjamin set Brick Memorial up at the Jackson 19-yard line and led to Maribo's 15-yard touchdown on a swing pass, cutting Jackson's lead to 28-14 with 5:33 left in the third quarter.
Jackson was able to move inside Brick Memorial's 20-yard line on the following possession, but a sack by Brick Memorial freshman Trey Tallmadge brought up a third-and-18, and on 4th-and-9 the Jaguars were stopped to turn the ball over on downs at the 19-yard line.
A 22-yard pass from Dietz to Crispin moved the ball out to Jackson's 39-yard line and two penalties on Jackson helped push the ball to the Jaguars' 30-yard line. Dietz converted a 4th-and-2 at the Jackson 8-yard line with a three-yard run and Andrews scored from five yards out on the next play to make it 28-21 with 5:53 to play.
Jackson needed to at least chisel some time off the clock. Mann made sure the Jags got more than that. A 15-yard pass to D'Alessandro put the ball at the Brick Memorial 45-yard line and two plays later, Mann faked a handoff to Sweeney, shook two tacklers in the backfield, broke to the outside, and avoided more defenders on his way to a 39-yard touchdown run that essentially clinched the victory.
"We were pounding the rock and pounding the rock and I wanted the ball," Mann said. "I bounced it outside and did the rest from there."
"In the second half we were successful with (the running game) so we stuck with it," Mistretta said. "We're confident in our power running game and our offensive line stepped up big."
There's a long way to go for Jackson to prove it is officially back performing at its customary level, but Thursday's opener was exactly the start they were looking for.
"I don't want to downplay the team across from us tonight, they are not a 3-7 team like they were last year," Mistretta said. "We respected the heck out of what they have on the outside and that Dietz is a great quarterback who is going to make plays. We knew we were going to be in a dogfight no matter how far ahead we got because they were going to keep battling back."
"Our kids on the field are the same ones last year who let a few slip away. Now with another year under their belts, with returning guys all over the place, they've been in that spot before and they don't panic."
"Starting off 1-0 is really huge," D'Alessandro said. "Especially last year after being 0-6. We're taking it one game at a time and we're going to try to keep it rolling."
No. 10 Jackson Memorial 35, Brick Memorial 21
Brick Memorial (0-1)
Jackson Memorial (1-0)
JM — Albert D’Alessandro 41-yard pass from Tai Mann (Alexey Tselichtev kick)
JM — Jaiden Hernandez 25-yard pass from Tai Mann (Alexey Tselichtev kick)
BM — Kevin Andrews 1-yard run (Connor Dietz kick)
JM — Albert D’Alessandro 90-yard punt return (Alexey Tselichtev kick)
JM — Aidan Sweeney 2-yard run (Alexey Tselichtev kick)
BM — Nicco Maribo 15-yard pass from Connor Dietz (Connor Dietz kick)
BM — Kevin Andrews 5-yard run (Connor Dietz kick)
JM — Tai Mann 39-yard run (Joe Zundritch kick)
RUSHING — BM: Connor Dietz 17-91, Kevin Andrews 5-18, Nicco Maribo 3-3, Jasaan Whitaker 1-(-5), Team 1-(-3); JM: Tai Mann 13-119, Aidan Sweeney 17-85, Brandon Bigelow 1-3, Jaiden Hernandez 1-2, Albert D’Alessandro 1-1.
PASSING — BM: Connor Dietz 10-23-0 149; JM: Tai Mann 10-16-1 132.
RECEIVING — BM: Jeremiah Crispin 5-85, Elijah Benjamin 2-32, Nicco Maribo 1-15, Jimmy Popp 1-11, Trey Tallmadge 1-6; JM: Albert D’Alessandro 3-61, Jaiden Hernandez 4-40, Shaun Hubbard 1-13, Aidan Sweeney 1-9, Frank Castellano 1-9.
INTERCEPTIONS — BM: Mike Dayton 1-17.