The Shore Regional Blue Devils received cheers from their fans Saturday.
However, the cheers were aimed at the team in defeat as the top-seeded Blue Devils fell to No. 3 Florence, 23-17, in double overtime in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I Championship Game at The College of New Jersey.
“I will never forget it,” Shore senior running back Mark Costantino Jr. said of the ovation. “They have respect for you. They understood how hard fought the game was. They showed their love for us. It’s great that they appreciate what we did.”
“We have a great fan base here,” Shore coach Mark Costantino Sr. said. “Our fans are unbelievable. They did a great job. I am upset we lost, but I am proud of our boys.”
Florence (11-1) won its sixth sectional title in coach Joe Frappolli’s 39th season at the helm. It was the Flashes’ first sectional diadem since 2006.
“Other than when I met my wife and had our children, I have had no better day than this,” he said. “It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of kids. Before the game, I told the kids, ‘This is the last time we will be together.’ This is a real special group of kids. They are all great kids. I love them all. It was a heck of a game.”
Florence won on senior fullback Rich Myers’ 4-yard touchdown run over the left side on the Flashes’ final play from scrimmage. Shore senior Chris Vaccaro broke up senior Ben Horner’s pass for the two-point conversion.
Myers keyed the winning drive, which began at the Shore 25 and consisted of seven plays. He carried four times for 14 yards. Best known for its bruising ground game, Florence went to the air on the drive’s second play as senior quarterback Ben Horner completed an 8-yarder in the right flat to senior Zach Foga, putting the ball at the 15.
Myers muscled for gains of 2, 5 and 3 yards to move the Flashes to the 5. Junior running back Curtis Thompson gained 1 yard to the 4, setting up Myers’ score. Myers rushed for 119 yards on 26 carries.
The game ended when Shore junior quarterback Matthew Muh was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-inches at the Florence 16-yard line.
Shore (9-3) opened its final possession of the season with losses on back-to-back running plays. Costantino Jr. was thrown for a 2-yard loss to the Florence 27. Senior Jack Kelly lost 2 yards to the 29. Junior quarterback Matthew Luh connected with senior wide receiver Tyler Vivian for 13 yards to the 16 and the game ended on the next play.
The Blue Devils tied the game at 17 on a 30-yard field goal by sophomore Jake Monteiro with 1:40 remaining in regulation. Monteiro sailed a 37-yard attempt wide to the left on fourth and five on Shore’s first series of the initial overtime. Florence junior Doug MacArthur squibbed a 35-yard field goal on fourth and two on the Flashes’ final play of the first overtime.
With 10:05 left in the third quarter, Muh tossed an interception to senior Eric Chapman, who returned the ball 27 yards to the Shore 23, setting up a Florence touchdown.
Thompson capped the 6-play drive with a 1-yard smash through the middle, putting Florence ahead, 12-7, with 7:27 left in the third quarter. Horner swept left end for the two-point conversion. Myers was again the workhorse, battering the Blue Devils for 19 yards on four carries. Myers carried for gains of 3, 7, 5 and 4 yards to move the ball to the 1, setting up Thompson’s TD.
With 3:15 remaining in the third quarter, Costantino Jr. recovered a fumble by junior running back Kenyari Moore at the Florence 8, setting up a score. A 5-yard penalty shoved Shore to the 13, but Muh completed a 13-yarder to Costantino Jr. on the next play, cutting the deficit to 14-13 with 3:01 to go. Monteiro kicked the extra point.
Florence swung ahead, 17-14, with 6:39 left in the fourth quarter on MacArthur’s 24-yard field goal.
Keeping the ball exclusively on the ground, Florence scored on the game’s first series of plays, marching 69 yards on 15 plays. Thompson capped the drive, bulling over the right side from 2 yards with 3:38 to play in the first quarter. Junior Chris Francisco blocked MacArthur’s extra-point attempt.
“They had big dudes on the run,” Costantino Jr. said. “We worked to hit them low, but we could not stop the ball enough.”
Shore tied the game at six with 5:32 left in the first half on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Muh to senior Kevin Masica, capping a 10-play, 72-yard drive after Florence turned the ball over on downs on fourth and five. Monteiro kicked the PAT.
“It was a good, good game,” Costantino Sr. said. “We matched up well with them, but we didn’t get it done.”
Shore hoped to win its sixth sectional title in Costantino Sr.’s 21-year tenure.
“I am sad I did not get another ring for my dad,” Costantino Jr. said, “but we got here. You could not ask for a better state title game.”